DIANE LANE: why the Hollywood star needs magic in her life
She’s been acting since she was seven years old, but Diane Lane had a very different dream. The Hollywood star tells Juliet Rieden about her wild childhood, missing her mum and playing a baddie in the new season of House of Cards.
Diane Lane is giggling. She’s just remembered a particular night she spent at the White House a few years back. Barack Obama was still President and Diane was one of the guests at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
This is the glittering fundraising bash where journalists mix with politicians, senators and specially invited celebrities, and the President gives a usually pretty funny speech.
“When the cast members from House of Cards arrived it was like royalty had walked in, because these people [the polticos] are so in love with themselves and they think that all the plot points are really about them,” Diane explains, still laughing. “It was the penultimate one in the Obama administration and a good time was had by all. It made the Oscars feel like a puppet show.”
Diane was super excited to meet Barack and Michelle, but she sensed something else was going on for the other guests. “For these people [working in the White House], the actors are not playing characters; this is real life. They’re really invested.”
The fact that most of the key characters in the show are self-serving, ruthless and duplicitous at best and mendacious and murderous at worst, didn’t seem to bother this political clique, but it’s an irony not lost on Diane. “They were just excited to have a show about them. It may be dark but they can’t turn away,” she says.
Hop forward a few years and Diane is now one of that hallowed cast. “I never had any imagination that I would ever be asked to be part of that show at that time,” she adds.
The 53-year-old star of stage and screen was hurriedly hired, along with Hollywood’s Greg Kinnear, as part of the revamp of series six of the hit Net ix drama when Kevin Spacey was sacked following allegations of sexual misconduct last year.
In this nal series Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood is in the Oval Of ce, presiding over a government that has shattered glass ceilings and is awash with women. Diane plays
Claire’s childhood friend Annette Shepherd, who is now a scheming industrialist and, with brother Bill (Kinnear), takes on Madam President. “She’s just delicious to play. I really had a good time,” says Diane.
These characters really are despicable, but they also ooze charisma and I wonder does Diane think the show accurately represents US politics?
“Oh God, I hope not,” she says. “But I’m sure there are people who will say ‘yes’ to that question. I think that there is some truth to it. Of course, it’s hyperbolised to make a point or have humour but ... there have been people who have said that they learned more from watching the show about politics in this country than any other school they could nd.”
Diane admits she’s feeling the pressure of joining a show that is “so popular, with so much weight and expectation ... I don’t like it when there this much anticipation,” she says. “I’m like ‘hello I’m new here’, but the taller they come ...”
But I don’t think she need worry. Diane may be new to this House, but her acting career is legendary and to date spans 45 years. The native New Yorker started out as a child actor with the very cool La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and made her debut in Greek tragedy Medea. Soon she had Shakespeare and Sophocles under her belt and was touring Europe and the Middle East without her parents.
“Well, it was better than day care. That was the running joke and frankly it wasn’t untrue,” she quips. “I was a completely normal kid born in Manhattan and I kind of like that identity of being a scrappy person, the salt of the earth.” The tours were long and varied and a lot of fun.
“It must have been kind of a mixed blessing for the others, to have a kid in your theatre company. But it is very good for keeping everybody’s spirits in check. Priorities. Somebody’s got to stay sober!” adds Diane, laughing.
“We went to some ‘Red’ countries which was fascinating to me. I didn’t know what that even meant. I thought it meant that it’s Red! And I grew up with artistic, creative, passionate, free people who kind of adopted me and eshed out what was missing in my actual family, so I was incredibly fortunate.”
Diane’s father Burt was a part-time taxi driver, part-time acting coach while her mother Colleen was a singer/model and Playboy’s Miss October 1957 centrefold. They divorced when she was two weeks old, so Diane was used to spending time being passed from one to the other. Her relationship with each parent proved complex and at times a little stormy, and I suspect Diane learned very young to rely on her own judgement.
She says her parents weren’t at all concerned that she was travelling unaccompanied around the world. “I think my mother saw that I thrived in it ... It was a different world, nothing bad happened – there was no reason to be frightened of I don’t know what. You could hang out with people,” she says.
“I kind of like that identity of being a scrappy person ... salt of the earth.”
On one European tour, young Diane became very attached to a tortoise. “I bought it on the River Seine in Paris,” she confesses. On returning to New York, naturally the tortoise came too and somehow Diane smuggled it through customs. Different times indeed!
“It was in a crocheted bag and I wore it around my neck and he would poke his little head out and I would tap it and put it back down,” she explains. “When I went to go running into my mother’s arms, I held that turtle up to her face and I thought she was going to faint. She shrieked. You don’t expect to see a tortoise coming at you. I had that tortoise for 14 years or something.”
Diane doesn’t remember being lonely or homesick, but took it all in her stride. “We were off the radar, nobody was minding our business. We were like a travelling band of gypsies. It was just wild. Kids are so full of life and crazy. Anyway, I managed to have a really fabulous childhood; in fact, in some ways I think I peaked in those years because of the diversity and the freedom and the amount of travel and by the way, travelling light. You can do that when you’re 10. All you need is your sneakers. You don’t need anything. Now I require help.”
Before she knew it, Diane was back in New York treading the boards with Meryl Streep in a stage production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. She was just 12. Then the following year she starred opposite Laurence Olivier in the lm A Little Romance. Olivier was blown away by Diane and called her “the new Grace Kelly”.
“He was like a 72-year-old man who had a lot of mileage on his soul but also had a tremendous noblesse oblige and largesse d’esprit. And I’m still humbled and trying to live up to that,” she says, even though at the time she was a little perplexed.
