LIFE IN THE FASTLANE by Dennis Hensley

 

Though she’s been a working actress for over 30 of her 38 years—and appeared on the cover of Time at 14--Diane Lane has never been hotter than she is right now. With an Oscar nomination in her back pocket (for playing Richard Gere’s cheating wife in Unfaithful), and a handsome new fiancé in actor Josh Brolin, the Hollywood veteran has, after years of ups and downs, found herself with a plum seat at the popular kids’ table. “It’s a real shift, however brief the club invitation lasts, not be an underdog,” reveals the actress, whose decades-spanning resume includes such films as A Little Romance, The Outsiders, The Cotton Club, A Walk on the Moon and The Perfect Storm. “I don’t know how to give an interview now because the, ‘Ah shucks, who me?’ shit kicker thing doesn’t fly this week.”

“You had trouble parking,” I point out, as we settle into our seats at the Elixir tea emporium in West Hollywood. “That sort of makes you an underdog.”

“That’s true,” she says. “And my nine year-old Volvo’s got to go. Even valet parkers are embarrassed for me. They’re like, ‘Is that your car?’ I’ve got to trade it in. I can’t go another day.”

Though Lane says she’ll probably buy herself another “Mommy-mobile”—the actress has a ten year-old daughter, Eleanor, from her marriage to French actor Christopher Lambert)--a sporty Lamborghini might be more fitting. She’s still riding high on all things Italian, having recently wrapped Under the Tuscan Sun, the big screen adaptation of Frances Mayes’ popular memoir. “I have to say, it was very challenging to be working in such beauty,” says Lane, who stars as Frances, a San Francisco writer who copes with her sudden divorce and writer’s block by buying a villa in Tuscany and starting over. “It was like, ‘I don’t wanna be indoors in the lights, I wanna run through this field!’ And I just wish I could generate the kind of food that my character had coming out of that kitchen.”

“I take it cooking is not really your forte,” I say.

“This will give you an idea,” she says. “Before I got a waffle maker for Christmas last year, I thought that you just put them in the toaster frozen and they come out toasted. It never occurred to me that there was another way of making waffles.”

Yes! The shitkicker underdog lives!

 

GOTHAM: Having gone through your own divorce, could you relate to Frances’s quest to reinvent herself?

DIANE LANE: In some ways, but Frances was blindsided so her circumstances are very different than mine. A relationship that doesn’t work out gradually, with both people realizing, is a very different experience than just going off a cliff in a truck that you thought you had another thousand miles of journey in.

Does Frances have a love interest? There’s gotta be some sexy Italian guy whose name ends in O who happens by the villa.

Of course, there is. The question that she keeps getting asked is, ‘So have you met him yet?’ like there’s some guy that’s going to come along and heal her. It’s like, ‘Does Stella got her groove back yet?’ And I’m like, “Just back off!”

What hooked you about the project?

When I was meeting with the director, Audrey Wells, a bulb went off in my head, like ‘This is a gift, just accept it.’ I realized how much of an affinity I had for the character. I could just offer up my own experience and it would suffice. I didn’t have to go to Karate school or to a speech coach.

You just had to fake the cooking.

(Laughs) And I do that everyday anyway. I just take the Styrofoam away and “Ta da!” Plus, I knew that with Audrey as the director, I was going to have a pleasant experience and I was ready for a pleasant experience after Unfaithful and my father passing away, let me tell you.

So it was a bit of an escape for you?

Yes, but while I was away, unbeknownst to me, I started to be offered up like an hors d’oeuvre, like “Vote for her for best actress.” My publicist said, “It’s coming from the studio. They believe in your performance.” I thought, ‘Gee, I hope I don’t disappoint them,’ because it’s like you’re their Greyhound dog and they’re betting on you to win. So then I came home to a full-blown Oscar campaign.

What was that like?

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I was very grateful that I had Josh because I had gone stag through the majority of my career in terms of these mandatory soirees and I don’t do them well. I get all insecure and forget where I know so-and-so from. I remember being introduced to a producer that I worked for, but the movie didn’t make any money, so I was literally a non-entity. He kept getting introduced to me at these parties, forgetting that I had made a film for him.

What was fun about the Oscar derby?

It’s the feeling of being included in a club. It’s a brief membership, but that’s the only membership they hand out. And it was nice to have an excuse to deck out.

Did you feel pressure not to make any fashion faux pas?

