The Observer, May 2002
Diane Lane’s steamy portrayal of a ‘mature, sympathetic adultress’ in Unfaithful will finally give her the one thing she’s been avoiding all her professional life – a Hollywood ending.
Also at The Observer
If you’ve ever wondered whether movie stars secretly enjoy shooting sex scenes, think of Diane Lane, star of Unfaithful, whose wild clandestine romps with co-star Olivier Martinez take place in a bed, on a landing and up against the loo wall in a New York cafe.
“Difficult? Oh my God, yes,” she says, nodding seriously. “You see, Adrian’s a yeller.”
Adrian Lyne, the acclaimed British director, is an old master at making celluloid sizzle, having already directed 9 ½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction. His on-set technique, however, involves cheering the stars along like a coach from the sidelines.
“Stuff like ‘that’s it! Great! Go! Go! Do it again!’” says Lane, laughing. “I had to ask him to stop, it was so embarrassing. His other trick was to shoot a whole magazine of film, so one take was as long as five takes. By the end, you’re so physically and emotionally shattered you can’t even remember when or what you…” She sips her water and picks lint off her crimson tonic jacket. “It took a lot out of me, this film, it was like having a baby. I haven’t worked since. Still recovering.”
We’re sitting in a sterile suite at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills for one of those allotted half hours on the “international press” carousel. There’s a Spaniard after me, then, I think, a Dane, it’s the kind of drive thru Q&A that tends to give an actress the distant cordiality of a flight stewardess, smiling but with the defences firmly in place. Not Lane, though. She’s warm and frank and happy to sex scenes from the off. “It’s all part of the job,” she laughs. “And believe me, talking about it is much easier than doing it!”
That Lane is working at all counters a theory or two about child stars. After all there was a time when she was so set for success that failure seemed inevitable. Her first film, A Little Romance, propelled her to the cover of Time at the age of 14. Her co-star Laurence Olivier hailed her as “the new Grace Kelly” and Francis Ford Coppola cited her as his favourite young actress. She was worth millions by the age of 18 and had the world at her feet, but instead of soaring to Jolie or Paltrow heights, or indeed careening off stage into a muddle of drug abuse and therapy, Lane spent the 90s as a “working actress”, a hidden diamond in a string of also-rans and occasionally excellent indies.
After years below the celebrity radar, she has lately emerged as a seasoned talent in need of a worthy script. Her turn as the evil junkie stepmom in The Glass House was suitably debauched, and she was every inch Mark Wahlberg’s brave and sobbing widow in The Perfect Storm, her 41st credit.
Yet all of this pales into the past now that Unfaithful is out. As gruelling as it was to shoot, it may well return her to the fame she has successfully ducked for so long. Lyne is used to hits, and infidelity is his major – he followed Fatal Attraction with Indecent Proposal – so Unfaithful should be a decent bet at the box office. “Lucky number 42, I call it,” says Lane.
Loosely based on La Femme Infidele, a 1969 film by Claude Chabrol, Unfaithful tells the story of a suburban wife and mother who bumps into a handsome young Frenchman (Martinez) in a freak windstorm in Manhattan. When she falls and cuts her knee, he offers to dress the wound and she falls again, except this time, for his insouciant Gallic charm. Lane herself married a Frenchman – the actor Christopher Lambert, with whom she had Eleanor, now eight – but she denies that the accent made her scenes any easier. “Anyway, my marriage ended in divorce.”)
As Martinez becomes a mounting obsession – in every sense – their liaisons become increasingly urgent and unbridled until eventually, within the teetering edifice of her lies, her foursquare executive husband, (Richard Gere) uncovers her betrayal. Cue murder, guilt, cops, tears and a wrenching moral aftermath that ends, radically, in ambiguity – the good kind, the kind that makes you wonder what will or should happen next.
I can’t spoil it, but the final frame was fought over to the las. Initially FOX was uncomfortable with the enigmatic ending since it left crimes unpunished, which is a no-no in Hollywood. So the studio imposed a late dictat, a particularly jarring ‘Hollywood’ final line.
