Sean Young: Young at Heart

A little over a decade ago, Sean Young was a hot, rising star with Blade Runner and No Way Out under her belt. Then came trouble that would literally send her back into the desert for years. Is Hollywood ready for a great comeback story? Is she?


Sean Young sparked a minor Hollywood meltdown when she was last interviewed for Movieline, back in 1990. Sounding by turns vulnerable, withering and suicidally rash, she weighed in on all manner of subjects, but particularly her leading men, and most particularly James Woods, who'd made ugly public allegations about her behavior toward him and his fiancée. Young says today that the 1990 interview caused her a lot of problems, but in truth, trouble had been looming in her career for a couple of years. Having emerged as one of the most beautiful and promising new talents in Hollywood in the early '80s with her unforgettably sexy, haunted performance opposite Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott's masterwork Blade Runner, Young hit the big time opposite Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in the 1987 political thriller No Way Out. But unpleasantness cropped up on the set of Oliver Stone's 1987 movie Wall Street, where her role as Michael Douglas's wife seemed to shrink amid stories of hostile goings-on involving Charlie Sheen. And during the making of The Boost, which turned out to be a box-office failure, Young's relationship with costar James Woods got complicated in ways of which the two have given quite different accounts. Woods claimed Young left a disfigured doll on his doorstep and made scary phone calls to his then-fiancée. Young denied everything. Young got more bad press when she lobbied publicly and rather overdramatically for Tim Burton to cast her as Catwoman in his 1992 sequel to Batman.

Young had originally piqued everyone's curiosity because she was gorgeous, exciting and unpredictable. But was she, people now worried, also a self-infatuated nut-job? Before long, she was turning up looking diminished and uncertain in movies most people never saw or don't remember. Sure, there was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but that hit seemed almost like a fluke, and one that had little to do with her. Off the A-list, she spent most of her time in Sedona, Arizona, where she lived with her husband, actor/singer Robert Lujan. Over the years she had two children and appeared in occasional direct-to-video, TV and minor big-screen movies. But now, with three new movies due out this year--the dramedy The Amati Girls, the edgy comedy Sugar & Spice and the caper Night Class-- Young is back in Hollywood. Back with a vengeance? Read on and see.

STEPHEN REBELLO: Let's talk about the fallout from our last Movieline interview.

SEAN YOUNG: I completely regret having ever done it. It had such a negative effect, it helped destroy my career--through no fault of yours, in the sense that you just reported what I said. This interview won't be like that one.

Q: As I remember it, you called things exactly as you saw them, a radical act in this town. A: Oh, I told the truth, but what I said freaked out a lot of people I worked with. You caught me at a point where I had just been completely devastated by people who were shits.

Q: Do you attribute your career troubles to trusting too much?

A: I'm such a decent person. It's one of my flaws to think that because I wouldn't do something, neither would someone else. When people behaved without integrity, it was truly completely shocking to me. That whole James Woods stuff was not good for my career and it angered me deeply. For a few years, I was just sore over the fact that my career had been kind of pulled out from underneath me for nothing I'd done. The whole experience left me jaded. I finally realized, "My God, if I don't forgive this and let it go, if I don't take a different path, I'll just carry it around with me forever." I'm much more aware now and accepting of the fact that there are people who don't have integrity, but I don't have to spend my time hating them. I'm just going to avoid them.

Q: James Woods still discusses you fondly in interviews.

A: Good for him. He's still got to wake up and be him, so that's the sad ending right there [laughing].

Q: Were your troubles with Woods partly why you moved with your husband to Sedona, Arizona?

A: I was shit on badly and I had a very bad reaction to being shit on.

Q: What was your desert life like?

A: I practiced yoga. I'd get up with the sun, meditate for hours and go to sleep when the sun went down [laughing]. My sister calls me "Superquack," but I concentrated on my studies and my interest in astronomy, and on living among the cacti, the animals, the hummingbirds. My husband, Bobby, and I didn't really have a lot of contact with our neighbors. We were just sort of in and around our house a lot. It was a very simple life. I faced a lot of fears and realized that the darkness in a person's soul may seem to have a lot of power, but shine a flashlight on it and you realize it's not that dark.

Q: And what did shining that flashlight do for you?

A: Now I feel beautiful. I feel loved. I feel loving. And I don't feel afraid. Those are very good things to feel and it took isolation in the desert to get there. I don't think I would have gotten to all of this if I had stayed in Hollywood. I also don't think I would have had two children. I learned in the desert that if you have your peace of mind, you have everything you need. No one can take that from you. People may be able to bad-mouth you or withhold a movie role, but they cannot take your peace of mind. I'm done with the desert now. I've sold the place in Arizona and we've got a place here where we're really happy.

Q: What made you finally come back to Hollywood?

