Saffron Burrows Embraces Lesbian Relationships On-Screen and Off

Saffron BurrowsBurrows in "Timecode"

30-year old British actress Saffron Burrows is a rarity in entertainment–an openly bisexual feminist with a successful film career who doesn’t shy away from lesbian relationships in her work or her life.

Burrows started off with a modeling career at 15, and appeared in her first film at 17. But Burrows first gained international visibility as Nan, the boyfriend-stealing best friend of Minnie Driver’s character in 1995’s Circle of Friends. She was in several smaller films in the next few years, until 1999’s shark-thriller Deep Blue Sea propelled her to some fame in America. She continued to appear in mostly indie films after that, however, including Timecode (2000), Enigma (2001), and Frida (2002).

Burrows first publicly acknowledged her bisexuality in an October 1999 interview with Film Unlimited when she confirmed she had had female lovers in the past. She expanded on the subject in an interview with Tatler Magazine in July 2000:

“If I was going to make a broad generalization,” she confirms, “I’d say that I prefer the company of women. People know now that I live with Mike Figgis, but I prefer not to talk about it. On one level, privacy is important but, on another level, I have no desire to deny certain things. For a woman to say she has had a dalliance with another woman is quite trendy these days, but I do not like that trendiness. Life isn’t about dalliances – it’s about individuals. You come across people in your life that you find very interesting. It’s not about something flighty.”

Then a month later, in an interview with The Scotsman, Burrows, anticipating the interviewer’s question about her past references to female lovers, responds “Was I confused? Not at all. I love men and I love women. I just happen to be in a calm relationship right now.”

But that “calm relationship” with Figgis ended in 2002 after five years, reportedly in part because of her close relationship with acclaimed British stage actress Fiona Shaw (who is also known as Mrs. Dursley in the Harry Potter movies). Fueling the gossip was the fact that the two women share a sapphic kiss in a play they starred in together (Jeannette Winterson’s PowerBook) .

When asked about her relationship with Shaw in a June, 2002 interview with The Observer, Burrows herself gave a rather cryptic response:

There is a long silence before she replies: ‘She and I are working together and are great friends.’ Then an even longer silence – so long that I can hear her breathing down the telephone. ‘It is very difficult to talk about anything at all because it becomes so personal,’ she adds eventually. ‘It is right to talk about Mike [Figgis] but any other area of life is not really the domain of newsprint. As Mike has said, it is “crude and speculative”.’

The same article notes that Burrows once said, long before she ever met Bill Clinton (whom she is also rumored to have dated at one time), that she fancied his wife Hillary, which Bill found very amusing, according to Burrows. In a 2003 interview with the The Observer, actor Alan Cumming (X2, Anniversary Party, Circle of Friends) credits his two-year relationship with Burrows several years ago with helping him accept his own bisexuality:

“I was really lucky that the first relationship I had after [my divorce] was with Saffron, who’s really…understanding and a broadminded person. And who’s now…As I’m sure you know…Well. She bats for both teams, too.”