I am waiting for Demi Moore in the lounge bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel. It’s velvety and dark. When she enters the room she takes it. It crackles with her arrival. Yet she is small alone, no entourage, no assistant, no publicist. Walking slightly oddly taking tiny steps with her legs a little too close together. She sinks to the velvet besides me. “Look. I bent over and popped a button on my skirt.” It’s a denim pencil skirt. She had to walk with a hobble because the last button, the one just above the knee was the one that had sped away leaving the skirt to open too wide and too high. She asks our waitress for a “half caff latte” and a sewing kit.
She is wearing a pretty chiffony blue and white blouse, her hair long and lustrous, her eyes small but glittering like dark diamonds. She has a presence but it’s not necessarily the one you’d expect, not in any way haughty or demanding. There’s a sweetness to her embarrassment of walking in a room with a broken skirt, not knowing who in that room was me.
She is instantly open, touchable. “I am in New York because my husband is shooting a movie here.” She uses the phrase “my husband” a lot and she shows you a soft glow as she says it. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore made big news when they got together because of the 15 year age gap. I tell her I’ve met him a couple of times and I found him very knowing, very sweet and the term old soul does not seem a cliche for him. “I agree with you on that. It’s a hard thing for me to describe exactly how he is. Who he is on a soul level has definitely lived beyond his now 29 years. There’s so much more that he just gets, even if he hasn’t had the physical experience he seems to have a knowing.” She smiles beatifically.
Demi Moore is softer, sweeter than you’d ever imagine. You sense though that she too has had a few lifetimes, a harsh upbringing, never in one place for long with alcoholic parents and a stepfather who committed suicide when she was 17. Plagued by illness throughout her childhood, driven into an imaginary world, a drive of super force that got her to Blame It On Rio. Engaged to Emilio Estevez in the Brat Pack heat of the mid-Eighties, broke it off to become one half of one of the decade’s most famous couples with Bruce Willis. In 1996 she gave up on Hollywood to move permanently to Idaho to bring up her three daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah now 18, 15 and 13. Soon after the marriage broke down but Demi did not.
Her screen persona always has something indesctructible about it. There’s a toughness, there’s a strength, drive, determination. Even when she was the object being traded in Indecent Proposal (Robert Redford’s character wanted to buy her) she was never a victim. She has done plenty of blockbusters – St. Elmo’s Fire, Ghost, A Few Good Men, and in 1996 she became the then highest paid actress in Hollywood getting $12.5 million for Striptease. In the same year she did GI Jane, the story of a woman Navy Seal, shaved head and one-handed press-ups in the mud.
The inescapable thing that she gives us is strength. She gives us steel. She gives us no compromise. What does she think of this perception of her? “Do you know what I think obviously there must be some strength because this is the response from more than a handful of people. It’s not something I’m conscious of, wanting to come across strong. But I think it’s there. It’s part of some of the tough and challenging experiences I’ve had in my life. That I’ve overcome them has created a sort of strength. But I never get the idea that I come over like a warrior. In a funny way I understand it and it’s also just so opposite of where I see myself and how I feel myself.”
She looks right at you as she talks and she’s not afraid to be looked right at herself. Her character in Mr Brooks – “a very twisted tale” – is the detective hunting down serial killer played by Kevin Costner, who is all the more spooky because of his friendly upstanding neighbourly qualities. She loves the juxtaposition of kindly Costner’s regular guy image and murderous unhinged calculating killer. Her character was in the throes of a divorce and was being manipulated by her husband for millions of dollars because she comes from a super privileged background. “So there were those aspects of this particular character that were very different to my life. Because she came from privilege she behaved differently. She had a rage that terrified me. She is someone who is out of control allowing their emotions to run the show. I have never been that, it is probably my biggest fear,” she says laughing her smoky crackling laugh. “She came from a safe place so she could go into those rages. Maybe some part of the privilege that she came from was a cushion that allowed that.”
Interesting that in her dramatically intense soap opera bad childhood that was filled with huge emotions of betrayal, loss, despair, disappointment, she felt she must contain her emotions. “There was one element in the story that got lost. It was an interesting character detail. She liked to pay for sex, which for me was fascinating. It was never really thought of as a woman’s choice so it was really twisted in that juicy kind of way.” The irony is not lost on her that this is the reverse plot of Indecent Proposal. She seems excited about how twisted this movie and her character is in the way that only someone whose life is far from twisted can.
Her first Hollywood ‘comeback’ was in a bikini in Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle. Impressive. Even more impressive was her role in Estevez’s Bobby as alcoholic nightclub singer Virginia Fallon which it has been said was based on her mother who was called Virginia, who was a drunk but not a singer. “He did know my mother. I’m not sure if it was specifically her but I think there were interesting elements. When he first sent me the script it was really to look at it, to see what I thought of it, it wasn’t necessarily to be in it.”
At that time Moore was in Idaho and didn’t know that this was to be part of her way out of there. The fact that Emilio had decided to call a fading singer Virginia Fallon gave it an extra piquancy. “The irony wasn’t lost on me,” she says drily. “It was a gift. Whatever parallels there were with me and my mother it was a really positive way for me to get more inside the pain that she was going through.” And the pain that you were going through. Your upbringing was hard. “It had some not so great moments. But I wouldn’t say hard. There are people who have had it worse and people who have had it not so bad. The one thing I can say is through all the nuttiness I was loved by my mum and my father.”
