Daryl Hannah: Rich Little Rich Girl
Since Hannah shuns interviews, I immediately ask how she had reacted to the prospect of this one. "Noooooo," she wails, striking a horrified pose and rolling her eyes. "And you know why: Who wants to be put under a microscope and examined? Part of the attraction of acting is being somebody else, of expressing yourself and your feelings through another character." But, these days, the girl who has won feel-bad notices for clinkers -- Summer Lovers, Clan of the Cave Bear, Legal Eagles --can feel good about her comic turn in Steel Magnolias, the movie version of Robert Harling's play about the trials and tribulations of six Southern women. Hannah, playing a none-too-bright, Jesusthumping beautician, scrunches her eyes behind Lisa Loopner glasses, bumps into scenery, and defies us to detect the dollface under the churchmouse hair, the curves cloaked by the schmatte straight out of dog-patch. It's a timeworn movie star ploy: the dish who goes dishrag to prove she can act.
Since Splash--in which Tom Hanks explained away Hannah's character's drowsy innocence by saying, "She's from out of town"--the actress has tended to be typed as an exotic. Her new movie may not accomplish for her what, say, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean did for Cher or what Stay Hungry did for Sally Field. But for Hannah, whose screen persona can seem so walled-in and, well, absent, Steel Magnolias is a small victory. She succeeds for the first time in suggesting someone other than a creature from a galaxy far, far away.
And thus, she has agreed to an interview. Apparently, Daryl's desire to be an actress can be traced back to her time at the tony private school in Chicago. One day, during the fifth grade, one of Hannah's classmates ("Tanya Neimark, one of the popular girls") passed around for Show-and-Tell 8X10 glossies of herself acting in children's theater and TV commercials. "A light went off in my head," Hannah recalls. "I always had insomnia as a child. And still do, a lot of times. But rather than lie awake sleepless, I used to sneak down the hall to watch 'The Late, Late Show,' all those great old movies. I saw Singin' in the Rain, which made me sort of realize how movies were made, and I thought, 'That's what I really want to do. I want to be just like Shirley Temple' Then, of course, I went into a panic because I thought I was already over the hill." One of Temple's best-loved roles was, of course, Poor Little Rich Girl.
Hannah hauled herself on the sly to the North Side modeling agencies. She was supported and encouraged by Marie Stone, the Parker school's curriculum coordinator, who later became her advisor and recently traveled with the actress fact-finding through Nicaragua. "More than anybody, she guided the way I've chosen to live my life," Hannah says of the mentor who urged her to become an actress instead of a professional skier. "She gave me a sense of boundless limits." When several agents wanted head shots of the 11 year-old, Hannah told her mother who, she recalls, promptly "flipped out." The maternal concern heightened further when Page, Hannah's "me-too" eight-year-old sister, wanted head shots of her own. "Susan Wexler is not conventional in her judgment, says an associate of Daryl and Page's mother, "but she has good judgment. If she decides that any of her children need or want something that is important for them, she'll do whatever it takes." In the end, Susan Wexler relented.
"Mostly I never got the jobs," Daryl Hannah says of her modeling days, giggling into her hands. "My hair was too thin, I was just too weird-looking. Page got tons of work because she was red-haired, freckled, all-American, the cutest little thing you've ever seen, while I was this..." Hannah plumbs for a suitable description, then, coming up empty, pulls her best troll face.
Like classmate Jennifer Beals, Hannah did get occasional work--and how long now can it be before someone unearths he public service entreaty telling fellow kiddies about not being ashamed to visit their immigrant grandparents?
Like her brother and sister, Hannah "took classes until nine at night: dance, tap, jazz, tennis." But, even with a mom who, says Hannah, believed in "develop-your-child classes while you've still got them," she had to fight for evening acting classes that she took at the esteemed Goodman Theater and St. Nicholas Theater: now Steppenwolf. Today, Hannah's mother, who only gradually came to approve of her acting, serves on the boards of directors for both theaters.
In 1978, Hannah landed a one-word role in Brian De Palma's The Fury and the experience--Hannah calls a teacher "Creepo!"-settled any career indecision. "I was too scared to do theater, so I went into films," she says. Under the pretext of pursuing a degree at the University of Southern California, Hannah moved to Los Angeles that same year. Fears about old weird Daryl surfaced anew in her parents, who worried that she was destined to become a Moonie. Or worse. Hannah staged for Jerry and Susan Wexler an elaborate sight gag to celebrate her parents' first trip to see her on the West Coast. Upon deplaning, the Wexlers beheld their daughter wearing a dangling cross, a sheath, a beatific smile, handing out religious pamphlets. Hannah had finally learned to spoof terror--others' and her own.
While a freshman at USC, she landed small movie roles, playing Kim Basinger's younger sister in Hard Country, and dodging a teenage slasher with Rachel Ward in The Final Terror. Between movie stints and an occasional history or lit course, Hannah studied acting. Again, it was nothing but the best: Stella Adler, whom she found "frightening and fascinating," and the esteemed Jeff Corey. Experiences with less scrupulous acting coaches ("Bloodsuckers," she calls them) began the wising-up of Daryl Hannah, a process that some observers believe took longer for her than for many other moviestruck pretty young things. For instance, there was that weekend she jetted to Vegas, apparently believing an acquaintance who said that she could earn $500 just for posing for record album covers. Instead, Hannah found herself among a harem of heavily made-up, older girls and several middle-aged businessmen eager to play Humbert Humbert-Lolita games. Then there was the L.A. bachelorette house Hannah shared with Rachel Ward cheek by jowl with the freeway. "Both of us were from families that were well off," Hannah has said. "We had these guilt complexes that you should suffer." Hannah declines to discuss that era. But some remember that both beautiful women knew how to party hardy.
The Hollywood ascent of Daryl Hannah is inextricably linked with Chuck Binder, her personal manager. Far more than Farrah Fawcett was to manager/producer Jay Bernstein, Hannah was Binder's E-ticket ride to the big time. "He was just starting to manage," Hannah says of her first association with Binder, who declined to discuss his client for this interview. According to the Schwab's Drugstore version of the story, Binder began that pursuit after seeing Hannah dancing at a Beverly Hills party. Hannah may be one of the few Hollywood women able to utter such things as, "Lots of times, when young girls come out here, a lot of producers and directors call you in, supposedly for a meeting, but really just for a date," without sounding the least bit disingenuous.