Cinema royalty Anjelica Huston tells Tara Brady about voicing a cartoon queen,
She’s been Hollywood royalty for decades, and now she’s earned her wings! Anjelica Huston talks to Tara Brady
Most of the time, an actor will shuffle their feet or laugh dismissively around the familyoriented projects on their CV. The same excuses are dutifully trotted out: “I wanted to make something my kids could watch” or “It was only a day’s work away from my Chekov season on the West End.”
Anjelica Huston is not one of those people. This Christmas marks the Oscarwinner’s third turn as fairy-in-chief Queen Clarion in Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings and she couldn’t be happier.
“I love anything that has to do with kids,” she trills. “Making kids love to hate you or just love you is the best. There’s an immediacy with kids and their reactions. You just connect.”
She’s not bluffing. For more than two decades, Huston has hopscotched between adult themed critical wows – The Grifters, The Golden Bowl, Buffalo ’66, Seraphim Falls, 50/50, Choke – and goofy all-ages projects such as Barbie as Rapunzel, The Addams Family, Daddy Day Care, Material Girls and Horrid Henry.
“I am afraid I do have the market sewn up,” she says. “I have been very lucky. The Witches with Nic Roeg really was a highlight. And I found him as devilishly in thrall to the ‘terrification’ of children as I was. That was such a great movie to make and it instilled that taste for making kids’ movies. Children’s minds are all about darkness. I love that.”
The TinkerBell franchise is, Huston admits, a particular highlight. The cutsey-pie animated characters are, after all, a much nicer class of fairy than the malevolent wee folk she heard about growing up in Ireland: “These ones are less likely to leave you traumatised for life,” she laughs. “The fact that I am still working in Pixie Hollow is very much a reflection of my Irish childhood, I think. I still love being away with the faeries.”
Huston is fiercely proud of her Hibernian heritage. The daughter of director and actor John Huston and ItalianAmerican prima ballerina Enrica ‘Ricki’ Soma spent most of her childhood near Saint Clerans House in Galway. She can even find nice things to say about the Sisters of Mercy – even if they did give her the odd slap when her catechism wasn’t up to scratch.
“I was not very happy in my first years in England when I transferred to school there,” she recalls. “I went to the French Lycée there and it was very different from the nuns, for whom I actually have a deep affection. They were very nice to me. Everyone was. It is always wonderful to go back. Mercifully there are people in the West that I grew up with and adore. That’s where it all began.”
Does contemporary Ireland have anything like the same appeal? Or is her “Ireland” locked wistfully and carefully away?
“I am aware of what happened in the Celtic Tiger years. So many ugly buildings went up and all the housing estates. I am not somebody who likes change all that much. It’s true that my relationship is very much with Ireland as it was. Of course, I understand that for a lot of people life is a lot better. I remember people living on dirt floors with no electricity. It was a hard life. You can’t resent the fact that central heating is a part of Irish life now.”
Following on from grandfather Walter and father John, actor, writer and sometime director Anjelica may be a third-generation Academy Award winner, but her emergence from under the shadow of such formidable patriarchs – father John, long-time romantic partner Jack Nicholson – was hardly a foregone conclusion. Happily, says the 1996 recipient of the Women in Film Crystal Award, things have changed since her earliest movie appearances in the late-1970s.
“Right now, I am doing Smash, a big series for NBC,” she tells me. “And I am very pleased to say that as many female directors as men were working on Smash. Those gender prejudices are clearing away. Not only in film but also in politics and other spheres. It really is about time. It used to be such a boys’ club. I remember in the old days my dad’s crews were predominantly male. Now you see just about as many women, even down to the grips.”
The Huston clan have always been a formidable bunch, but between Anjelica’s work on Smashed and her nephew Jack’s recurring role on Boardwalk Empire, there really is no escape. Brother Danny, meanwhile, is currently filming the second series of Magic City for the Starz network.
“We are putting ourselves about,” she says. “At least we’re gainfully employed. It’s better than winding up in prison. I am so enjoying my nephew’s success in particular. It’s great to see that transposed onto a younger generation.”
She has, she says, thrown herself into work since the death of sculptor Robert Graham, her husband of 16 years, in 2008.
“You better believe it. My life is now more about finding my centre. It has been a new chapter for me. And I find myself at the centre, trying to negotiate life as a single person. It’s required that I make some adjustments. But I am proud of the work I am doing. It’s all good. We sometimes have to diverge from the things we like the most in these times.”
The things she likes most are riding around on horses and mucking out on her ranch at Three Rivers, California. Mucking out? Can it be that Anjelica Huston, one of the world’s most elegant women, is just a big old tomboy?
“You’ve got me,” she cries. “That’s my secret. I am happiest running around on horses. It’s like Old McDonald’s farm. It’s not as ordered as it should be. I have goats and ponies and all that stuff. It’s a little like it was growing up. But being there is my favourite thing. I do love mucking out. I am happiest when I am in the mud.”
Prizzi’s Honor; The Dead (left); The Grifters; and Secret of the Wings
From top: With dad and cast of