Her mother was only 19 when she had her. She didn’t grow up with her biological father. He left her mother before she was born. Until she was 15, Demi, named Demetria after a shampoo that her mother saw in a magazine, believed Danny Guynes was her father when in fact it was Charles Harman, a cocaine addicted vending machine salesman from Texas. Was she hurt not to have been told? Confused that for 15 years the man she thought was her father turned out to be not? “Yes and no. It was the norm of a certain kind. It was what I knew. Certainly not what I would want for my children but if I didn’t step out of how hurtful that was it would have been mind twisting for me. There were many insecurities and doubts but if I take a step back I know they made the best choices they could. They thought they were doing the right thing.”
She and her brother Morgan were constantly relocated. Guynes job as a salesman meant they moved 30 times before she was 15 and she was never in the same school for one year. She learnt to assimilate fast, to not make friends because she was going to lose them. By the time she was 12 she was cross-eyed and had to have an operation to correct a lazy eye. Then she got a kidney disease called nephrosis. The drugs she took caused body fluids to build up in her body so much that she couldn’t stand. The disease can be fatal.
When Danny Guynes committed suicide her mother spiralled into worse alcoholism. Moore became the parent. “You could either be trapped by what was going on around or you could find a way out. I think that everything, even if it is scary or good, comes into our life to register as an opportunity to help elevate and expand us as human beings. When I played Virginia Fallon it was touching a dark place that maybe I didn’t get to go to when my mother was alive, my own compassion for the pain she lived with… There was a lot of ugliness to the character of Virginia and I felt sad for that. You don’t come into this life wanting to be anything other than happy.”
It’s as if whatever unhappiness she suffered as a child she wants to touch it, understand it as an actor but never live through it. She always wants to make the choice to be happy. Sounds simple and extremely complicated. What she doesn’t want to carry with her is bitterness and she doesn’t, yet she so easily could. Bitterness would have been the easiest thing. “If I look back at my past I look at those things as my gifts. Some of my lowest points were the most exciting opportunities to push through to be a better person.” Do you mean growing up? “No, not even growing up. If I continue to peel back the layers of myself I think we all want the same things. We all want to feel loved and feel a part of but we all have self doubt no matter where we came from.” Did the extremities of your upbringing push you further away from the self doubt? “We weren’t dirt poor but we didn’t have a lot of money. I entered this career having no background or connection to acting. I had so little I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the risk.”
She was inspired to try acting by Natassja Kinski who was a neighbour.
She had little experience but a pile of determination. She married a singer called Freddy Moore in 1980, divorced him a few years later but kept his name.
“Once tasting a bit of success it’s more challenging. We have to continue to be willing to take a risk so that we don’t get too safe. Unwillingness to risk failure is always there but it gets harder when you feel you have more to lose. So the better place to keep yourself in is one out of your comfort zone, willing to try even at the risk of failing. And that’s not natural to me at all.” She laughs and raises her perfect eyebrows at herself, “In fact it’s completely unnatural.”
Perhaps this reassessing herself has come through her interest in the kabbalah which teaches you to put yourself in a position to do what you least expect. Perhaps she has never known what a comfort zone is, so it is in fact completely natural to her. Looking over her life it seems it has been filled with risk, her career, her relationships, What does she think? What were the most exciting risks to her? “I don’t know,” she says trying to think. “I don’t live in what I was. What do you think have been my biggest risks?” I suggest that getting naked when she was hugely pregnant and posing for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 caused a worldwide gasp. At the time it was not deemed possible to be sexy and pregnant. She broke the taboo. She dismisses this. After all, it was one day of her life. And although it might have had a significant effect on changing people’s perceptions and others have copied it since, most recently Myleene Klass, it didn’t seem to involve personal growth for her. “I would say all of my movies were risks even if they didn’t necessarily work in a way that it was a great movie that you would have liked. I would say Striptease was a huge risk for me. It was difficult for me to do the dancing and the actual stripping, contrary to what anybody elses opinion would be. And the gain from it was different to what I would have imagined. While the external public perception was hyper focused on what I was being paid for taking my clothes off ($12.5 million), for me it was the intense focus of connecting with my body and myself in a sensual sexual way, in a way that I’ve never felt before. I was always very uncomfortable with my body. And it was to do with being female and seductive.”
It’s hard to believe that Demi Moore couldn’t have been comfortable in her perfect body. Her long delicate limbs, her pale flawless skin, are all just fleshy enough. “No, I was not. I’ve always felt much more self conscious. I felt I had to push myself to feel more feminine, a different kind of feminine. If you look at everything I’ve done before that, there weren’t a lot of highly sexual roles.”