A: Meditation is one of the things that tipped the balance. The more you meditate, the more you recognize that the shit is not going to kill you. Sitting still and being silent helps you develop what I think of as a forgiving nature. About two years ago, I was a bridesmaid in Diane Ladd's wedding and I turned to my husband and said, "I'm leaving Sedona. I can't do this anymore. You coming?" [Laughing] And he said, "I'm coming! I'm coming!" I had recognized a certain career derailment and said, "Let's get this train on the right track." And I feel it is on the right track now.

Q: It sounds as though the "vacation" might have been good for your marriage, too.

A: One of the things I loved about Bobby when we met is how gentle and easygoing he is. That's also one of the things that occasionally annoys me. I'd like to see him show more ambition, because if he does that, then I can kind of lay back a little bit. At least I don't have to worry about him being "talented" like some celebrity spouses whose "talent" just makes you wince. I have a lot of encouragement and support from Bobby to pursue my career, and he has a lot of encouragement and support from me to go and do his singing and his acting if he wants.

Q: Do you see a therapist?

A: I've got three now--a marriage counselor, my own counselor and my sister and I have a counselor. It's been great. We've got this guy who's in his fifties and we call him "Daddy" [laughing]. Sound kinky? I think our counselors are great and they don't speak to each other.

Q: Are people surprised at how great you look?

A: I'm hearing I look great all the time, so much so that people are also asking, "What have you been doing that you look so good?" It's not "work" I've had done. Yet [laughing]. Aside from eating right, doing yoga and meditation and working out all summer, I have no other answer than, basically, I wasn't in show business for 10 years and that will do wonders for your stress level.

Q: What kind of mom are you?

A: I honestly didn't know I'd like it, but I really do. We're a very low-key family. We love hanging out together. Both Bobby and I are of actor/gypsy stock, so our sweet, funny kids tend to be our anchor. Quinn, my youngest, is a bruiser--he'll be an athlete. Rio is long and sensitive like me, a really gorgeous kid. They're both really gorgeous, actually. They recently terrorized my makeup--tearing it up and leaving it all over the bathroom floor. Rio's now running around in my high heels. He saw Julia Roberts on television and said it was me. Anyone who's beautiful and is a brunette he thinks is me.

Q: Your Web site mentions that you might publish a diary you kept while making The Boost with James Woods. How do you think your kids would feel reading it?

A: I started keeping journals when I was 13. I recently read one from the time I was 17 and I was like, "Golly, I'm a genius." I don't know any other teenager that was reading The Nature of Personal Reality. I was always interested in psychology, self-help, metaphysical things. I don't know if I'll publish any of them, but I'm a practical person. I always think, "Well, I have this for my children and it's a great way to provide them with something to sell after I'm gone."

Q: During your Sedona period, you basically did without an agent or manager, right?

A: I'd never found an agent who actually did things for me. That's why I still don't have one. Today, they don't service you; you work for them. I have a manager I just adore. Whether I'm up, down, left, right, doesn't matter. Her approach is, "Let's get on to the next bit of business." I am very high-maintenance on one very big score: I can't tolerate liars. There's not an agent who would come to the set for me like my manager does, who would handle my public relations, or my transition to my new house or look after my aura camera.

Q: Your what camera?

A: My aura camera. It was developed by this man named Guy Coggins and it photographs the electromagnetic field that surrounds your body. The colors and patterns are like a blueprint, like a fingerprint. I'm taking pictures of everyone I work with on this new movie, Night Class, and I'm going to give the pictures with an interpretation of them as a gift when the shooting's through. My manager and I are going to take a picture of your aura later. Don't be afraid [laughing].

Q: Your manager told me that she alerted Julia Roberts's people that, in effect, you're back--so watch out.

A: That's just managerial shit. I'm happy for Julia Roberts. I think she's wonderful. She's so good at combining humor and charm with strong acting. It's a very specific little talent. She's a wonderful commodity.

Q: While you were "vacationing," did you ever see a movie with a good woman's role and think...

A: [Laughing] I really wanted to play the Bridget Fonda role in Point of No Return, the American remake of La Femme Nikita. Lots of movies I thought I would have been better for, but no one came anywhere near me.

Q: Some say that good stuff did come your way.

A: Well, Jane Campion wanted me for The Piano and I just fuzzed on it. I was too much in my "early desert phase." I didn't read the script until it was too late. When Martin Scorsese came up with Casino, I was pregnant. Woody Allen found out I was two months pregnant with Quinn, so I didn't do the movie he wanted me for. Those are some of the frustrations that being out in the desert created for me.

Q: You did make some low-budget movies, like Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, Mirage and The Invader. What did that do for you?