“Oh but Richard was furious!” says Lane. “Furious! ‘Who put this in there?’ – he was pointing at these cowering executives. And they’re pointing at each other. ‘It was him!’” Thankfully, Gere’s wrath, and the reaction of test audiences, forced FOX to concede, barely a fortnight before the US release, to running with the film’s original, haunting conclusion.
Unfaithful’s strength is its acute observation of what Lyne calls “the body language of betrayal” – the guilty gifts Lane brings Gere after her trysts, the way she accidentally flicks off the light when he’s in the room. The parts are so nuanced and the script so lean, that what might have been a standard morality tale becomes instead a complex, sympathetic portrayal of all three players – the cheat, the cheated on and the catalyst. You feel for Gere and almost forgive his crime; Martinez is disarming and unpredatory; but most improbably your heart goes out to Lane, who is caught up in the affair as she was in the windstorm. Since her guilt is so transparent, a tribute to her performance, she remains ultimately moral. Lane has created, not for the first time in her career, that most unHollywood of characters – the mature sympathetic adulteress.
“Fatal Attraction made men zip up their pants for at least a week afterwards but nobody asked why he cheated on Anne Archer,” she says. “Everyone asks me ‘why did you do it?’ Because let’s face it ‘philanderer’ doesn’t conjure up a woman, where would the world be if it did? You have to have some sort of church-like faith that somebody somewhere is going to abide by the rules!”
Lane’s previous outing as a philandering mum was in the indie gem, A Walk on the Moon, produced by Dustin Hoffman, which won her a best female nomination in the 2000 Independent Spirit Awards. As a Jewish mother who has a similar fling for freedom, romping under waterfalls and all, she captures the torment and liberation of her crime, a crime that was never meant to be cruel. Women loved it, her mailbag teemed. “They wanted to thank me for showing that mothers and wives can be objects of desire as well as younger women.”
Though she would never excuse her character’s affair, Lane explains the impulse to cheat as a need for excitement. “There’s a certain amount of drama that people require to feel alive,” says Lane. “Some people need really large weddings, others have road rage, some actually cut themselves… Best I think to know that part of yourself. Because it will surface.” Thankfully, Lane’s own appetite for drama is amply sated at work. “Acting,” she says, “is how I freak out.”
Her performance in Unfaithful is virtuoso class. On the train back from her first sex with Martinez, for example, she sits alone among the passengers considering the line she has crossed, and for a full minute without a word of dialogue, every strand of the emotional turmoil she has unleashed is described on her trembling face in concert and confusion. “Guilt and thrill, elation and regret, chagrin and embarrassment, stuff that turns you one, stuff that frightens you…” She smiles. “I go through all that every day in my kitchen.”
When I ask what she was thinking about at the time – where does she ‘go’ to find these extremes – Lane pulls a reluctant grimace and hunches her shoulders. “I find it uncomfortable to read about an actor’s process. It’s like describing your dreams to someone – no matter how ornately you describe them the other person’s bound to be lost.” Suffice to say that the experience of shooting the film was fuel enough. Lyne is, by all accounts, a hard taskmaster. “Never has the best been demanded of me so constantly,” she says. “When I was younger, sometimes the fear of not being able to cry was enough to make me cry. Whatever works, you know?”
To Lane, the job of acting could not be more ordinary. The only child of acting coach Burt Lane and Playboy centrefold Colleen Farrington (Miss October 1957), she grew up in bohemian New York around such family friends as John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Her stage career began at six, as a full member of La Mama, a globe-trotting avant-garde theatre company. “Every summer vacation I went off – just me, without my parents – and we travelled to Scotland, Finland, England, Italy, France, all over Europe. It was so empowering. I made $50 a week, I bought myself some new adidas, you know.” Lane recalls playing Medea, in the original ancient Greek. “The lines are seared into my head to this day,” she grins. “You want me to do some? I could, you know…”
She was 13 when George Roy Hill, the director of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, cast her in A Little Romance in 1979, which led to the Time magazine cover. “Even then I understood that it wasn’t about me and that this was just the publicity machine of the studio at work,” she says. “I saw Henry Kissinger in the corner of the same cover and the mythology of celebrity just fell away.” Her other international media obligations put her on the Australian equivalent of Johnny Carson, she forgets the interviewer’s name. “He asked me ‘so you’ve met Paul Newman?’ and I said ‘yeah, his wife Joan Crawford was just lovely…’” She laughs. “You don’t think do you at 14, you just talk!” These were times so full of hope and promise that there was never any question of a ‘lost childhood’.
