Bo Derek says she’s never been that ambitious when it comes to her acting career.
“I wish I had made other movies,” she said recently. “I turned down a lot more money than I ever made. But at the same time, would I be who I am now and happy? I have the best friends.”
Not to mention her boyfriend of 13 years: actor John Corbett (“Sex and the City”).
It was 36 years ago when Derek became an overnight sensation in Blake Edwards’ hit comedy “10,” playing Jenny, a beautiful young woman who becomes the obsession of a middle-aged composer (Dudley Moore).
Women quickly copied Derek’s cornrow hairstyle, and sales of Ravel’s “Bolero,” which plays an important — and funny — part in the romantic comedy, went through the roof. The dream sequence of Jenny running in a revealing one-piece bathing suit toward Dudley’s besotted George on the beach is one of modern cinema’s more vividly remembered moments.
Derek, then married to writer-director-actor John Derek, 30 years her senior, wasn’t prepared for the sudden fame. “It was overwhelming. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t have PR people.”
As Bo Derek, 58, walked out of a Studio City restaurant to have her picture taken, a waiter remarked, “She looks fabulous!”
Derek smiled when told about the waiter’s observation. “I’m always surprised people still know who I am,” she said with a smile. “It has been such a long time.”
She’s back in front of the camera playing April’s (Tara Reid) mother in the Syfy Channel’s “Sharknado 3 : Oh Hell No!,” which premieres on the cable network on Wednesday. The third in the series of deliciously cheesy satirical disaster movies finds the East Coast being destroyed by those sharknado cells filled with hungry sharks.
In addition to Reid, Ian Ziering returns as the heroic Fin and David Hasselhoff is on hand as his father. Rick Fox, Mark Cuban, Penn and Teller, Frankie Muniz and Jerry Springer are among the eclectic cast members who pop up in the third installment of the media sensation.
“Sharknado” auteur Anthony C. Ferrante said Derek was at the top of the list to play April’s mom.
“She’s an icon,” he said, adding that his favorite Derek film is the 1995 Chris Farley-David Spade comedy “Tommy Boy,” in which she plays a con woman who marries Farley’s character’s father (Brian Dennehy).
“That was kind of the linchpin for me,” said Ferrante.
“Sharknado 3" was shot in a breathless 18 days. Ferrante said Derek “was a real trouper” while shooting on location at Universal Orlando. “In the first half of the day we had moved her to four different locations,” he recalled.
Derek hadn’t seen the first two “Sharknado” films but had noticed all the Twitter traffic when they aired in 2013 and 2014.
“I remember tweeting, ‘What is a sharknado?’ It’s such a social thing watching this. I don’t think people sit there watching it alone.”
The film, she said, “is an event. It’s fun. It is not about acting. We know it’s not about us, it’s about the sharks.”
The actress and John Derek had been married 22 years when he died in 1998 at age 71. John Derek, who had been previously married to actresses Ursula Andress and Linda Evans, was called her Svengali.
“It was a natural assumption,” noted the actress, who was 17 when she fell in love with Derek. She recalled that John didn’t want another wife in the film business, but offers just kept coming in. “People came into the office with briefcases full of cash. It was so confusing to me. I remember my husband said, ‘Make sure you really want this.’”
Before “10" hit, Derek said, she was producing independent films her husband was directing. “I said I would rather go back to do what we were doing,” she said.
“When somebody said they would give us $5 million to make a movie, any movie, they didn’t care what it was about, we went off and left the country and made a pretty little art house film that made everyone a lot of money.”
The critics panned 1981’s “Tarzan, the Ape Man,” though it made money. That wasn’t the case for the poorly received 1984 film “Bolero” — the tag line was “The Hottest Erotic Film of the Century” — and 1989’s “Ghosts Can’t Do It.”
Her late husband was “very demanding on his relationships and friendships,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t like him, but the ones who loved him, loved him. He was an artist, and the older I get the more I understand him.”
For the past 34 years, she’s lived in Santa Barbara. She has three dogs, a very old donkey, and raises Andalusian horses.
“I got big into racing,” said Derek. “I was on the racing commission for California for seven years. I just left last month. We regulate all aspects of racing. I was a special envoy at the State Department on wildlife trafficking. It’s funny where life takes you.”
Derek also is a photographer — she shot the cover and inside spread on “Sharknado” for TV Guide. Next month she’s heading to Rome to appear in four episodes of an Italian TV series.
“No complaints,” she said about shooting in Rome for a month. “The business has been good to me.”