DR QUINN, Medicine Woman was made when there were very few shows headlined by women. In the first ep all the villagers were taken aback when the town's new doctor "Mike" turned out to be – shock, horror – Michaela.
Was the network fearful that viewers might resist a woman, too?
You know what? I found out the truth about Dr Quinn. Nobody at the network believed in it. Nobody. I think they thought they were making Springtime for Hitler [laughs].
Everyone told me this will never be a series. It's a woman in the lead, that doesn't work.
It's family drama, that doesn't work.
It's family values, that doesn't work.
It's got children and animals and it takes place in the West and it's a doctor show, that doesn't work.
And immediately after, of course, it worked big time.
Suddenly they put westerns on. Suddenly they did family values-type shows like Touched by an Angel and Seventh Heaven. Of course you know as we know now women are driving shows all the time, starting with Downton Abbey. And people are not afraid of period any more. And they started doing lots of doctor shows after us.
View a collection of Dr Quinn's screen kisses . . .
There's another downside to the extraordinary fame you found as Dr Quinn. You continue to be a prolific actor, you've never stopped working, yet it's the very first thing people want to talk to you about.
Actually, no. You'd be surprised. There's a whole crowd of people who are still obsessed with me being a James Bond girl [Live and Let Die, 1973].
Then there's an enormous number of people who are obsessed with a little movie I did with Christopher Reeve called Somewhere in Time . Then there's a whole crowd from Battlestar Galactica which is really bizarre. I was only ever in it like twice. Or three times.
And then there's The Wedding Crashers  crowd and I have a whole new career because of that film. The 18s to 44s are all obsessed with me playing cougar characters I've played in comedy since. So it depends on who you're talking to but Dr Quinn of course is right up there because it still plays in 98 countries. Isn't that crazy?!
Often a career is comprised of moments; blink and the experience is gone. Yet put a few of them together and you've got what we call a career. Do you ever feel you as a person gets lost in the hype? I know there's more to you than your screen work. You're very active in your work with needy children, for example.
Yes, well, I have a foundation called the Open Heart Foundation. For the last 24 years I've been painting and showing in galleries all over America and Canada and I came up with the image of two hearts connected which we call the open heart – based on my mother's wisdom that she passed onto my sisters and I which was that in life there will be challenges and however hard they are your instinct will be to close your heart but if you can accept what's happened, be in the present and reach out in some way to help someone else then purpose and love and solution will come your way.
I've always lived that way. I captured it as this painting which then became a sculpture, then became a line of jewellery in America, Canada and, as of last week, England.
Also, a lot of people know me because I write books, I speak quite openly about dealing with challenge and life and health issues. I just did some interviews with major doctors about health problems for people over 50.
I have a very varied life and I'm also designing everything from furniture to jewellery. Sure, most people would know me as an actress but these days also for things like Open Heart.
Another Dr Quinn question. Because it's television, it has to have a particular runtime and a particular formula. What had to be in every script to make it a Dr Quinn script? And was it straitjacketing?
A lot of people who do series get very complacent and they go "The writing isn't very good", "Why are we still doing this?" but that was never the case with Dr Quinn. Every episode was pertinent to today's society and the human condition in general.
Yes, the format was usually three storylines that went through and came together but what was different from anything today was I drove each storyline, so I'd be in A, B and C storyline. Nobody carries the show any more the way I had to and we dealt with everything, like the poisoning of the water from the gold rush – which when we were shooting it there was actually something in the LA Times that day about poisoning in the water in Colorado left over from the gold rush.
Everything we did was completely relevant. You're talking about breast cancer and the right to decide not to treat yourself and not to have a vasectomy or whatever it was that they could offer in those days, cultural differences and religious persecution and obviously the American Indians and the terrible things that happened there.
What was great about the show was that it was very historically accurate and in America a lot of teachers used it to help their kids study American history. I think the surprise element for me and for all of us was that it translated so well globally in every culture.
When you talk about a straitjacket I think, no, there wasn't really. What it was was an amazing piece of work where you were taken in as a viewer whatever your culture and you got something out of it that fit into your cultural experience even though what you were seeing maybe wasn't your cultural experience and it spoke to you as a human being.
It celebrated the human condition. It showed people who were mean-spirited, people who were not educated but by the end of every Dr Quinn people came around and they realised why it was important not to behave a certain way or why something had to happen.
One of my favourite quotes – and I know you've acknowledged it – was when Dame Edna asked you publicly what was the secret of your successful marriages . . . !
I know. Sadly. Well, clearly I'm not very successful but you know I had a pretty long run this last time. I think when you share 24 years with someone [actor-director James Keach, from 1989 to 2013] and you have children and raise children together and grandchildren and you work together and you have business together you know even though we're not married any more and he moved on, not me, you know you can't throw that away. It would be nice to be able to say I finally had the secret to staying together, but . . .
You know. I'm really looking for a reason to come to Australia next year. I've never been and it's ridiculous. Put the word out I'm on my way. I'm sure I can get my head around an Australian accent. But you have such brilliant actors and actresses there, that would be redundant. I might have to play a Brit or an American . . . ❏
■ WIN Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Collection series 1-6 in a hatbox, personally signed by Jane Seymour, here.
■ Read Ian's other interviews and reviews:
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