Indeed, she was always the sweet thing or naughty thing, the vixen or victim. She was the object not the predator. “Being on stage in this character and the way in which I had to use my body made me find my sexuality. In the same way when I did GI Jane it allowed me to find a connection with the masculine part of myself.” The two films came out back to back in 1996 and indeed showed a kind of schizophrenia, absolute opposites and extremes that met in Moore. “It was fascinating. It helped doing Striptease first. I took a lot of criticism, a lot of heat, got hit really hard for both of these films, I think because there was a lot of money attached to it.” Her eyes downcast she seems embarrassed about the money rather than proud of setting a new standard for female stars. That was your gimme period I say, as in gimme more. She chuckles, a little slowly, a little uncomfortably, waits to see if I’m going to criticise. Instead I say there’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Hollywood male superstars were certainly being paid at least that. Bruce Willis certainly was. “Yes, having greater desire, does that make you more selfish, or does that give you more opportunity to give?”
Certainly her demands were not seen as altruistic. People were nasty, people were jealous, the bubble had burst. “Both these movies combined to give me some big lessons. I feel I betrayed women with Striptease and men with GI Jane. That wasn’t my intention but I feel that’s how it was perceived. But yes, in that sense I challenged the comfort zone. The heat hurt her. She was not indestructible. After all even now she looks sad about this. Not wanting to stay in the sadness she says brightly, “Where I am now is probably one of the moments of greatest risks in my own career. When I stepped away from working just to be with my children I never really thought about the ramifications of defecting my career.”
What was the biggest risk, going to Idaho, abandoning the career, or coming back? “When I realised I needed to be with my kids in one place for whatever amount of time it didn’t feel like a risk in terms of my career because it just wasn’t what my priority was. It was just my children were important to me. They were little, aged from about five to eleven. It wasn’t about am I giving up work it was about my children were important to me.”
What made you decide to stop and move permanently to Idaho? “We announced our separation and my mother died. I went off to do a film after this called Passion Of Mind. The film didn’t get the best of me and my children weren’t getting the best of me. I was not in the mix. The film had been an extraordinary script and an OK film, but it wasn’t about that. I was the product of divorced parents who weren’t present for me. I realised that if I wasn’t present for them I was going to have bigger issues with them later.” She did not want to let history repeat itself. She was left alone at a young age and felt she had too much responsibility too quickly and she grew up too fast. “I didn’t want to work and drag my kids with me while they were trying to cross this huge transition. I wanted them to become as stable and as confident as possible. I’m grateful that I had the ability to do that. There are people that go through this and don’t have the financial means, but I did. It wasn’t a risk, it was the right thing to do.”
Her mother was only 54 when she died of cancer. Moore had tried to help her with her alcoholism and their relationship had become frustrated because her mother didn’t seem to want the help she needed. Moore moved the whole family to a motel in New Mexico so she could be with her in the last weeks. The fairy tale marriage with Willis was over and she had not left her career on a high note. “The bigger risk was stepping back into this world that I’d left at a point where I’d faced the harshest criticism I’d ever faced in my career. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to come back. My children though kept asking, are you ever going to work again. Maybe they saw that they were missing that piece of me. It was a big part of who I am.” Were you missing it? “A little bit. I was very happy just being in Idaho. I also realised we can get too comfortable. A sanctuary becomes a hiding place and that’s not a benefit to anybody.”
Her comeback movie was Charlie’s Angels. Was that another risk? Appearing in a bikini alongside women a decade younger? “I didn’t worry about being with younger women and I didn’t have time to think about being in a bikini. I was asked if I could start working a month earlier than originally planned so I didn’t have time to obsess about that.” But wasn’t there a part of your life when you were obsessed with exercise, like running 20 miles a day? “Long ago when I did Striptease and GI Jane.” She pauses to peel back more layers. “It wasn’t just about the parts requiring it. I was much more driven and obsessive about physical exercise and dieting. It peaked. After GI Jane I was burnt out. I stopped work and I stopped exercising. I realised I needed to come from the inside and find a sense of peace. I had manipulated and created something but it wasn’t coming from a place that was really grounded. I realised being thin did not equal happiness.” Did you find it only fuelled your insecurities? “Of course, it’s never going to give us the confidence because that has to come from a connection that’s more spiritual. You can call it God, you can call it the Light, but it’s something greater than you. Greater than what is tangible because what is tangible is finite. I’ve stopped trying to control it.”
She found that the happier she was and the less she tried the better she felt and looked. Although the tabloids would have it another way. Some cite she paid $3 million for her new body. Does she find that a compliment? “No. It’s irritating. And it isn’t true. To fight it feels futile because I feel it perpetuates the myth. But really,” she says with mounting anger, “the culmination for me was that I had my knees done. When I read that I thought wow, should I have been worried about my knees, I didn’t realise they were so bad. There were multiple reports that I’d had them done.” Her knees are readily available besides me. She invites me tod examine them for the scar. She bends them and shows me how in certain positions the tiniest bit of fat pokes over her knee creating a wrinkle, but it’s not a scar. I put my finger across it to check. I can feel no ridge, just smooth skin. A couple of businessmen in the corner look alarmed why I would be stroking Demi Moore’s knees. But she seems to find it amusing. “It’s not just my knees. They say I’ve had multiple face surgeries. I was in getting a facial recently and there were reports that I’d been in there for countless hours saying I’d had surgical procedures. Am I going to sue? Do they want to examine my entire face and look for marks? Do I really care? Well, I have some ego and I think are they trying to say I can only look good if I bought it.”