A: Lots of inexperienced people work on low-budget movies, so I became like a teacher and a guide and a helper. In a way it's almost more fulfilling than being in big-budget movies because people know they don't know, and I'll say, "Here's what I know about it." Not to sound corny, but I can feel the love. I also learned to be very, very fast. What I want--and what I hear over and over again that I should do--is to become a director. I'm in the DGA and my manager and I are talking about projects I may direct.

Q: Your recent coworkers say nice things about you and your name is being mentioned for big roles again. How would you gauge Hollywood's response to you?

A: Hollywood just loves comeback stories, and I'm a natural for that. A lot of people want me to succeed, and I'm happy they feel that way. My biggest challenge is in figuring out what it is I really want to do. I'd like to work all the time, but if you want to do good work, you've got to work less often. The days of doing junk are over for me.

Q: How do you assess your own movie work to date?

A: My work ages well. For instance, Blade Runner was a complete box-office failure, but, man, it's got legs. Even the bad ones are like that.

Q: You're on record as having admitted you haven't always been wowed by your leading men. How's that going these days?

A: My manager has put really good things in my contract, like I get to choose my leading men. I auditioned 10 men for Night Class and Rick Peters is by far the most talented. He played Elvis in that Elvis and Nixon television thing [Elvis Meets Nixon], and he's funny, a strong actor and a real good-looking guy. I find him very exciting to work with, and I like that I'm in a position where people are auditioning for me and I get to provide an opportunity for them to become a big name. After all, I was there when Kevin Costner wasn't a name and then became one. The same for Charlie Sheen, Nicolas Cage and the list goes on. I've launched a few stars' ships myself and that's a really satisfying feeling.

Q: Does your own level of sexual self-confidence come into play when you're casting a leading man?

A: Yes, and oooohh, I feel pretty sexy these days. My man's treating me real good at home. Feeling sexy is, for me, a part of feeling secure. Maybe I should be able to come up with this confidence myself, but if you're working with an actor you know is looking forward to every moment he has with you, that tends to give you energy. It's so much better than working with the guy who's sitting there chewing his nails. If I see that, I lose my hard-on real quick. That's why it's important to choose the leading man--or anyone else in the movie I have to exchange bodily fluids with [laughing]. I'm very instinctual. It's all about pheromones. I smell them first at the casting session and we go from there.

Q: Given your past experiences, are you more careful than ever about the personal life of the guys you play opposite?

A: I'm always really very careful with their spouses now. I'm very skittish around women who have a competitive, jealous side.

Q: In No Way Out, you and Kevin Costner played a sex scene in a limo in which you couldn't smell the popcorn for the pheromones in the theater. What was that scene like to film?

A: I'm still waiting to have sex in a limo in real life myself [laughing]. I remember being in that limo and Kevin's heart was just pounding. I had no clothes, I was surrounded by male crew members and Kevin was fully dressed and I reminded him, "I'm the one who's undressed here." I think the limo scene works because there's a kind of carefreeness to Kevin and me in it. That's when things really work, when you're not afraid of really going for it and you're not holding back. I felt I had the support of all the people in the scene with me. Everybody was open.

Q: What are the biggest differences between actors and actresses?

A: A costar said to me recently, "You're like an actor, not an actress," and I took it as a compliment. Men and women in Hollywood act out in different ways. Actresses tend to live in their own world, floating onto the set beaming and glowing for a while as they do their thing, then floating away again. They lock themselves in their trailers because they're all worried about how they look. It's a big sort of vanity thing and everything slows down because of how they look. Actors are a little paranoid. They end up acting out through a competitive working and reworking of a scene because they want to come off a certain way in the movie. And they tend to watch their backs. I guess that makes me an "actor" these days.

Q: What's it like working with an actor who's tough to be around?

A: Whether you're shooting a movie or it's real life, get 10 people in a room and if one of those 10 is a psychotic, crazy asshole, guess who winds up running the room? If you've got one actor who has a problem, all the rest of us have to turn around and go--[big snore]. With big old pros, it doesn't happen that much. Unless you get all of them together in one room, like Tommy Lee Jones, Harrison Ford and Gene Hackman--then I'd bet you'd see some shit fly.

Q: What sort of actors do you work best with?

A: Ones who, like me, love to laugh and keep their energy up. William Devane was just a doll and a half on Poor White Trash. From the neck down, he has the most gorgeous body and from the neck up, he's like "Iguana Man" with this tongue that constantly moves around. Michael Caine is wonderful to work with, too. Other actors like to isolate, like Kevin Costner.

Q: How do you define sexual chemistry between costars on screen?

A: It's sexual attraction. Moviemakers look to cast people who have a certain amount of fuckability, then put together two people who have some sense of attraction between them to harness while they're filming. You don't repress it and you don't go after it and try to gratify it. You just try to be comfortable with it. One of the nicer aspects of chemistry is that you're able to have closeness with someone and it's completely legal. It's something, hopefully, your mate understands.

