Meet Jenny Agutter, Hollywood's Most Understated Sex Symbol

She's a stop you in your tracks, understated sex symbol whose appeal is unique. She has single handedly made films worth watching. Why does everyone fall for Jenny Agutter?
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She's a stop you in your tracks, understated sex symbol whose appeal is unique. She has single handedly made films worth watching. Why does everyone fall for Jenny Agutter?

Her love scene in ‘An American Werewolf In London’ is one of cinema’s greatest moments but everyone has fallen in love with Jenny Agutter at least once. Even David Naughton, her co-star in the lupine movie classic. Listen to the commentary by Naughton and fellow actor Griffin Dunne showcased on the DVD re-issue of the film and when Jenny Agutter features, it’s like hearing naughty schoolboys discussing the pretty girl they fancy in class. Was Agutter aware of this crush?

“Well, he did have to drink a couple of beers before we did the scene in bed so he’d feel relaxed,” she laughs, “but no, he never said anything.”

Jenny Agutter has an army of admirers who each remember exactly when it was that they first fell in love with her – and for many it was the love scene in ‘American Werewolf’. Coming unexpectedly as it did in the midst of a horror-comedy, it remains one of the most enduring moments of the film. To this day, it’s hard to hear Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ without a rye smile at the thought of Agutter in the shower.

“They are always the scenes that are awkward to do,” she says, “but in that instance Landis wanted to do something great with the scene, to show it in a different way – he cut it with a wonderful piece of music, wonderful, giving it that real upbeat feeling. From my point of view it wasn’t easy to do, but I think he shot a good sequence.”

If shooting a love scene wasn’t enough, a temperamental shower added to the problems. “It wasn’t a real bathroom,” she explains, “so it was hard to get the temperature right. One minute you were enjoying the shower and the next it was freezing cold!”

David Naughton recalls that the film crew seemed to have doubled in size on the day that scene was shot. “There were people I’d never seen before – and they were all Jenny Agutter fans,” he says. The actress laughs at the thought of the new crew-members that were attracted by the scene. “There seemed to be people there to look after all sorts of things,” she remembers.

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With so many memorable roles, this fine actress has had a great effect on the developing sexual awareness of successive generations of British men, but she is fully aware of the impact that she’s had. “It is mentioned to me,” she says modestly, “but it’s hard to see yourself in the way other people see you – the Victorian petticoats of ‘The Railway Children’, the lost innocence of ‘Walkabout’, the nurse in ‘American Werewolf’. I’m not sure what it is.”

Jenny Agutter may be uncertain of her own appeal but there’s a generation of young men who know exactly what it is. In fact, thanks to Nick Roeg’s ‘Walkabout’, she was the first naked woman that many of us had ever seen. She laughs at the thought. “Were you studying at that time?” she asks, “because ‘Walkabout’ became part of the English Literature syllabus and was shown to an awful lot of people at school.”

Few actors have the good fortune to star in a cult film but at least four of Jenny’s movies have already attained that status. Is she flattered by the timeless ‘immortality’ or is it viewed with some kind of mild embarrassment?

“Fortunately the films don’t embarrass me,” she says, “although in terms of the character and the outfits I had to wear, ‘Logan’s Run’ was fairly embarrassing, but I’m thrilled that I’ve been a part of it all. ‘Walkabout’ was an extraordinary film to be a part of and I had no idea that ‘The Railway Children’ would be the success it was. But the directors of each of those films were so determined they were going to make them that they would have done it whatever the odds. John Landis had been wanting to make ‘American Werewolf’ since he was 18.”

Was there any indication at the time that ‘American Werewolf’ would prove so successful? “You just have no idea,” she says. “I saw it for the first time with an audience in a pretty rough cinema in New York, not a glitzy New York first night at all. The air conditioning had been turned off and the audience were screaming at the management. Then the film came on late and everybody was in a really foul mood, but when it came on it worked well and I was really pleased with it.”

The curse of a cult film is that wherever you go in the world, people must surely stop you and quote some of the movie’s most memorable one-liners. “Yes,” she smiles, “and what is interesting is the audience that ‘American Werewolf’ seems to reach. I’m always surprised by the number of people and the different backgrounds that they come from. It’s totally cross-cultural. Whether it’s in the States or over here, whether it’s wandering around in Brixton or in Highgate, it creates a similar reaction from people – it’s always ‘Beware of the full moon and stick to the path’.”