Twenty years in the media have not hardened her to this. She composes and says, “Also I feel that this separates women. The media is trying to perpetuate something else saying you can’t have this because you can’t afford it.” She’s adamant she has had nothing done to her face. She allows me to stare at her very close. She has fine lines around her eyes. No evidence of any work. She also assures me she’s never had lypo. There is no steeliness. Here are the insecurities that created the steel. I tell her she has to take it as a compliment that people think that she looks so good.
I wonder if the focus on her looks has made her introspective. At 44 she’s too old for the bimbo role but not old enough to be the matriarch, the grand dame. Although in her next film, Flawless, which reunites her with Michael Caine 23 years after they starred in the kitschy sex farce Blame It On Rio, she plays a woman who is “Brittle. It’s a woman who’s given up on her personal life. It’s set in the Sixties where a woman striving for a career in the corporate diamond world was unheard of. It was interesting to explore her. She’s strong but not really. She’s brittle.”
It’s as if playing brittle gets rid of the brittleness in her own life. “I’d like to do something more vulnerable. People associate me with strong but that can be limiting. I suppose if I really want it I’ll have to go hunt it down myself. If you want it you have to be proactive and do the work. We hear all the complaints. There aren’t enough roles for women my age. So I think let’s figure out creative ways to find these. My goal though is to continue to grow as a human being, to find more ways in which I can be a better giver in all aspects. To be a better wife, better mother, better friend, better sister.” Do you feel more able to be loved now? “Yes, I do. I feel like I have a great gift of being with somebody who loves me and supports me. We share a connection that allows me to dig deeper within myself and look at things that I was afraid to look at.” She says this with absolute certainty, even talking about Kutcher she seems to shiver with strength and softness at the same time.
She met Kutcher when she was in New York doing a photo shoot and he was hosting Saturday Night Live. There was already quite a buzz about Kutcher. He was funny and gorgeous. successful and popular and amusing. His show Punk’d was by this time an MTV classic. He was a star of That ’70s Show and was just about to embark on a successful movie career. A group of friends went out to dinner so it didn’t feel awkward, like a set-up. At the time everyone thought she had such a good relationship with her ex-husband Bruce Willis and that they were about to get back together again. They got married by a Kabbalah rabbi in 2005. Was she looking for someone or did he take her by surprise? “I actually think I was at a point where I thought I was never going to find anybody. I don’t come with baggage I come with trunks and as the mother of three teenagers I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself but dating seems kind of silly, I thought I just don’t know how to do this.”
Yet she has learnt to deal with those trunks and unpack the bitterness and anger that makes them such a heavy load. We see happy smiling pictures of Moore, her daughters, her ex-husband, and he current husband smilingly skiing or on family days out. Kutcher never tried to be a father or replace Willis. The children call him M.O.D – My Other Dad. What’s the formula for getting on so well with her ex? “People forget that you get brought together with someone because you share a connection and that there was a depth of love and it gets buried when things go off on another path. It’s easy to forget that and stay attached to the negativity, the bad stuff, the pain. But you do have a choice. You can stay connected to what was shared and find a new form with which to share it.”
She’s done exceptionally well with her very modern family who all go on holiday together? Does she think it depends on how badly it ended on how well the relationship continues? “No. It takes too much work not to get over it. The energy it takes not to forgive is exhausting, it’s miserable. You just have to want to move on. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s lots of emotions and sensitivities to deal with. But if you hold on and don’t forgive it’s destructive. In our case we placed our children as a priority. After all, each of them was created by a piece of us and I never wanted them to think what happened to us had any reflection on them. My parents used my brother and I as pawns. I was determined that that would never happen with my family. I have daughters so obviously I support a daughter’s relationship with their father because it could dictate choices that they would later make.” She gives a haunted little chuckle. “I was the parent with my parents. I took it all on.”
So many things have been written about her getting together with Ashton. The age difference. The fact that she was 15 years older than him. The fact that she was once one half of a famous celebrity couple that ruled the tabloids long before there was Bennifer, Bradgelina or Tomkat.
“On paper if somebody had said you are going to be marrying somebody who is 25 as he was then, who sees a woman who has three kids as a bonus, I would have laughed. I would never have known that this man could have existed.” Who he was was evident very early on. That first night that the big group went out to dinner. “I stepped out of the room to call my children to say goodnight. I was on he phone to them saying I love you and I miss you guys and there he was. He stood there and he looked right at me and he said, “That is the most beautiful thing I ever heard.” He paused, then closed the door. So I knew I had encountered someone really different. I just knew. There was something really different.”
Did you feel that you knew him before in another life? (As he says of her). “I felt there was a connection. I feel like I have been with him the whole of my life. That’s how it feels. I feel so so blessed. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I asked the universe for a partner, somebody who I could really share everything with.”
When she talks about Kutcher her voice is so warm it’s almost purring. She could talk about him all the time really, and how great and solid and clever and sexy he is.
