That may be so. But Derek, now 63, will forever be remembered for her shot to stardom when she played Dudley Moore’s love interest in Blake Edwards’ 1979 romantic comedy “10.”
Her swimsuits and cornrows made her an instant sex symbol. But her life in the spotlight actually began a few years prior, in 1973, when she was just 17 and cast in her first movie, “Fantasies.” While on location in Greece, she fell in love with her director, former screen idol John Derek, who was 30 years her senior. Their romance ended Jon’s marriage to Linda Evans. Bo and John were married for 22 years before his death in 1998.
Variety caught up with Derek from her home in Santa Barbara, where she lives with her boyfriend of 18 years John Corbett (Aidan in “Sex and the City”) and their three German Shepherds and five horses.
You are really open in “In Her Own Words” about your life, especially your relationship with John and how it started. Why?
I’ve always been bluntly honest. I just thought all those stories everybody is sick of, but there are three more generation of movie-goers now. I guess to some of them all of this is new news. It’s very strange.
I was surprised Linda Evans agreed to be interviewed for it. You could see how hurt she was.
I didn’t know who else was going to be in it. The last person I would have expected to say yes was Linda. That still breaks my heart, being part of breaking up a marriage is a horrible thing and I still can’t believe I was a part of it. I’ve said it before, but I’ll never forgive myself. I might move on and make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again, but you have to move on. But I look back at that time in my life as a terrible mistake.
You were only 17 at the time. What goes through your mind when you think back to that?
I don’t know about you but when I was 17, I knew everything. I was so grown up and so adult. Now, when I look back at the photos of me, I was young — 17 is young.
Do you think you could have had that kind of relationship today, in the era of Me Too and Times Up?
I’m very glad his daughter said in the [documentary] that John wasn’t a “Me Too-er.” There was no Me Too-ing with John. But yeah, I’m very conflicted about it when I look back on being 17 with a 46-year-old man. As I said, I thought I knew everything. It felt right at the time. I was so in love with him and we ended up together for 25 years. I’m just so grateful he was a good person.
When you returned from Greece, you came through Mexico because John was worried about U.S. authorities.
I went home first and then he came in through Mexico. There were rumors that there was a warrant out for his arrest. I know, crazy. But also romantic. Now, do I think that we could have had our relationship if were both in the United States? I don’t think so. Part of it was being on an island in Greece and then living in Europe doing post-production of the film. Nobody asked if he was my father when we were together there, never once. It’s just a different atmosphere. I don’t know if a love could have blossomed the same way.
Did you ever want to have kids?
I thought about it at one time, but my life was so unconventional. I think kids deserve at least a chance to have two parents that are committed but my life was so crazy. There were times I wouldn’t have a dog because my life was so crazy, let alone a child.
You said that you never set out to be an actress.
I saw my future in a surf shop or something. So then for all of a sudden the business to come to me, it was overwhelming. The offers were insane, but I just pulled back and I wasn’t going to work.
What was the craziest offer you got?
There was one for $20 million in 1980 from [director] Bob Aldrich for three films. I had to do three films but the first had to be [“All the Marbles”] with Peter Falk. He wanted me to play a female wrestler. I just couldn’t see myself as a female wrestler. I’m a tiny person. I loved the idea of working with Peter Falk, so I asked if the movie was a must and Bob said it was. I couldn’t see myself doing it.
Are there any roles you regret turning down?
Blake Edwards came to me with “Switch.” I think I should have done that one, but I was afraid. I was afraid of the work of having to play a man in a women’s body.
When was the last time you watched “10”?
I don’t watch my movies, but John had it on the other day ad he kept saying, “Come and just watch this one scene.” It is an easy one to watch and I did watch most of it because I’m hardly in the movie.
When you think about the cornrows, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Just that it was such a life changing moment for me. I honestly thought I was just going to go to a resort in Mexico and get paid to go to a resort in Mexico. I just wanted to have a good time. I had no idea that anything would come of it.
You wouldn’t be able to have the cornrows today.
I get in trouble for it now. I get a lot of criticism for being a culture vulture, that I’m being insulting and even worse, hurtful to African American women that I copied their hairstyle. But at the time, the reaction was very different. I can’t tell you how many African American women came up to me and said things like, “Thank you so much. I work at a bank and my boss would never let me have that hairstyle at work but now I can.”
How many hairstyles did you consider doing?
Just the one. It was my husband’s idea. So I had it done and went into Blake’s office and he wasn’t too sure. He wasn’t on board right away. I’m sure he had to run it by other people first.
You have been acting on and off for many years. You star in the television movie “JL Family Ranch 2” coming out in October. What gets you to act these days?
An offer. I don’t turn them down much anymore because they don’t ask me to take my clothes off. That used to be one of the criteria. I’d be like, “I’m not going to that again.”
Did you ever have trouble with producers who called you in for meetings because they wanted to meet Bo Derek in their office?
You know, a lot of people were afraid of my husband. He had a reputation of being physical, of being tough. I was reminded of that when Gwyneth Paltrow told the story of how Brad Pitt confronted Harvey Weinstein. He wouldn’t want to go against Brad Pitt. I was protected from a lot of that.
You made several movies with John. Your last one together, “Ghosts Can’t Do It” in 1989. Did you ever think that you had a future president of the United States in the movie? Donald Trump makes a cameo in the film.
You know that telephone recording that a journalist had of Donald Trump’s publicist calling to get him in the papers and everybody thinks that is his voice promoting himself? It was at that time. We had a mutual friend who said, “You’re making a movie and Donald Trump is looking to be a cameo in something. Do you have anything?” So we wrote a scene and he was great.
You campaigned for George W. Bush. Who will you endorse this year?
I don’t talk about who I vote for anymore. I supported Bush 43 and I became one of the poster girls for the Republicans. But I’m an independent. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and labeled as one thing or another.
What do you think about the state of the country right now?
I think it’s really rough right now. I think we’re going to come out on the other side better. What happened to George Floyd, I know racism was there but I didn’t think it would be so blatant with a policeman killing somebody knowing a video camera was rolling on him. That just blows my mind. But I do think changes are going to happen.
Do you think Trump is the one who will get the country to the other side?
I don’t think he has the influence that people think he has. I don’t need my president to be my moral leader. Could he have done more? I don’t know. We had Obama and not that much happened in that area when I look back on those eight years. I don’t think this gets solved at a presidential level.
What’s a typical day for you like now?
I am so into a rut and a routine, but normally I’m lucky enough to mix it up with travel. But right now, if I’m home, I wake up, make coffee, feed the horses, feed the dogs, feed myself, go to my computer, work in the garden, swim in the pool for exercise and then feed horses, feed dogs, feed ourselves. John and I watch “Jeopardy” while we eat and then we watch movies all night.
“Bo Derek: In My Own Words” premieres on Reelz on Aug. 16.