She sweeps into the room dressed in elegant hippie garb – a flowing green floral skirt, a cozy brown sweater with sleeves that come halfway over her hands, and boots. Her 5-3 frame is a picture of sinewy sensuality. One look and you can imagine that Gabrielle Anwar has heard (and rolled her velvety green eyes at) her share of lines from fast talkers.
What the hopeful suitors probably didn’t know is that the actress can talk pretty fast herself – so fast, in fact, that as a teenager she once held the record as the world’s fastest talker. “It blows my mind that it’s continually mentioned,” says Anwar, her measured voice gilded by a soft English accent. “It’s something I obviously forget about until it’s brought up.”
“But I was in a drama school in London and there was an odd request for a bunch of students to go to the Guinness World of Records exhibit at the Trocodero in central London. They wanted to see whether the record for reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy could be broken. I don’t know why I was invited. I guess the good students that they would rely on weren’t at school that day. So off I trundled to the Trocodero and was live on, I think it was Radio 3, and we were all just reading to be or not to be, that is the question. I was so bloody nervous,
“Mine was the fastest recording that they had that morning. It was because I had such a tremendous amount of nervous energy, I just babbled as quickly as I could. Then they played it back at a slower speed to make sure everything was pronounced correctly, and then the next thing I know I’m doing these odd TV appearances, reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy, as the world’s fastest talker. It was strange. It kind of – it took a life of its own.”
Anwar has not done too badly making a life of her own. The classically-trained , British-born actress co-stars on USA network’s red hot series Burn Notice (airing Thursday nights at 10 pm), a flippantly funny action series about a former U.S. secret agent (Jeffrey Donovan) who helps people in dire straits after he was cut off, or burned, by his former employers. Anwar plays his ex girlfriend Fiona, an explosives expert formerly with the Irish Republican Army. “The humor surprised me at the beginning, but it lends itself to a larger audience,” she says. “And the spy thriller aspect of it has always been intriguing to people.
The on-screen relationship between Donovan and Anwar is reminiscent of another sexy crime-solving duo, Moonlighting’s Cybil Shephard and Bruce Willis. However, according to the New York Times, “Fiona is a character with no memorable precedent: a genius joke-take on girls with gun lust, the joke being that above all else she is every woman who needs to be sent a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You,” next-day delivery.”
But she is not every woman. That’s because she is impossibly beautiful. In 1993, after playing opposite Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, People magazine named Anwar one of the world’s most beautiful people. More recently, at the end of January, a week shy of her 38th birthday, the New York Times stated, “Ms. Anwar’s refined angularity leaves her more beautiful at almost 40 than she was at 22. She could make Julia Roberts look like a cashier.”
She doesn’t take those looks seriously. “My daughter tells me that I have horrible things written about my lips, my leathery skin, and my breasts,” she once said. ” My lips look big because I over-line them with lip liner because I want to look like Angelina Jolie. My skin is leathery because I love the sun and I’m not as vain as I am in love with the sun. And my breasts got really big because I had a baby and then they got really small. You know what? It’s called aging. I think I’ve graduated past the ingénue.”
She may have graduated, but she’s still hot. These photos provide ample evidence. But that’s not why it was easy to choose Anwar for the top spot on our list of Winter TV’s sexiest women (complete list). No, we chose her precisely because she is smart, complicated, deep, talented, a woman of substance, a refreshing, challenging change from the bimbos that have occupied the hogged pop culture’s headlines, and because none of this seems to impress or be important in any way to this staunchly independent, unmarried mother of three who paints, writes, and admittedly thinks way more than is common in Hollywood.
How does it feel to be one of the world’s most beautiful people?
That was a long time ago.
It’s still mentioned. It’s not anything that’s gone away.
Well, then it bloody well can’t hurt. I’d rather be considered sexy than a frigid old bag. I’m a feminist to a certain point, but flatter me all you want, and I’ll accept it willing
What goes through your mind when you look in the mirror?
I think I wish I wasn’t so much in my head while I’m looking at my reflection. I wish I could feel the joy of experience and time and gratitude for all that I’ve known and accomplished and all the mistakes that I continue to learn from. And I – but really what I’m thinking is shit. Oh shit
So you don’t look in the mirror and think, damn, I make Julia Roberts look like a cashier?