Do you want a baby with him? “We would love that. It would be just fantastic. We are doing lots of practising for that. And you can’t complain about practising with him.” She giggles a sweet girlie giggle. “I don’t know what I’ve done, what merit I’ve possibly had, that the universe could reward me by putting us together.”
I think you have a genuine happy ending. “I do, I do.” You feel happy for her. You feel happy that such love exists. In fact mesmerised.
We meet at Shutters Hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. Lovely views of the bright blue sky and pale sand. We order lobster salad and white wine. Almost unheard of at lunchtime anywhere in California. Anjelica Huston has never been a conventional woman, one that fits in easily or accepted convention. She’s always been attracted to the dark side, the gothic, most at home playing Morticia in The Addams Family, chopping the heads off roses or being a witch or a mafia bad girl in Prizzi’s Honor for which she won her Oscar.
She’s known for having an alpha presence, yet men in her life have cast heavy shadows: her father, the macho director John Huston, for whom the term hellraiser seems too weak a cliché, and for being involved with Jack Nicholson, larger than life womaniser straight out of the same mould.
She has always had a dangerous presence, edgy. Her face has been called imposing, imperious, corvine. She herself joked it was the kind of face that was only ever seen on old coins.
Today it’s the same interesting face, although the eyes look a little surrendered. She looks well put together, blue Palazzo pants, black patent leather, Tori Burch mules, a soft white T-shirt with net inserts that reveal pale flesh, although perhaps not as vampiric as it once was.
She smells exotic, the scent she’s always worn, Patou. But there’s something that’s very much not the same and no matter how light she might try to make the conversation there is a profound sadness. Two years ago her husband of 18 years, Robert Graham, the sculptor, died. The year before that he was sick in hospital. It’s been an extremely grueling time for Huston. First of all a period of reevaluating love and what it meant, concluding that this was the man she has loved most in her life. And then losing him.
Her hair is still striking, lustrous, but not as dark as it used to be. And her mouth still looks like it was drawn on. A cartoon mouth that turns up and down at the edges as she expresses pain or joy. Intense brown eyes that are not afraid to look right through you.
She talks about death with a disconcerting familiarity. Ostensibly we are here to talk about Horrid Henry, a rather sweet 3D children’s movie where she plays the cruel teacher wearing a prosthetic nose, mouth and wrinkles.
Somehow odd to be talking about something flimsy after we go into the year she spent hoping her husband was not going to die and how it’s taken her a while to accept “widowhood”. She makes me shiver inside every time she mentions the word “widow” it comes with such pathos. It hurts every time she describes herself thus.
I mention in an attempt to be cheery that I came across an interview with Jack Nicholson, her long time love, where he referred to breaking up with her. He said ‘Anjelica annihilated me.’ Her mouth doesn’t quite turn up at the edges. She already knows what he said by heart. She says that he rather spoilt it by in the next sentence saying that he wouldn’t like to change anything, he’d just like to deal with it better.
“I think he recovered quite well. I’ve seen that quote floating around for a bit and the caveat being would you like to go back and make things work and the answer being no, I’ll let that one rest. I paraphrase.”
Interestingly she paraphrases in a slightly more negative way. He actually said, “I have made a mistake, but I don’t want to go back and correct it. I would rather deal with it.”
She says, “You can’t go back in time but you can move forward. I talk to Jack. I don’t speak on a day to day basis but we keep in touch. It’s a nice relationship, mature.”
Quite nice that you were able to annihilate. “Well particularly if they deserve to be annihilated.” A small smile. “At least he let that be known. I remember after we broke up there being a kind of photo layout of him and his new paramour in Life or People magazine with testimonies from his friends as to how he’d found the love of his life. I found that incredibly…” She’s searching for the words, and then just laughs. “There have been so many paramours since then.” She instantly changes the subject.
There’s something dismissive though in the way she speaks about him. Yes they still speak. Yes they’re still friends. It’s not so much that she’s dismissive of him but dismissive of that adrenalin fuelled passion, the intense uncertainty of their relationship where infidelity didn’t necessarily mean betrayal until Nicholson very publicly had a one-night stand that turned into a few weeks, Rebecca Broussard got pregnant, and there was no turning back.
Huston had already been trying for a baby. She remembers the photos in the lifestyle magazines of Nicholson and girlfriend and baby. It was all too public. It’s as if she’s seeing the magazine spread in front of her still.
Perhaps she can take a small delight in the fact that if she was the love of Nicholson’s life he was certainly not the love of hers. She talks about how hard it was. How she couldn’t think straight or do anything except look after her husband.
“When my husband was sick it was impossible for me to work. I dedicated my time to him and now for the first time I’m having the opportunity to look outside. Oddly nothing came to me at that time. I had very few offers. Perhaps people knew what was going on. Perhaps it was just luck that I had enough time to devote myself entirely.”
In the last year I did three movies. There was one called The Big Year with Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. I’ve got to know Steve Martin a lot more and I don’t mean in the biblical sense. I’ve been around him for many years and I never thought that he particularly liked me. But on The Big Year I suddenly saw this other side of him. Compared to the Steve Martin I’d known all those years before he was practically emollient. He was jovial, arranging dinner dates. I think it was because he’s happily married and I found him to be an inventive actor, quite clever. The Big Year is about competitive bird watching and I play a sea captain and Owen Wilson and I have an ugly past where I forced him off the boat with a knife.
