Kristin Scott Thomas Drawn to the Difficult

The English actress leads a double life working in French and English films.

Oct. 30, 2008— -- Actress Kristin Scott Thomas is trying to break free of the image audiences have of her.

"People see me as this brittle aristocratic adulteress," Thomas said in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn With Peter Travers."

But Thomas said she finds it far more exciting to explore darker, more dangerous subjects, like Juliette, the tormented murderess at the center of Phillipe Claudel's "I've Loved You So Long," which opened last week in New York and Los Angeles.

This is not the first French movie she has starred in. She recently demonstrated her flawless French in the critically acclaimed "Tell No One."

Thomas, the popular British star of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "The English Patient" and "The Horse Whisperer," has lived in France for 28 years and admits to living a "deadly double life working half in French and half in English."

Thomas is also winning rave reviews for her role as Arkadina in Chekov's "The Seagull," now on Broadway. Both Juliette and Arkadina are performances she was "very keen to do," she said. "They weren't career choices, but choices from the heart."

"I desperately wanted to play Arkadina in 'The Seagull,'" she said. "I asked the director bluntly, 'Can I be your Arkadina?' I don't know if he felt he had a choice. I just think she is one of the most rounded, extraordinarily observed characters written. I love playing her twice a day."

With both characters, she was drawn "to the danger of not being liked onscreen" because she enjoys the challenge of a difficult personality.

With Juliette, the challenge was heightened, because Thomas had to express her emotions silently, explaining that her character "comes out of prison with an incapacity to love and feel," she said. "She wants to live quietly with her secret and get on with surviving all the while keeping that secret alive."

Juliette's secret is only revealed at the end of the film, when, according to Thomas, it all comes out in a rush.

Although she has won both the British Olivier and BAFTA Awards and has been nominated for an Oscar, Thomas does not believe she is a good judge of her performances and finds it "unbearable" to watch herself. She gives complete credit to the editor and the director who "surprise me with what I have given them."

Thomas is best known for her role as the unfaithful wife in "The English Patient." She had to fight to get that part because "the finance people didn't want me at all."

The movie became one of the biggest screen hits of 1996, won nine Oscars and earned Thomas a nomination for best actress.

Another unexpected success was the 1994 film "Four Weddings and a Funeral," with Hugh Grant. Grant told Thomas about the script while they were filming Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon." She eventually got the role of Fiona, whose love for Charles (Grant) is unrequited. Thomas' favorite line, she said, was when Fiona confessed to Charles, "It's you, it's always been you."

After 1998's "The Horse Whisperer" with Robert Redford and 1999's "Random Hearts" with Harrison Ford, Thomas -- against strident advice from her management -- left Hollywood to go on tour with a French theater company.

While the experience was "fantastic," she discovered upon her return that she was "dead in the water," she said. "You take your foot off the gas for one minute and you're gone. It's so quick. It's just incredible."

In the upcoming "Confessions of a Shopaholic" based on the novel by Sophie Kinsella, Thomas, who admits she is "a goofball," was allowed to be eccentric.

This is coming from the woman whose vision of riding out her illustrious career includes wearing a diaphanous gown while singing on cruise ships. When that day comes, Thomas promises she will return to perform exclusively on "Popcorn With Peter Travers."