Oh yes. There was one dress that was such a nightmare that I ripped it off in the limo on the ride home and I was in my jeans, before we hopped out to buy cigarettes at 7-11. I was like, “I’m over this shit,” but that dress got more compliments, even from people in my family. “I saw you in People. You looked fabulous in that dress.” That goddamn dress. (Laughs)

Have you noticed a change in the types of scripts you get?

Well, it’s nice to have options instead of, ‘This is the only game in town. Do you want to be in it or do you want to wait?’ Now it’s a question of, ‘I can’t do it all, I hope I choose wisely.’ I think there’s really not much left to do that’s new in this business. I guess the only thing left to do would be to not have the surgery, and dare them to keep photographing me. I’m into that. That’s what I can offer the next generation. (Laughs)

You can be our reference point that we have something natural to compare all the sci-fi looking people to. It must be strange to see the lengths people in your business go to to look good?

Or to see the really successful, subtle plastic surgery that I could be going in for. I have to say, though, that’s rare. I was talking with this woman the other day who’s my mother’s age and I got so into her face and her expressiveness. I could see the girl in her; the continuum of her life from her twelve year-old self to now, and then I looked across the way and I saw another woman who’d had work done. And I thought, ‘You ain’t you anymore. We don’t know who you are? But you ain’t you.’ Something’s lost and I don’t think that’s a gift to anybody.

You recently became engaged. Were you surprised when Josh asked you?

I was totally blindsided. It’s what I wanted, but I was sort of thinking, ‘Okay in five years, I’m going to give him an ultimatum.’

Did you say yes right away?

Well, I wanted the question to hang in the air so I could savor it. It was so lip-smacking good, and he can’t ask it twice, so let it just ring in the air for a moment.

When I interviewed you before for The Perfect Storm, I asked if you thought you’d get married again, and you said, “I’d have to fall so chemically, intoxicatingly, trustingly, hormonally in love that I needed the promise of that bond.”

Oh my God. (Laughs) Well, I have to say that if that’s my checklist, then every box is checked.

Would you ever want to act opposite Josh?

Yes, but later because he puzzles me too easily right now. I’m too vulnerable to his tricks still. (Laughs)

You two first met years ago, correct?

Yes. I was pregnant to bursting and visiting the set of a movie my then-husband was in called The Road Killers. Everybody’s having lunch and Josh, who was in the film, was in character. He was kind of frightening looking and he had this predatory sexuality, which I found rather alarming, considering how pregnant I was. I thought, ‘Am I projecting this? If I am, then somebody ought to slap me real hard.’

But you kept these thoughts to yourself?

Oh totally, because it was just a flash, a moment. Of course, I’ve gone back to that moment many times trying to see if I could remember more of it. But I definitely remember that first impression.

I read somewhere that you were re-introduced through Josh’s mother-in-law, Barbra Streisand.

That’s a myth. We met after a movie at a restaurant. I was with my manager and he came by the table and said, “Do you remember me?”

Still, you should probably bone up on your Streisand CDs if you’re going to be part of the family.

When Eleanor came to visit me in Tuscany, we would play the Barbra CD in the trailer. I think it was The Essential Barbra.

As opposed to The Mandatory Barbra.

Then there’s The Quintessential, which is the one before it. (Laughs)

Speaking of essential recordings, you recently laid down an audio commentary track for the DVD release of The Outsiders. What was that like to do?

We had a ball. It was me, Ralph Maccio, C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze. We were like, “Hey, where’s Matt Dillon?” “Well, he’s directing now…” “Where’s Rob Lowe?” “Oh, Rob’s got a big series now…” “Where’s Tom Cruise?” “Well, he’s got his own jet and he’s somewhere else today…” Those who showed up got to have the last say. It was fun.

What was it like to look at the movie again?

I thought of that Ava Gardner quote, “Aren’t we beautiful?” I mean, I wasn’t even finished growing yet. And there’s a whole courtroom scene that I do not recall filming at all, but there I am.

Speaking of teen idols, I read that as a teenager you used your Time Magazine cover as a tool to meet Leif Garrett. Is that true?

That is true. Without it, I was just another 14 year-old screamer.

I never got the Leif appeal, frankly.

My dad used to say, ‘You’re attracted to girls. You don’t see that?’ And I’m going, ‘Dad, fuck you.’

Has your daughter seen many of your movies?

She’s seen The Outsiders. I’d forgotten about how violent the film was, but within the context, I think it’s fine.

How old would you want her to be when she sees Unfaithful?

Thirty-five. (Laughs)

You were born and raised in Manhattan. What’s your idea of the perfect New York day?

