Diane Lane: Sudden Lane Changes

The Oscar nomination for Unfaithful powered Diane Lane to the A-List. Now, with Under the Tuscan Sun in theaters and a thriving offscreen relationship with Josh Brolin, Lane is finally enjoying a hard-won truce with fame.

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WHEN HOLLYWOOD HONORED DIANE LANE WITH AN OSCAR NOMINATION for her blistering portrayal of a sexually unmoored wife in Unfaithful, it was more than a salute to a fearless performance. It was also a tribute to three decades spent as one of the town's most gifted but underrated and under-worked natural wonders. Following her acclaimed movie debut at age 14 in 1979's A Little Romance, Lane never became the star she should have become by almost any logic. She appeared in every kind of film, from The Outsiders to Streets of Fire to The Cotton Club to Judge Dredd, Jack and Murder at 1600. She was always worth watching, but even the promising movies failed to deliver for her. On the occasions when both she and the film she starred in were exceptional, as with 1999's A Walk on the Moon, hardly anybody came. Yes, she appeared in The Perfect Storm, a bona fide hit, but you couldn't call that her movie.

Lane's personal victory at age 37 in Unfaithful is a faith-restoring kick, proof that her peers were paying attention all along. She will soon be unveiled as the heart and soul of Under the Tuscan Sun, a movie version of Frances Mayes's sun-dappled bestselling memoir about a woman who changes her life by restoring an Italian villa. On a more personal note, for the first time since divorcing Christopher Lambert in 1994, she has a very significant other in fiance/actor Josh Brolin. But Lane is way too seasoned and circumspect to get carried away with self-importance. Wearing a beautifully worn-in black leather jacket and simple vintage blouse as we talk over lunch at L.A. Farm, an Industry-friendly restaurant near where she's working on final looping for Under the Tuscan Sun, she combines the glossy good looks of a John O'Hara heroine with the thorny resilience of an Edna Ferber pioneer and the wary friendliness of someone who has recently felt the warmth of validation but will never count on it from others.

STEPHEN REBELLO: It's been a pretty head-spinning time for you lately. How are you holding up?

DIANE LANE: I'm good. I remember my father saying to me, when I was really young, something that was quite searing. He was kind of a cruel genius at times, and he said, "Oh, don't be so humble, Diane. You're not so great." I thought at the time, Goddamn it, I'm fucked no matter what I do or say. But I think now how good it was that he said that, because at least he was watching my back.

Q: I was sorry to hear that your father died last year.

A: I had two films [Hardball and The Glass House] coming out on the weekend of September 11, and that event kind of shifted the axis of the earth and my priorities, too. Two weeks later, I got a call from my dad asking, "How strong are you?" And, after that, I was taking the shuttle back and forth to and from New York to be with him as much as I could. He had a four- to six-month prognosis and made it to five months. In some ways, he's even more present now. And since that time, I met Josh [Brolin]. That's a big life-changer.

Q: Being as private as you are, I was surprised when you went public with the relationship.

A: We were forced out. We had a year of blissful anonymity, but I wanted him with me at the Oscars, for the ultimate, rightest reason--which was, "Help me get through this night. Without you, I'll feel like I'm not all the way here." That's the only reason we subjected ourselves to the frothy, frolicking red-carpet action. I needed the support.

Q: You and Christopher Lambert were divorced almost 10 years ago; you waited a long time to let someone else into your life, and that of your daughter, Eleanor. I find that commendable.

A: I don't know if my own self-preservation at the cost of intimacy was such a heroic offering to my daughter. I just don't think that you can date on your kid's time, and I'm glad I didn't. So waiting was good for me. But also, I'd never dated a man who was a father.

Q: Right; he has two children from a previous marriage. Did that really make a big difference?

A: Yes. It turned out to be the critical element that allowed me to trust and let him in.

Q: How do you get along with Josh's stepmother, Barbra Streisand?

A: Years ago, I auditioned for Yentl, which she didn't even remember, but I reminded her to make sure she loses that audition tape. [Laughing] I'm a fan of hers but, frankly, I seldom get to enjoy her company because she has her own life, I have my own life. Our paths cross in a familial way that is just sweet. She's an amazing individual. I genuinely enjoy her mind, and every time we have some fleeting talk time, I'm always reminded of how interested she is in people, which is usually a quality that makes people interesting. You get into a conversation with her and it's like, What do you mean, it's time to go home?

Q: You don't have to deal with her level of fame, but how are you handling all the extra attention since Unfaithful?

A: It's still relatively new, this "status" thing. [Laughing] Before, I had "underdog" status, and that was a parameter within which I felt secure. Then the frame changed, and when you change the frame, the expectations change. The one thing that I've preached-- which was easier to preach in previous times--is not to worship at the altar.

Q: At the altar of fame and success?

A: Yes. But I do like the pay raise. Listen, I wouldn't have bet on my getting to enjoy this new view of things. I feel grateful I continually worked--a lot of people don't. I know all about peaks, valleys, plateaus, but analysis of all the different dimensions of career status? It literally divorces me from the pleasure in just being.

Q: What if you had gotten this level of attention and fame at the time of The Cotton Club?

A: I couldn't have handled it. It would have mattered too much to me then. Every voice in my ear back then was focused on that. That's why I left Hollywood for a while. I knew then and I know now that it's not what comforts my soul; it's just not what I'm going to care about when I'm in the throes of death.

Q: Having been told year after year that this or that movie would be The One, you must have developed a philosophy on how to roll with the punches.

A: I got used to swinging from vine to vine in the jungle, just hoping blindly that there would be another rope to meet my grasp. In my head I invented all these bumper stickers to comfort myself, like--you have to imagine me puffing a big cigar here--"If They Knew How to Make Hits, They'd Make More of Them." I had all kinds of snappy retorts to deal with the reality of being unable to have control over the popularity that implies success in my field--and with the inevitable resentment of being at the mercy of that popularity.

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