By the age of 19, however, with 14 movies to her credit, Diane herself called time on her inimitable ascent. As Matt Dillon’s girlfriend, Patty, in Coppola’s cult classic Rumblefish, she had conquered the teenage siren role and was casting around for a lead to catapult her into the firmament once and for all. But she turned down Splash, which was a hit for Daryl Hannah, and Coppolla’s follow-ups, the Streets of Fire and The Cotton Club, turned out to be high profile flops. Why? Lane still doesn’t understand, particularly in the latter’s case. The Cotton Club, in 1984, was the last time she acted alongside Richard Gere, who was twice her age at the time (she was 18). “It was a good film but it just became this punchbag for the media,” she muses. “Why is it when you get lots of chimps together, they maul one of them to death? Is it a culling process?”
She escaped to Georgia to discover “where I began and my career ended”, which took 2 years. And upon her return to the business, she steered by a private compass that paid no heed to the clamour of the fame-makers outside. Picking parts with mixed success – “lessons were learned, agents were fired” – she has worked steadily for 15 years, and emerged a model of confidence, self-respect and sanity. (Which does for the remaining theories about child stars.) “You can’t get work without working,” she explains, breezily, “and if they knew what made hits they would make more of them! It’s a crapshoot. That’s my bumper sticker about the whole thing. And yes, I’m an addicted gambler.”
In acting terms Lane is wise beyond her 36 years (another Lane bumper sticker – “it’s not the model, it’s the mileage”), but she has none of the typical anxieties that accompany the advance in years. In fact she’s so refreshingly comfortable in her skin that when asked what she would change about her looks if she could, she doesn’t umm and aah about “my nose” or anything so cosmetic. “I wish I could always look like I’ve just finished a really good laugh,” she says. Which is yet another reason why Lane is a huge hit with women.
She is also defiantly anti-fabulous, at best bemused by the celebrity circus of which she was once a part. As almost an affront to the mythmakers of Hollywood, for example, she deliberately missed the Oscars this year. “I had gowns hanging, jewellery ready, and I just opted out,” she says, beaming. “It’s an attitude I enjoy thoroughly. I didn’t feel like ‘putting it on’, so I wore my house slippers and went to my girlfriend’s house. You know, I’ve done very well without celebrity for a very long time and I think I’m a different animal for it. What do they want me to want, that’s what I don’t understand.” Well, other than Oscar tickets, doesn’t she want a man in her life? She dated Bon Jovi and Matt Dillon during the 80s, and was married to Lambert until 1996 – a man that she has described as “the complete opposite of someone who could give me what I needed”. But since then she has remained resolutely single and has no plans to break her fast.
“I don’t want a relationship, it’s far too complex with a child,” she says. “There’s an innocence there and an image of myself in her eyes to protect, so I’m not going to fumble around in my own emotional life. Besides, relationships don’t fit in with your life. You’re consumed by them and your priorities change.” For the time being then, Lane’s life happily revolves around her only child, Eleanor. As an only child herself, her devotion is immaculate and brilliantly at odds with her life on billboards. “Up at the crack, breakfast, lunch and snack by 7am, and out the door, that’s my life.” With a bit of yoga or kickboxing thrown in, if there’s time.
The cliché goes that parents wish for their children what they themselves never had. It is no different for Lane, who is obsessed that her daughter not be railroaded into showbusiness and premature stardom as she was. “When I was 12, all I wanted was to be good at school,” she says, “and to do something admirable, something you can’t take away from me because I’m not popular or beautiful enough.”
And you can’t help but think that Diane Lane is now as popular and beautiful as ever – little Eleanor could do a lot worse.