Perhaps if I didn’t live in La La Land and I wasn’t being scrutinized for what I did for a living, and perhaps if I were a little kinder to myself, I would think, hey, it could be worse. That might be a good day for me.
It could be a lot worse. Have you ever seen Biggest Loser?
I don’t own a TV.
I’m kidding. You’re a thinker.
I’m afraid I am. And I strive on a daily basis to get in my body and ground myself and give myself a break.
Doing the show, Burn Notice, seemed like a nice break. It’s doing very well – why?
I like to think it’s because it’s good material. I think the concept of each show is very well thought out and each character actually has some depth and some significance within themselves, not just to, you know, pilot the show along. I think it’s a really unique blend of genres. It’s a really fun amalgamation of story plots and lines and direction.
And Jeffrey is great.
He plays it with such dryness and such satirical humor, which initially surprised me. When we shot the pilot, I hadn’t read the role of Michael Weston in the same way that Jeffrey was portraying it. And I kind of had a little private panic attack that it was going to be a much funnier show than I had thought, which has turned out to be a wonderful thing.
What did you think of Fiona when you first read the part?
I loved the character of Fiona. I just – I thought, oh thank God somebody who has written something that’s, you know, sexy, but smart and multi faceted and a woman that I would enjoy playing for years to come. You know, God forbid I should be cast as the lead in a courtroom drama, because I’d have a hell of a level of lines that I wouldn’t be able to retain. So this was fun because I really felt like there was an aspect of me that I could relate to and rely on should this show go for a while.
You’re birthday is coming up – February 4. What are your plans?
Traditionally my birthday is one of the most tragic anti climaxes of womankind, I confess. You know, I have terribly high expectations for everything I do, everyone I know, and so I tend to view my birthday with trepidation every year. I have a really dear circle of friends who, despite my best efforts, don’t really let me get away with my inclination to hibernate.
What kind of music do you like?
I have eclectic taste. Having a teenager has caused me to grow to love hip hop, which I never thought I would confess. I love classical music I’m going through a new phase of enjoying blue grass. I don’t know where that came from. I like Indian music, world music, and folk. I’m a Joni Mitchell groupie.
Do you cook?
A little. It’s not high on my list of priorities during the day. I tend to spend a long time preparing a feast and then my children either say, ew, can I have mac and cheese, or else it wil be consumed within seconds and my three hours of preparation will seem like an absolutely tragic waste of time. But when I do cook, I prepare a lot of vegetarian dishes. I’m a big soaker of beans.
You and Jeffrey have wonderful chemistry.
I am having an absolute blast. And we’re going into season 3 and I’m still saying it with absolute honesty.
Interestingly, you’re criticized on some Burn Notice message boards for being too skinny.
I have a lot of feelings about weight and about bodies.
Go ahead and tell me. This is the Internet – we don’t pay for paper.
I feel as though it’s such a personal journey, and I feel people are very quick to judge our weight. Being in the public eye, one can’t win, because you’re either too thin, and you’re anorexic and you’re on the verge of death, or you’re overweight and you need some sort of rehabilitation in each case.
For me, and I think like most women, my weight has fluctuated over the years with pregnancy and breast feeding and grappling with an image of a younger version of myself with an older shell.
So you don’t pay attention?
No. It’s more complicated – and personal. The media has an unusual obsession with weight, but the reality is that women’s bodies fluctuate. We go through a lot of transitions. From puberty on. Our bodies are designed to make another human within them, and during a typical menstrual cycle, we gain weight, we gain water weight, we lose it. Our bodies swell in various parts and then they shrink and it’s a lot to contend with within a 28 day cycle. So combining 12 versions of that a year, though all those years that we live, it’s a really intimate journey that we have with ourselves. And for it to be documented and commented on so flippantly in the media, is, I think, really disturbing.