“I didn’t really know who Grace Kelly was. I had seen her in some black and white movies late at night with my dad. I didn’t know if he was thinking about picturing me marrying royalty or was he talking about the way I looked or the way I acted? It was de nitely a compliment. But I wonder how Grace Kelly felt about that. When you’re 13 you don’t picture yourself looking like a movie star at 27 years old.”
The accolades continued to roll in and at the age of 14, Diane was on the front cover of Time magazine, dubbed one of “Hollywood’s whiz kids”. “At the time it felt a pressure,” she says.
It all sounds incredibly thrilling but does Diane think she missed out on her childhood at all? “I wouldn’t know,” she muses. “I can say that I remember playing games with people, I remember people sitting on the oor with me and we’d have great times. I was a kid in the ruins of Persepolis with the theatre company. Just because I was there and with a theatre company didn’t mean I wasn’t a kid. I got to see them shepherding llamas through the streets of Beirut. I got to see amazing sights. All round various parts of the world – Venice, Italy, the canals of Amsterdam. I didn’t know how rare that was at that time. It was so good to travel and see.
“[But] in hindsight I missed my mother very much and I felt as though that was the most suffering relationship from the years of working as a kid. I don’t know how much of that had to do with the fact that I was living her dream.”
It’s quite surprising to hear that even though acting came naturally to Diane and she was obviously incredibly good at it, it wasn’t the career path she had wanted to pursue.
“I have a theory that I’m living my parents’ dream, meaning my father taught acting, my mother wanted to be an actress. This was not my dream. My dream was to be a lawyer and go ght for better judicial rehabilitation. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was my hero. Not the Supreme Court but more about creating laws that were more just across the board. That was my childhood naïve fantasy for myself
and I went to really good schools but then I got my rst movie.”
Diane’s career blossomed with a run of lms and though she had fun, when pushed, Diane confesses it wasn’t all rosy. “I probably resented it. I know I resented things like missing rock concerts or the Christmas special when it came on, back in the day when we had three TV channels.
There was some normal kid stuff that I pined for and it made my childhood a little bit precious to me in the way that getting to play with dolls with my girlfriend. I remember that day because it was one day.”
Becoming a mother
In 1988 Diane married French actor Christopher Lambert. Their daughter Eleanor was born in 1993 and though they divorced a year later, they remained good friends. Diane was a single mother for a while, during which time she has said she “barely dated”, but then she fell in love with Barbra Streisand’s stepson, Josh Brolin, and became stepmother to his two children Trevor and Eden.
Josh and Diane were together for nine years and raising Eleanor and two stepchildren now seems like a blur. “Children are time accelerants. They’re going through so much all the time and you’re so busy trying to gure out and think on their behalf and be present for whatever they’re going through on that exact day, that you look up and you realise, what do you mean, you’re all grown up, what do you mean?” Diane laughs.
“Of course, it’s a lifelong thing to be somebody’s mother and I’m just having the best time – whenever I see Eleanor it’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
I wonder if back then Eleanor wanted to follow in her mum’s footsteps into child acting. “No, she shied away from it,” says Diane. “She went to a school where there was lots of performer-type kids. It was just in the gene pool of that school, and she didn’t want it. I watched her shy away and then suddenly she changed her mind. I think that was very hard because she protected herself in the most vulnerable years and I protected her, too. You know, when you’re forming your self-knowing, that’s a really tricky time, especially in today’s universe.”
Eleanor is now 25 and an actress in her own right, and mother and daughter are incredibly close. Growing up she also got on famously with her grandfather, who died in 2002. Diane says her daughter would have loved to have had more time with him, “to bene t from the wisdom of her grandfather”.
“He loved her so much,” says
Diane. “He was like, ‘I’m done with you, I want that one’.”
On a recent trip to New York, Eleanor was delighted when she found herself as a passenger in the very cab her late grandfather used to drive. She recognised the taxi number and immediately called Mom. “She was calling and Facetiming me, she got the driver on the phone, it’s like we were crazy people,” says Diane. “It was a joyous moment. It’s our little thing and I love it and I have it. Some guy is driving around with this cab number and the fact that I think it means something is probably silly but you need a little magic in your life. Everybody needs a little magic in their lives.”
For Diane, much of the magic in her life came from her late parents. “He was a very wonderful father and I’m very grateful to him. We had our power struggles, for sure, a few epic, but eventually even he allowed me to grow up. My mother did the best she could with what cards she was dealt in life and I think we had a fantastic relationship. I don’t know that I’ll ever meet anybody that I’ll laugh as much as I did with my mother, from a core place.”
Today Diane says she still feels a connection with that girl who was compared to Grace Kelly. “I think she’s in me forever. It’s not going to go away. But it does get framed differently as time adds different spins and re ections on things. I think I always have that innocent part of myself still with me, absolutely.”
And looking back, does she have any advice to offer her 14-year-old self? “Yes, I would say wear it lightly and trust yourself.”
Diane now spends her time quietly and resolutely, still working of course, but also pursuing conservation and environmental initiatives including ghting off-shore oil drilling and underwater fracking ... and she’s loving life. “I just feel like my daughter’s grown and now is the best time – where I’m not distracted by anything really. I get to live a very simple life and I can focus on what I care about more and more ... hopefully.” AWW
Clockwise from right: Diane meeting Prince Philip; attending the Oscars in 1981 with Timothy Hutton – the pair dated in the early ’80s; catching a train in Europe during her time with La MaMa Theatre Club; pictured around the time she filmed A Little Romance.
Clockwise from above: Diane as a child with her mother Colleen; three generations – Colleen, Diane and Eleanor; with her father, Burt.
Diane and Robin Wright in House of Cards. Below: Away from acting, Diane is championing environmental causes.