First, I’d listen to all the traffic outside and stay in bed until rush hour was done. I’d roll out at ten and go to the Cosmic Diner on Columbus Circle for breakfast. Then I’d go play Frisbee in Central Park, which I can’t visit without thinking about John Lennon. Then I’d probably take the subway downtown and get lost in the Village. I get lost every time I go to the Village. I might as well be in Wisconsin. And my Dad was a cab driver!

How intense was the Unfaithful shoot?

I took a year off of my life. I’m convinced. I herniated my disk on that film during a kissing scene. Today, I slept with a neck brace on because I re-blew it yesterday. You know what I blew it on? Reading and laughing at what I was reading, not something like learning how to surf, but laughing at something I was reading. The only reason I’m not wearing it is because I don’t want to seem like some wounded bird.

I understand that Adrian Lyne likes to do tons of takes. Did you appreciate Lyne’s pushing you at the time or was it more after the fact, when the accolades starting coming in?

At the time. It was rare and notably appreciated by me, to come home and go, “Holy cow, I couldn’t have done any more than I did today.”

What did you think when you first read the sex scenes in the script?

The sex scenes weren’t visited upon with descriptive dialogue in the screenplay, but I did know Adrian Lynne was going to be filming it, so I could fill in the blanks. It felt like a dare to say yes to this job. So I said to Adrian, “You want me to trust you a hundred percent? Okay. I’ll film everything for you, but if I’m not comfortable with it when you show it to me, then I have the right to say no.” He never showed me anything that was gratuitous.

It must have been nice to make a movie about adults for adults?

Instead of the fourteen year old demographic? I did feel like it was an honest look at the immaturity of adults who are trying their best to kid themselves that they’re being mature.

The scene of you returning home on the train and remember your first with Olivier Martinez is my favorite. What do you remember about shooting it?

I remember Adrian saying to me, “This is our last available moment to film in the train.” I really appreciated that because I like to get it in five takes. If he’s got three days on the train, we’ll be there three days and he’ll get ninety-eight takes. I said, “You want it in one take? You think I can do it? Hit it!’ And so I freaked out.

Do you feel pressure to make the most of this time?

Well, I’ve always been a little leery of hitting the bulls-eye, because then you become then you become the bulls-eye chart. So I have to shut out any voices that want to tell me what to do be guided by some natural proclivity that I have.

At least you always know that you went with your gut.

Except in the case of Judge Dredd. (Laughs) I didn’t want to make that movie. My agents went, “It’ll increase your foreign stock.” I said, “If it turns out the way I’m afraid it will, I’m going to fire you.” And I did.

You seem to have a very healthy attitude about the ups and downs of the business. Do you ever encounter people who are more high strung about it all, like everything is a life and death decision?

I have people who are even more concerned than I am about my own career.

Like, “Oh my God, Diane, if you don’t go to this party, you’re career is over!”

“You’re not gonna go to this party?” Or “You don’t want to fight about the photograph that they’re using of you in the poster?” Look, I know that making money off movies is very important, but nothing can buy word of mouth and nothing works like word of mouth. And thank God, or we would literally be on the receiving end of a conveyor belt that we don’t want to be eating.

When you’re shooting a movie, can you tell instinctively if it’s going to work?

I’m always surprised. I’ve had experiences where I’ve felt completely connected and I’ve been mistaken. Other times, I feel lost and it flies. But I would prefer to feel it and have it not be there on screen, than feel lost and find it on screen. I want that feeling. I want the experience.

What are your favorite guilty pleasures, like bad TV or woofing down junk food?

For me, an indulgence is giving myself a manicure and pedicure. I feel self-love. It’s like, “Look at your toenails and fingernails, you see? You’re gonna pull through this.” Or just going home and eating a goddamn quarter pound of brie. I like the salty fat foods more than the sweet.

Speaking of sweet, how would you describe this time in your life?

It’s like everything’s at eleven on the dial at once. It’s euphoric yet hair-raising. Sometimes my life flashes before my eyes so quickly, I think, ‘Bring on fifty. I just want put my feet up and not be photographed for a living and go and reinvent myself somewhere.’ But then there’s the other side of feeling extremely grateful and realizing the great significance of choosing wisely right now. My daughter really needs me, I’m in the beginning of the most important relationship I’ve ever had and suddenly everybody’s paying attention to what I do in my career. It’s easy to become overly analytical but I would prefer to be more off the cuff about things.

And enjoy it.

That’s the one piece of advice that Richard Gere gave me. He was like, “Would you please make sure you enjoy this.” And I was like, “Okay, I have my orders. I’ll try.”

And you are.

And I am. Oh, totally, totally, totally.