“I did another movie. The title keeps changing although it’s being alluded to as a ‘cancer comedy’. It’s a movie that emphasizes the crazy things and emotions that surround a serious illness.”
So she did a movie dealing with serious illness and death just after she’d experienced it. That was harsh. “Life is harsh. My life has always reflected my work. My life, my work. I don’t know which comes first. I don’t know if that’s just what I’m sympathetic to or it’s fate.”
The waiter seems over attentive, very keen to listen in. she says she doesn’t know why she chose this restaurant. It’s always been unlucky for her. Once she fell over, slipped on the floor by the bar, was on the ground and nobody came to help her.
She grew up in Galway, Ireland, in the guest house of a big rambling house called St. Cleran’s Manor House. Her father loved Ireland. He loved hunting. He loved the freedom. He hated McCarthyism, control. She too has adopted Ireland. It’s in her heart. She was very moved by the Queen. “How fabulous was the Queen’s speech,” she says with pride.
Her father got rid of the house when her mother died and his new wife didn’t like it. Something that also causes an ache.
Has she been back to Ireland much? “I’ve been back a couple of times since Bob died and that’s been good for me. I’ve been back to the house. It’s in a bad state. It was a hotel. Merv Griffin of all people bought it. It had a sushi restaurant in it. It was a very strange experience when I went back there. it was like being Alice down a rabbit hole. If you could imagine going from a home with very functional rooms to everything being displaced, every door I opened went into a room or bathroom and some of it not so beautiful. They chopped a lot of the woods down and you could see big mansions to the right and left uninhabited and some half finished. I guess that had been the Germans that were visiting. The cook and the housekeeper sweetly offered me cup cakes and some booklets of St Cleran’s Manor House when it belonged to Merv Griffin. You want to see the place functioning and the fire burning.”
Perhaps she should buy it? “Ha. I’d have to be in a very different place. Those places cost so much to keep. If there were any rich Irishmen who wanted to marry me that could go together quite easily. Even if they were gay that could be arranged.”
The food arrives and she smiles at the waiter. This time he leaves. She talks about the director of Horrid Henry. “He’s such a nice man. He came all the way to California and asked me to play Miss Battleaxe. When I saw her she had purple hair and a pointy nose, so I asked for prosthetics and he said no, no, no one’s going to be using prosthetics and I said I don’t know how to go about this part unless you let me have a little pointy nose and a little pointy chin. They didn’t stick on very well but I thought it was integral to her character that she be pointy. I got fixated with this one nature programme that they have on the BBC where a couple set a trap in the shore lands of Cornwall and they caught a common shrew and he had a very long nose, a plaintive look but a hateful shrewish little face, so I thought I’ve found my template.”
She demonstrates the look. “Exactly like Miss Battleaxe.” Conspiratorially she says, “She gets kindlier. She redeems herself in the end.”
Sometimes her voice is like a cat’s purr. A cat who’s been sipping cognac and had a few cigarettes, warm and crackly. It wasn’t her worse experience with prosthetics. It took only a few hours to get on and off. “Witches took five hours to get on and three hours to get off. At the end of the day you wanted to tear it off but you had to do it piece by piece.”
Was she worried at the way she would look as Miss Battleaxe or in Witches. “No, I knew what I was letting myself in for. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a kids movie. You’re not looking for subtlety. And I have less and less vanity.
“I don’t like looking bad accidentally. But if it’s my choice to play a hideous looking witch I should be able to do that. But that’s not to say if I see a horrible looking picture of myself I won’t cringe ‘How could this happen?'”
I remember she told me she tried botox once and her husband told her a sad story and she couldn’t react to it so he got upset. She laughs at the thought of it completely impassive to his tragedy. I’m wondering does she really find it still funny or perhaps it’s too sad. Her face doesn’t betray.
“That was the last time I did botox, but one of the oddest things about my present moment is that right now there is no one in my life to tell me what I shouldn’t do so I find myself relying on what people have told me in the past. I don’t know if I should rush out and do all the things that were forbidden. I’ve seen some really good looking women in their sixties with not a line on their face and it’s a different kind of look, a certain amount of not so haggardness, smoothness. I looked very tired after that year and a half is what I’m trying to say. (When she was looking after her dying husband). I don’t know that a little lifting, a little botox, is such a horrible idea this year as it was last. I don’t feel adamant about it any more.”
Isn’t botox quite detrimental to acting as it promotes expressionlessness?” “That’s true and that’s a reason for not doing it. But a few of my friends have had little lifts here and there. I wonder if I go in and have a face lift that in the next few weeks they’ll have an innovation. I just don’t like the idea of pain. It’s not much of a priority in my life.”
Is there another man in her life? She shakes her head looking more relaxed, less savaged by grief. She perks up. “It’s strange I’ve never had a period in my life since I was 15 that I didn’t have a boyfriend or several. It’s taking some getting used to. There are some moments where yes, I have been lonely. You come home after a night out and you go, what’s missing? Oh yes, there’s no one to talk to about it. So you certainly feel that emptiness, but at the same time I don’t feel compelled to fill that space. The first thing I did when Bob died was I couldn’t stop digging holes. I made a garden behind my house feverishly. I went up to my ranch and planted trees. I think that was a healthy thing for me. But I haven’t met anybody that I would want to be with in that sense.”