Q: What kind of pressure does doing such a scene put on your husband?

A: Today, my husband looks forward to movies in which I have a love interest. I get home from the set all jazzed up and I'm like, "Honey, come here!" and I take it out on him and he loves it. He's totally comfortable with it now, but that took time. We were together during No Way Out and I think that was the key moment in the learning curve for him. He wasn't happy about any of it and I basically said, "You have to get over that. This will be my situation again and again." I've never been unfaithful to him. I've never messed with him or hurt him. He's not afraid that I'm deceiving him or anything and he needn't be.

Q: Your manager claims to have seen Harrison Ford, who rarely has really good chemistry with his female costars, saying he thought you and he had very good chemistry.

A: [Laughing] I'm in shock. I thought he hated me. And he hated Blade Runner, too. He still doesn't concede that it's a great movie, but it is.

Q: Have you had to fake it with a costar?

A: The times I had to fake it were dreadful. On Love Crimes, I wanted Billy Petersen but they said they wanted a bigger name and it was Patrick Bergin. Making it was awful. The other one was with Tom Conti--ughhh!--in a movie called Out of Control. He was so wrong and the chemistry was so dreadful. When it came time to do the love scene, I sat there looking really depressed and they had to get a body double because I got to the point where I just couldn't do it. We turned the girl away from the camera, stuck her head on the pillow, shot the scene and I said, "That's it. Let's move on." Patrick Bergin and Tom Conti, both from the island, huh? [Laughing] Hmm, is there a pattern here? On the other hand, I met Jeremy Irons in Cannes and he put his little arm around my waist and I was very, very happy. I'd work with him in a minute.

Q: What happens when you act out your attraction to a costar in real life?

A: You get to have sex with Sting [long laugh]. Though Sting and I weren't really playing opposite each other in Dune, Kyle MacLachlan and I were [long laugh]. Hey, I was 23 and single. But it's not a good move to do that.

Q: Who's on your hit list of guys with whom you think you'd have chemistry?

A: John Cusack, funnily enough. Johnny Depp I'd love to work with, and Sean Penn. Ben Affleck, because he's great and he's my height, but not Matt Damon. I can't work with someone and have to bend down going [breaks into baby talk], "Ooh, let me kiss you and I promise I won't wear heels, OK?" I mean, Matt is awfully good, but Ben Affleck is sexy--and tall.

Q: How did you like doing that funny, strange cameo in Sugar & Spice in which you play a hard-boiled prison lifer who's mother to Mena Suvari's cheerleader?

A: I hear the movie is hilarious. It's a little part, but I had fun. Talk about brave: I wear this big, scraggly hair and have a scratchy Southern voice. What's nice about Mena is that it cheered her up greatly that I was in the movie. She asked me for autographs and she expressed to me her appreciation of my work. I feel very strongly that younger women dig me. Actually, I feel like a lot of women dig me.

Q: You also have a very strong androgynistic vibe.

A: [Laughing] I get some strange mail from women. I always oblige by signing with a big kiss, mmmmmmm, and a big heart. It's part of me, too. I'm not gay, but I definitely like looking at good-looking women. Maybe it's just because I've been in such a strange business for so long. We're all checking each other out all the time and you're often exposed to gorgeous types. I like looking at good-looking people, period.

Q: Do you offer advice to any of your younger costars?

A: Only when asked. The one thing that I might come up with for a young woman is, "Don't trust anybody. Look out for yourself and assume nothing." I hate to give that kind of jaded advice, but young women are much more willing than young men to assume that everybody's coming from a good point of view. It sets you up for a real jawbone fracture.

Q: Would you warn them about chase-girls-around-the-desk type producers?

A: The only producer who's ever chased me around is Warren Beatty, and he's chased everybody [laughing]. The Hollywood 101 Course is all about how to dodge Warren.

Q. I've heard that you're considering one project in which you'd play the Hollywood evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and another in which you'd play the troubled silent-movie superstar Clara Bow.

A: The Aimee script I was sent is really good, a little like Elmer Gantry. The Clara Bow project will depend on the right script.

Q: Do you have any interest in being part of the cast of The Women, which, so go the rumors, may star Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and others?

A: But if I get on the set with all of them, they'll be all scared of me [laughing]. Joke, joke. I may be more intimidating as an unknown quantity but once known, that pretty much disappears. The vibe I get from people is very positive.

Q: What are you happiest about these days? A: That I'm taking care of business and that I'm mature enough now that I won't be bounced around anymore like I once was. I'm more careful now and I'm more responsible about everything, which includes my personal life. I'd say I'm a pretty fearless person now. I have confidence about what I'm doing. And that's a pretty good thing to have in this business.


Stephen Rebello interviewed Steven Soderbergh for the December/January issue of Movieline.