“I haven’t been onstage in a quarter of a century,” Diane Lane says from Chicago, where she’s doing six nights a week in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth.
She still can’t believe how well it’s going. “It was a dare,” Lane explains. “It was definitely a throwdown.”
With more than 50 films on her resume — most of them very high–profile — Lane presumably had nothing to prove by treading the boards at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
She says otherwise.
“Think about it,” Lane asks. “If you’re going to balance out your life with raising children, and having a wonderful marriage, and having an ambitious career, and whatever ... when do you really feel tested? I feel tested by all those things, but film is so different. Film is s–o–o–o different, for satisfying something that you’re not sure of yourself, really. Because you can never really know what the celluloid is picking up — now, that’s even a moot terminology — I feel so removed, in some ways, from the end product.
“In comparison to theater. This is very healing for me. It’s sort of like a very strong cup of coffee. Because it demands so much focus and intention, and not a little prayer! Like they say, there’s no atheists on turbulent airplanes — believe me, there’s not very many in the theater either.”
Lane was only 6 when she began on the stage, and with her first film, the sweet 1979 trifle A Little Romance, with Laurence Olivier, she was hailed as a breakout star.
There she was, on the cover of Time magazine. At age 14.
Less than a year later, Lane and her mother moved to Tybee Island. She was enrolled at Savannah Christian Preparatory School, and on her 15th birthday — Jan. 22, 1980 — mayor John Rousakis gave her the key to the city.
As far as Lane can recall, her classmates didn’t know (or care) that she was a Hollywood Whiz Kid, as Time had proclaimed.
“Some did and some didn’t,” she says. “Whenever you’re the new kid, you’re gonna get pecked. Those kids didn’t read Time magazine. Nobody really cared. Nobody kept track of that stuff. We were much more interested in Tiger Beat.”
She remembers going to the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but she didn’t live here for very long.
It took a few years and a couple of tries, but Lane became one of the few child performers to make the successful leap into adult roles. As an actress, she is extraordinarily sensitive, and has held her own — and even outshone — many of Hollywood’s smoothest, sharpest and most talented leading men (and women, for that matter).
Just take a look at the range: Lonesome Dove (the miniseries), Under the Tuscan Sun, The Perfect Storm, Unfaithful (Lane got an Oscar nomination for that one), The Glass House, Secretariat, A Walk on the Moon, Hollywoodland, Must Love Dogs, Chaplin, Hard Ball, The Cotton Club, Nights in Rodanthe.
She has received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
Next summer, she’ll be on a zillion screens as Clark Kent’s mother in the Superman movie Man of Steel.
Lane’s husband, Josh Brolin, is currently filming Oldboy in New Orleans with director Spike Lee. After shuttling between Chicago and the Big Easy, she’s making a stop in Savannah to pick up an award from the Savannah Film Festival, and to conduct a Q&A following the Nov. 1 screening of A Little Romance.
Diane Lane: I was kind of overwhelmed. I felt very grateful and surprised. He was very gracious with me and the young boy I was working with. Considering all his physical ailments that he had at the time, he was very gracious. I’m sure he was suffering physically.
Lonesome Dove ....
Diane Lane: There was such reverence there, respect for the writing. From a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Everybody wanted it to live up to the writing, so it kept our standards very high, with a great deal of affection and authenticity. And that paid off, in terms of something we’re all continuing to be very proud of many years later.
My dad died 10 years ago, but before he died he made it very clear to my then 7–year–old daughter that Lonesome Dove was Grandpa’s favorite movie that Mom ever made. He made my daughter sit through all two or three nights in a row, which I think tested her patience a little bit.
... and the Emmy snubs
Diane Lane: We were so popular that I think the Emmy–voting body just felt that they couldn’t give it to us, because we already had such a popular vote, you know? They put Bobby Duvall in the front row; all he had to do was step out of his seat and accept his award. It was such a given. But none of that occurred.
Your scenes in The Perfect Storm were all on land. Did you ever go to watch the other actors film their scenes on the boat?
Diane Lane: I didn’t watch all of it. There was no reason for me to know more than my character knew at the time, which was just white–knuckling it, hoping for the best. The storm’s out there, and we’re inland, and freaking out about our men out there.
They dug down deeper than the foundation of Warner Brothers Studios had ever been dug down before. Because this boat would go up in the air, and then way down, and you sure didn’t want to have the hull of the boat hit the floor of the studio. That room became so full of water and diesel and I don’t know what, just a bouillabaisse of stuff that probably led to everybody getting sinus and ear infections and stuff.
Out of compassion as an actor, I did go and see George and Mark ... you know, Mark got so sick one day. He was just puking and they kept rolling. They just edited out when he would throw up. It was just nonstop puking. It was so sad. But it added to his vulnerability.
Favorite movie roles
Diane Lane: In hindsight, you don’t realize how good you’ve got it until you’re on to something else, and then you find yourself waxing sentimental about how it used to be. I think I’ve been incredibly blessed with the people that I’ve managed to work with. That’s always the greatest sense of connection to the work, because you feel like you’ve met somebody in a moment in their lives, and you share this experience. You may never see them again, but you’ve created something together. It always amazes me when people come up on the street and say “Oh, I loved this particular film that you were in,” or “My son still loves this movie” or “My mom loves this movie.” I’m very touched that people still see these things. They seem to have a long afterlife, with all the different media sources that there are to watch movies.
I’m sure people mention the obvious ones, Unfaithful or Under the Tuscan Sun, but do you ever get something like “You were great in Judge Dredd,” and you don’t even remember making the film?
Diane Lane: For years, I would get stopped about Streets of Fire more than anything. And there is a very strong demographic of people that have affection for movies like Judge Dredd, or Untraceable. I think 10 people got to see Killshot, it was released so briefly. Like that was their insurance claim for the year, the studio loss. I don’t know what they did! They four-walled that thing. But it was a good movie and a really good director ... it’s like if you have a lot of children, they all can’t make you proud, right? But you don’t love them any less.
Man of Steel
Diane Lane: We wrapped that last summer. It was always slated to take two years, because these giant releases take up so much magnetic pull, or whatever that is, of the studio’s attention, they have to schedule it. They can’t just put it out like a regular movie — it’s an event, you know?
What’s it like to know that you have what’s sure to be a blockbuster, money machine coming out?
Diane Lane: In some ways, it’s a different journey for sure. When you have that much expectation, I don’t know, it always makes me nervous. I’d much rather be the underdog and surprise myself and everybody else, too. Like “This movie turned out great! Please go see it before it’s gone!” I’m much more used to that than a movie that’s way in-your-face.
A Little Romance screens at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, followed by a Q&A with Diane Lane. She will receive the Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award at the 7 p.m. screening of Rust and Bone.