Maybe it’s too early. “Maybe. I don’t think I’m putting out the signals. I don’t care really. I’m still living in a house I shared with my husband. I can’t imagine establishing a life with somebody in that house.”
Is she comfortable living in that house? “Not only comfortable. I think it’s beautiful. There is a studio that he built that he was going to work in for ever and ever. It’s a very big property. Venice is where I moved for Bob. Venice has been good for me, character building. If it hadn’t been for Venice I’d be behind some gate on Mulholland Drive. I’d be a recluse and afraid of mixing with the public. Venice takes the starch out of you. There’s a very immediate sense of living that you have down here. Positive character building but not altogether easy. When I first came I was jumpy because I was overly recognised and I thought that would infringe on my freedom or my security. And that’s what happened to a lot of celebrities. The next thing you know you are a prisoner. It’s pretty easy to stay behind your gates and stay away from the rest of humanity. Much better to deal with being alive.
There is a sense of sadness when she says that, as if something without Graham is not alive. She’d always been attracted to bad boys and risk takers and taking risks. All of that shifted when she married Graham.
She was 39 and felt “as you go through life people reflect what you need. “Great love affairs don’t necessarily make great marriages or even great friendship. Robert, he was kind to me. I got married because I finally met someone who told me what they were going to do and did it. He was single-minded in his pursuit of me and a genius in his own right.”
All her life previous to this she had been the pursuer. “Pursuing is not a happy place,” she shudders. The pursuing seems lifetimes ago, but still too close.
I remember when I met her before we ended up crying. She had said that losing Jack was “like experiencing a death in the family. It was terrible abandonment and loneliness. He symbolised a whole life for me. He was my family.”
Thinking about it now, their relationship was very fractured at the time. The fact that he was family was perhaps a projection. Now she has lost her actual family, her husband. She’s very aware that her father was the first imprint, a vibrant character who was cruel to actors when he directed them to test them, and was scant with his praise. She would have to make do with a wink or a nod. When he first directed her in A Walk With Love And Death it was a harsh experience. Yet when she won his love it was worth winning.
It seems that all her life, until Graham, she had to pursue, win over, challenge. With Graham the love was just there. Does she feel his presence? “I had one thing happened shortly after he died. I have a shrine to him and I asked him a question and it was answered immediately in a way I can’t be specific about. I have a sense of him everywhere. That he could just walk through the door and I won’t be particularly surprised. And then there’s the knowledge that he’s not going to.
I’ve been following a poet, a Mexican poet whose son was killed by the cartels. He said the effect of the death is so profound that he’s never going to write poetry again. ” She said it as if she has complete empathy.
” He talks about God and the afterlife and the questions that only get answered when we die. …. So I don’t think I’ll know until then. It’s already an act of faith that people think they will know at that moment.”
Her voice is soft, a profound sadness radiates.
Is she religious? “Sometimes. I’m mostly pragmatic. I search less because I know the answer is more remote. It’s like when you chase something it runs away more. If you chase a horse you never catch it. One has to have a lot of energy for those things.
“In terms of spirituality what you put out there is what you attract. The object is to get yourself to a place where you can be receptive, where you can be kind, where you don’t have to be defensive, where you can be at ease in your own skin.”
The dessert menu comes. We decide to share a chocolate tart. “If you’re going to have dessert why go for the fruit.” Good to see she’s all or nothing.
“I have just got a TV series (Smash). For the next half a year at least I’ll be in New York. If I’m going to spend half of what’s left of my life in New York I may as well enjoy it.” It’s a series about Broadway with Jack Davenport and Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee, an American Idol contestant. “A sweet thing. It’s very well written. I’ll put my dogs in cages and just go. I wish I could do the same with my horses. I have two dogs now Mecha, who’s a hairless Mexican dog but she has hair, and another one I think she’s a lhasa apso. I’m taking them on a boat at the weekend to Catalina island. We in California never go to Catalina island. In the olden Los Angeles days people used to make that trip to go to a ballroom, to gamble and drink too much.”
I think it was a boat off Catalina island that Natalie Wood fell overboard and drowned. “I am determined to gather my rosebuds, especially if I’m going to be in New York. I want to make the most of California.”
She says that since she wanted to fill up space with doing lots of movies that’s when offers came in. “You say it’s weird but if your life always works that way it doesn’t seem weird. The question is do you choose the work or does it choose you?
“Sometimes we attract things that are darker. Sometimes we chase rainbows because we think they are going to transform our lives. So many girls go after guys because they think it’s going to transform them. It doesn’t make life easier. Perhaps it makes life harder. Perhaps it just makes you be able to feel. Or perhaps you feel you’re going to go after some other people and see how that feels.”
