Anjelica Huston interview
Anjelica Huston is without question one of the most successful actresses of her generation, part of the famous Huston dynasty. Having started her career in A Walk With Love and Death at the tender age of 15, directed by her father she has gone to have phenomenal success, winning an Oscar for her role in Prizzi’s Honour in 1985, most recently garnering huge acclaim for her role in director Wes Anderson’s films The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
She is currently staring in period drama These Foolish Things, alongside a whole host of British stars.
LOVEFiLM: These Foolish Things focuses on misbehaving thespians, I wonder what your father (director John Huston) would have thought about that?
Anjelica Huston: I remember some strict lectures in my time and they weren’t all at me! [Laughs] He liked to have more fun than the next guy, but when it came to work he was pretty stringent. I remember a few serious conversations going on, but then I think he also enjoyed roguishness in general and he liked to have good laugh. But he didn’t like his actors turning up worse for ware or late!
LF: On screen your character Lottie is very imposing and confident; do you think you’re like that in real life?
AH: Not as much as I’d like to be, I think I’m probably shyer in real life then how I appear on screen, but then it all depends on what the part armours you with. Its great playing a part that is confident, you assume the mantel and off you go. I kind of weirdly vary between the two; it depends on the day…
LF: Your character doesn’t suffer fools gladly, did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?
AH: Lots of agents!! [laughs] And of course I had the great Lauren Bacall there as a supreme template. But in actual fact she is a perfect example of meek and a tower of strength at the same time.
LF: What was it like working alongside Lauren Bacall?
AH: It was great. Years ago when we were making Mr North, I feel in love in with Lauren Bacall. We were having dinner at my father’s rented house in Rhode Island, he was very sick and liked to have everyone come over to his house, the actors and so forth, and one night he started telling stories. Lauren was at the end of the table, and he started talking about how wonderful Katie Hepburn was, how Katie Hepburn was a man’s women, and maybe Katie Hepburn was the best female friend he’d ever had, and finally at the end of the table came this little voice, ‘ but John what about me?’ [Laughs] and he goes ‘Oh honey, but you were married to Bogey!’ And she looked at him like a little, tiny bird - yet at the same time she can terrify people. And I think that what makes her a great actress, she can go to both sides.
LF: Is the story true that Lauren Bacall was the first person he told about your birth?
AH: Yes. Well, not just that my mother had had me. They were all on location in the Belgium Congo, he and Bogey and Katie and Betty and so forth, and a runner came through the jungle, having travelled – I don’t how far - my father exaggerated some 100 miles on foot or so, with a telegram to the camp. My father opened it and read it and stuffed it in his pocket, five minutes went by until Lauren finally goes up to him and says, ‘For Christ sake John what’s in the telegram?’ to which he goes, ‘It’s a girl. Anjelica’. It’s a nice story. And I still have the telegram!
LF: What do you think of the new-wave of ‘intelligent’ films that seems to be sweeping Hollywood at the moment, of which Good Night, and Good Luck is a prime example? Does that resonate with you especially since your father had to leave Hollywood because of McCarthy.
AH: Well yes, he was on the committee for the first amendment, so it does resonates with me, and also lets face it George Clooney is divine, he resonates with me! [Laughs] Actually I believe we shared the same pram – I can’t wait to tell him that one day – my mother, when she left L.A., gave my pram to Rosemary Clooney’s sister.
I think he [Clooney] is really smart and really handsome. I think the movies at this year’s Oscars were really interesting. I was knocked out by Hustle and Flow and Junebug, I really loved Neil Jordan’s movie [Breakfast on Pluto] and was sorry to see it not appreciated as much.
LF: You do seem to get approached by new directors and talent, Wes Anderson obviously and most recently Terry Zwigoff, how do you feel about that?
AH: I’m always pleased when they do. It makes me feel like I have a bit more longevity. Wes, I think, is a formidable talent and unique. You know we say ‘quirky’, buts it’s really because we can’t think of a better word for it. I think his movies are very astute. He occupies a really interesting space, and I’m really excited because I think he’s writing another part for me later on this year. I really like working with Wes. Y’know it all looks very simple on paper, but he’s a precision artist and that’s always interesting.
LF: Will you be directing again?
AH: I certainly hope so! [Laughs] If they put their faith in money and in my pocket. I have a few things lined up I don’t like to talk to them other wise they never happen.
LF: At the beginning of the film, the main character Diana, has a real calling to be on the stage, does that resonate with you?
AH: Yes, I use to dress up in my mother’s tutu and get married to imaginary men on the lawn. I wanted to be an actress from as long as I could remember. I met a lot of actors and actress as I was growing up, but I didn’t spend a lot of time on set for a duration of a film, I would go and visit for a couple of weeks and then go back to school. I remember casting a jealous eye on Eva Gardener at the age of 9, and thinking, ‘that’s what I want to be, I want to wear those diamonds and be like that!’ So I think from early on I had an idea that that’s what I wanted to do.
LF: Was there ever a moment when you were on set and you thought ‘I’m here, I’m living the dream’, perhaps your Dad was directing you at the time?
AH: Well it didn’t quite work out like that. He, knowing that I wanted to be an actress, put me in a film at the age of 15, called A Walk With Love and Death, and I didn’t really like the character, I wanted to be an exalted creature. I didn’t want to be a 15th century French maid that didn’t wear any make-up! [Laughs]
He was very adamant that I shouldn’t wear make-up, and I was very fond of make-up at the time, so we had struggles over that. And it was just the contrary of what I’d hoped and wanted it to be. It was very hard work, there were many lines to learn, and I was insecure and unhappy. So it was very much the opposite to what I thought it was going to be.
LF: Do you think he was throwing you in at the deep end?
AH: I don’t think he thought he was throwing me and the deep end, he basically was granted me my life wish and here I was reluctant, obstinate and unprepared. I think I was a big disappointment to him on that one. You know it took 15 years or so to right that wrong.
It wasn’t until Prizzi’s Honour really. He was honoured by the AFI and I was asked to MC the show and during the show I said to him I’d like to tray again. And I guess he thought it was a good idea, because a few years later producer John Foreman came to me with this book [Prizzi’s Honour] and said let me know what you think. I was like wow its great and he said, ‘what about your father to direct and Jack Nicholson to star?’, and I was like ‘don’t do that to me please!’
My father was down in Mexico, and Jack was famously entrenched on Mullholland Drive, and Foreman was like, ‘you have to get them down to Mexico’, to which I replied, ‘no, no you go!’ But in the end Jack did go down to Mexico and meet my father for half and hour and said, ‘great I’ll do it.’ And they came back and we all went to work and it was such a good experience – it was fantastic. I went to church, Jack went to the gaming parlours and we all ate a bunch of Italian food and hung out with the gangsters and it was great!
LF: As a member of the third generation of action Huston’s is there a fourth generation on our way?
AH: Yeah my nephew Jack is on his second movie now, he just did Factory Girl with Sienna Miller and Hayden Christiansen in Louisianan, so yeah he’s on his way and gorgeous too.
These Foolish Things is out in cinemas now.