As someone who is small boned and of a petite frame, I find it equally upsetting to have women who are of a larger body type being hailed as wonderful spokeswomen for women’s body issues. It’s a personal experience, and I think ultimately I can gauge my ideal weight by how I feel, as it probably should be for most people. It’s not about my silhouette or whether I can fit into a zero or 2. It’s again, my clothing size varies within a month. Not within a 6 month dietary phase. And I think I need to really remember that my body has produced three healthy extraordinary human beings from within. And no matter whether it’s sagging here or swollen there, it’s not about that. It’s not about that. It’s about the magnificence of what we’re here to do.
You talk about it much deeper than necessary.
Hey, the heat runs deep, man.
What do you do for fun?
My bliss is in writing. I feel as though I’m tapping into my past, my present and my future, all that esoteric New Agey stuff that nobody likes to read because it’s really dull. But that’s my bliss. I think that when you are participating in the depiction of a hero’s journey, you become the hero.
Earlier, you mentioned that you paint. What style?
I’m indulging a little in mixed media, which has been a medium that I’ve been a bit judgmental about in the past. For years, I’ve worked with canvass and water-based oils. Now I’m throwing all sorts of images and textures and mediums together, which is kind of a big bloody mess in the house.
Which artists do you like?
Well, I’m a bit of a pre-Raphaelite kind of gal. I go through phases with contemporary art. I’m not one for abstract. In fact, until I saw Picasso’s pencil sketches, I dissed him like a total loser.
Picasso – a loser? Please.
I didn’t get him.
What is your own work like?
I’m only good at painting nude women.
You don’t say.
I’m one of those really annoying folk who run up to women on the street and ask to take a quick picture because of the way their hair is moving or the way they’re walking. The female form never ceases to intrigue me, which is probably why I have such a detailed response to the issue of body weight.
Let me get back to the superficial stuff. What’s sexy to you?
Truth. Yeah. I’m not turned on in the least by a superficial depiction of sex. It’s cartoonish to me. I’d rather watch two people fucking than a porno movie. Because I don’t want to see someone faking their eroticism. I want to see the eroticism.
Who do you think is sexy?
I’m trying to think of people you’d know. I can think of plenty of my friends, who are very sexy – because I know them. I’m not good at answering that question about people in movies and on TV because I don’t know them. I’m not fooled by image.
But I did have a wonderful sex dream about Barack Obama a couple of nights ago. He’s a sexy man.
Does Michelle know?
I think she knows he’s a sexy man. Actually, I became a United States citizen just so I could vote for him. After I saw his first interview with Miss Winfrey, I signed up. I said this is the guy, and I’m going to vote for him, so I’d better get on this.
When did that happen?
It took a bloody long time to do. I officially became a U.S. citizen last year, just in time to make the polls.
How was the test?
It was very difficult to answer the question would you defend the United States against Great Britain should there be a war? I just found that to be a rather ludicrous question. And did not answer it without my fingers crossed behind my back.
Are you a strict parent?
How would you describe your upbringing?
I was exposed to a lot of different aspects of life. It was the 70s, so it was sort of innately bohemian.
And your parents…
Were artists. And very well read. We had more books than anything else.
Who do you take after?
I’m a combination, a vicious combination. I have my mother’s erratic, passionate behavior. I’m a perfectionist like her. I require a lot from myself, as she did. I get everything else from my father. He’s very even keeled. So in the face of adversity, I’m usually pretty together. It’s just like the more mundane things that turn me upside down.
How do you feel about nude scenes?
I don’t have a problem with them. I wish we weren’t all so accustomed to, pardon my crudeness, the perfect tit. I would rather see a knackered breast than one that’s pumped up. Having said that, thought, I do exercise. I’m not letting my body be just as it comes, what you see is what you get. I’m doing my salutations religiously, so I guess I have a sense of pride. But I prefer to watch European love scenes than American ones.
You’re not in a relationship now. Do you have difficulty in that department?
Yeah, I do. I’m not a conventional thinker, and I refuse to play a role. I tried wife, and I discovered that I don’t do wife. I’m nobody’s servant. I’m obviously not good at compromise. And I’m not willing to sacrifice myself to be in a partnership.
Are you a good first date?
I think so, yeah.
No doubt you’re a fascinating conversationalist over a couple glasses of wine.
But the sentences get kind of peculiar and sloppy after a few…I’m a lightweight.
Click here to see who else made Fancast’s top 10 Sexiest Women of Winter TV!