Did she do that? “Yes. Absolutely. As soon as I got as I wanted I was like, is that all there is?” These days she says she’s not in pursuit of anyone. “Just my friendships and my affections with my animals and with people who are already on my side. Another very strange that happened in widowhood which I never expected is that people can react very negatively to you and be very nasty. That somehow you haven’t done enough. Or they’re owed something. I think that happens all the time around death. There’s an expectation perhaps of money or inheritance. You think people are going to wonderful and comforting and empathic, but they’re fucking greedy. That’s all I have to say about it. So you get a nice dose of human nature and it can take the sterm and drum out of you. In a way whatever can get you through this, even if it’s anger at a person or two for you to plight your sorrow, it will get you through it. It will get you through the pain because the pain is something that gnaws away at you and it’s like an affliction. Whereas at least with anger you can strike it out and get it out of you. That no suffering pain is very difficult. So in a way finding myself in a position where I had to be self-protective was good.”
She takes a fork full of salty caramel chocolate tart. “People don’t want you to be needy. They want nothing to do with a needy person. They want you as strong as an ox. People who have known you strong don’t like to see you needy. Eventually you get a little hardened. It’s not an easy time for women right now. Men have never been more shrill or more feminine. I’ve never known so many gay people. perhaps it’s the opposition. Everyone wants to settle in with people who are more like them.”
Does she? “Do I want to be a lesbian? No. I think when you undergo the loss of a mate sex is the least of it. It seems trivial. I look around right now if I’m in a restaurant or waiting for someone or on the street. I look at men and I think, how old are you? What kind of man would want a woman my age? Would it be a man with salt and pepper hair and a pinstripe suit? Who would it be? Would it be some sort of artistic type that would want to have a shag on the beach? Would it be Rupert Murdoch or Warren Buffet or Donald Trump? Is there a template for the perfect man now? At one point it was Brad Pitt wasn’t it. But who would it be now? I suppose Jack was a universal template.” A pause. A smile. She had Jack the universal template. “I don’t know where the template is now.”
We discuss that everyone’s template is perhaps based on some kind of psychological father figure. Her father was a womaniser who lived only in the pursuit of passion in that moment. He never thought of consequences. No surprise then that Nicholson and her father loved each other.
“I read another book about my father. Every time I read about him he’s making love to more women. This man has a more active love life than I do and he’s been dead 20 years. And then I read about my poor mother waiting around for him and tolerating his stuff. That’s not something I’d be tempted to do now.”
Has she ever done that? “I think I was doomed to replicate that kind of thing. But now, no. My type was, he’s out the door, he must be good. A gorgeous deep-voiced flatterer. The bad dad. I understand now that you don’t have to jump into anything. There’s a certain period of widowhood grace. I completely understand the way you would wear black clothing for a few years, to keep you away from the world. And that’s not unhealthy. You need it. When you’ve been administering to someone who’s incredibly sick, trying to be everything to their nothing, you pour so much of yourself out, you are vulnerable, you are shaky after that. You need a period to rebuild.
“There is this constant reminder that we are alone and there’s no mistaking that. It’s not really a deception. Once in a while you will leave yourself to be part of a couple. You stop making decisions on your own and for yourself. As part of a couple – I’ve been in that position where someone has said, what are you doing this summer? And I say I’m going to do this and that. And I get that sidelong look from my partner who’s like, what about we? You’re going to do what? What about us? And I think it’s not about us, it’s about me.”
In her relationship with Graham she never felt dominated. She was able to be her own person and be with someone else. She wouldn’t know how to do a relationship as one half of a couple. “My relationships haven’t lasted as long as myself, so as a single entity I’m going to own it. Going to New York scares me, but I’m going with it. Where I’m going to be, who am I going to be with, who I’m not going to be with – I don’t even have a child to make those decisions around. It’s all about me now.”
She talks about her horses that are upstate on her ranch. She is sad they won’t be going to New York. “They are extremely intuitive. They can tell by the feel of you if you are tentative on their back.” She talks about CeCe a big strong piebald mare with a big head, the horse that had been given to her by her father’s last wife.
“I’ve got to my ranch and said I’m going to ride all my horses today. I started with the ones I knew best and saved her to the end. I got on top of her and within seconds I was sailing back to the ground on a cloud of dust. I looked at her immense buttocks. She was an incredible animal and I was like a spider scurrying away from her and then I thought I really don’t need to kill myself this way. I used to take risks all the time to really really risk, but now I don’t stand up on the back of motorways going 80mph on an Italian autoroute. I was an athlete and a daredevil, I always took emotional risks, I always put myself in at the deep end.” Has she stopped? “I’d think twice before I took big risks now whereas I never used to think that way.” Does she regret any of those risks? “Not at all. Some were fun and some a bit hurtful. I got over it a lot of love poems later.”
She talks about the shift in her and the shift of her whole family to the east coast. Danny will be going east working on some projects and nephew Jack is in Boardwalk Empire. He used to go out with Cat Deeley. “I think they were both too big for the relationship. They both wanted big careers as well.”
Briefly there’s a look of nostalgia. You see her or you feel her reminiscing about big relationships with big characters, tumultuous ones. Now those love poems? “Thrown away or in the trash.”
Now and again you get a glimpse of a naughty look, a sense of adventure. She may not be wanting to ride the big bucking horse but gradually she’ll work out a new ride.