Flora’s basic instinct

A LEAD role in Basic Instinct 2 may well be the biggest platform yet for the prodigious talents of one of Ireland’s most successful acting exports. But gorgeous Flora Montgomery very nearly didn’t live to audition for the part, let alone get it.

Even as her agent was in tentative discussions with the sequel’s director, the 32-year- old actress was lying in the A&E ward of Bratislava General Hospital, in Slovakia, with a bloodied, cracked skull.

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A stunt she performed while filming After – an action-packed thriller set in post Cold War Europe – didn’t go quite as expected and she was lucky not to have ended up severely braindamaged at the very least.

In the stunt, Flora had to hurl herself across the path of a speeding train and duck down a manhole as its thick iron cover closed over her head. It landed on her head instead, knocking her out. The shocked cast and crew ran to her aid.

Flora, who starred in the Roddy Doyle-scripted 2003 film When Brendan Met Trudy, brushed this off as ‘just one of those things’, but admits that it shook her up.

‘I felt this almighty whack and then everything just went dark,’ she says. ‘I fell down unconscious into the tunnel I’d jumped into, but I’ve no idea how long I was out for. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital.

‘The left side of my head was all numb and I had this terrific headache.’ A few hours and a few X-rays later, Ireland’s own Lara Croft insisted on being let out of hospital, despite suffering a cracked skull.

Flora says: ‘The director sat us all down before filming started and asked if we’d do our own stunts. He warned us it would be tough and he was right. But I jumped at the opportunity because it was something I’d never done before and, despite what happened, I’d do them again.’

Doctors ordered her to rest but, when filming ended two days later, she caught a plane back to London. On her way through customs, she got a voicemail from her agent asking if she’d like to audition for Basic Instinct 2, the sequel to the 1992 blockbuster.

‘I’d hardly stepped off the plane and there was a job offer waiting for me,’ she says.

‘There was no time to faff around with settling my bags at home or getting some sleep. I jumped straight on the Heathrow Express and caught a taxi from Paddington into a casting studio in central London.’

Less than 10 minutes later, she had bagged the second female lead opposite Sharon Stone, playing the girlfriend of Stone’s co-star, David Morrissey.

No sooner had director Michael Caton- Jones given her his thumbs up than she was off to Pinewood Studios for three months of intense filming – including one of the film’s two sex scenes. ‘It’s funny, in a way, but it sometimes seems as if all some people want to know about is the sex – as if it’s ever been a major part of the acting I’ve done,’ she says. ‘OK, so I’ve done a few nude scenes, but they were only in one or two films.

‘And, while I’m certainly not ashamed or embarrassed, I just think I’ve moved on, been there, done that and am a lot more reluctant about doing nude scenes now.

‘I only agreed to do one for this movie because I trusted the director and he talked me through the process. In Basic, the one scene I shot wasn’t in any way gratuitous.

‘It was sensually shot.

‘It was a funny scene to shoot, in some respects, because little things kept on happening to accidentally break the ice and have us all in stitches, like when bits of the ceiling fell onto us.’ Flora says her days of casting her clothes off are numbered, however.

Three years ago, she had a no-nudity clause written into all her contracts.

Her upbringing was virtually tailor-made for a life in acting. The youngest of four children, she was born and grew up in 18th century Rosemount House, the stately home of her military family, at Greyabbey on the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down.

Rosemount House is on the eastern shores of Strangford Lough set in landscaped parkland. ‘When we were young, we had fantastic adventures, often in a little boat, and as the youngest I was always the one thrown overboard or abandoned on an island,’ Flora has said.

‘We’d explore unused rooms in the house and find dusty boxes with mad things like army uniforms and Victorian dresses. It was fantastic for the imagination – we only got TV at home in 2001. My mum used to dress up in cocktail dresses and play jazz piano.’

Flora was educated at the prestigious Rockport School in Craigavad, Holywood and won lead roles in school plays before going on to study drama at Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting for two years, during which she paid her rent from the wages she earned as a barmaid in Rathmines.

In 1998, she amazed the theatre world by winning Irish Theatre’s best actress award for her role in Strindberg’s Miss Julie at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. She stripped down to the bare essentials for the play, drawing the ire of Free Presbyterian protesters.

The phrase on the lips of many that night was ‘Flora who?’, but with a move to London that year, she began to earn more recognition with a string of TV roles. But it was her role in 2003’s Roddy Doyle- scripted When Brendan Met Trudy that has brought her critical acclaim, an IFTA best actress award and several award nominations.

Her accomplishments on stage are almost as prolific, including Anton Chekhov’s The Bear with Stephen Brennan and Neil La Bute’s The Shape of Things in With Basic Instinct 2 under her belt and talk of a few major castings round the corner, she might be forgiven for wanting to head over to America to lobby for bigger roles. But she’s having none of it.

‘I am reluctant to go over to LA to be in the end of a long queue for roles when I can have a good life between Ireland and England,’ she says.

‘Rachel Weisz hasn’t had to do that and, at the end of the day, Hollywood will come looking if they need an English or an Irish actress.’ Flora is about to start a twomonth run of The Taming Of The Shrew in Bristol’s Old Vic. She’s also just finished a series of plays she was commissioned to write for BBC Radio 4 and some voiceover work for UK-based Channel Five, and she’s waiting to hear back about a five-month stint of filming in Canada.

When it comes to relaxing, this pocket whirlwind thinks nothing of ‘unwinding’ on three-hour cycle trips at weekends or a week ‘canyon-climbing’ in America.

It’s difficult to imagine how she has time for romance.

She is, after all, also planning a climbing expedition to Karakoram, one of the most daunting parts of the Himalayas, with her 39-year- old brother, Hugo, and says she has much more to achieve before thinking about settling down and having children.

‘Yes, there is a man,’ she says shyly, sinking into the leather sofa at private London club Soho House. ‘We’ve been going out for about eight months now, but that’s about all I’m saying.’ It’s hard not to imagine her life without some element of adventure. ‘I have naturally just got masses of energy and, to me, a dead day is an empty day,’ she says.

Legendary casting director John Hubbard of London-based husband and wife partnership Hubbard Casting said: ‘It’s definitely breakthrough time for Flora. She’s great value, very intelligent, very attractive and utterly dependable.

‘She has a unique energy and you can tell she’s driven by a sort of life force, and in a nice way. You know when Flora comes into a room.’ 2002.