once found a pigeon being attacked by seagulls on the boardwalk in front of
her house. She took it home, bought a cage, and fed it. “I called him Walter
Rebecca,” she tells me, “because I never knew his sex.” When it grew up to
be beautiful and glossy, she decided to release it back into the wild. And
just as she did so, a hawk flew down and killed it.
“Some things are doomed,” she concludes. “But it was an amazing passage. Such
are the vagaries of life. You always have to watch out and keep an eye that
the hawks are not coming.”
It’s not the cheeriest of stories, true, but today Huston seems mercifully
free of hawks. Having just endured her saddest years in a life full of sad
years, there’s a lightness in her laugh that is rare and surprising. It
could be because she is working on her first television series, Smash,
which will be shown next year. Based on an idea by executive producer Steven
Spielberg, it’s best described as The Producers meets Glee.
“As a matter of fact, it’s all pretty kind of cracking,” says Huston,
savouring the word “cracking”.
“The show’s fantastic. It’s a great part and I had to get in the thick of it.”
She’s clearly energised after the period she spent looking after her
husband, the sculptor Robert
Graham, who died of a rare blood disease at the end of 2008. When he was
sick it was “impossible” for her to work.
“Oddly, nothing came to me,” she says. “Perhaps it was luck that I had time to
devote myself entirely.” She also sees it as lucky “and extremely cathartic”
that her first film after his death is 50/50 – a comedy about cancer
Rogen. While some may have found it too close to the bone, she found it
therapeutic. 50/50 is based on the true story of Will Reiser, a
friend of Rogen’s and the film’s screenwriter, who contracted cancer and was
told he had only a 50 per cent chance of surviving. It explores how his
illness affected his relationships with his girlfriend (not good), his best
friend (roller-coaster) and his mother (transformative).
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Huston, 60, plays the mother with frumpy frosted hair, camel coats, casual
trousers, sweaters and blazers. “It’s a punishing look. She’s trying to keep
it all together. The hair in a clean cut that’s manageable. I approximated
what I felt she would look like and I think I got pretty close.”
It is a scary and shocking look for her. “Well, good,” she purrs. It’s
certainly a long way from Huston’s trademark alpha vamp. She has always
played exotic, troubled or troubling women. She was effortlessly a witch. Or
the Mafia bad girl for which she won her Oscar in Prizzi’s Honor.
And who can forget her chopping the heads off roses as Morticia in The
Addams Family? More recently, she’s worked with director Wes Anderson — The
Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums, which
have an other-worldly feel. But 50/50 is pure realism. You’ll laugh,
And so did she: “I thought I looked very fraught during shooting but what’s a
girl to do under the circumstances?”
She means the circumstances of being a widow. The last time we met there was a
heaviness in her eyes, a profound sadness. You sensed it was a struggle for
her just to get through the day.
She and Graham married in 1992, and theirs was a real and proper marriage – by
anyone’s standards, not just Hollywood’s. He was a departure for her because
in the past she’d always gone for bad boys. She enjoyed taking risks which
she knew would probably fail. Like a 17-year on-off relationship with Jack
Nicholson. From 1973, Anjelica and Jack were the cool couple. And for
a long time after they broke up for good – after a photo spread appeared of
Nicholson and his latest paramour announcing she was pregnant when Huston
herself had been trying for a baby – it seemed as if she would never escape
that relationship’s shadow.
Everything changed when she met Graham. She once told me, “Great love affairs
don’t necessarily make great marriages, or even friendships. Robert, he was
kind to me. I finally met someone who told me what they were going to do and
did it. He was single-minded in his pursuit of me and a genius in his own
Graham was the first person to pursue her in this way. Previous to this, it
felt like she had done the pursuing. A few months ago the idea that she
would ever pursue anyone again seemed to make her stiffen with pain and feel
physically exhausted. She told me that when you lose a mate, sex seems
trivial, and she could not imagine who she could ever even think of having a
Today, though she is definitely chirpier. Not that she’s finished grieving,
but the grief is no longer all-consuming. And she puts that down to working
on a movie that was so close to her own life. The woman she plays is an
obsessive worrier. Is that what she was like?
“Yes. It wasn’t even like I was revisiting it. I was living it the way I lived
with it. It was all inside. And yes, it was extremely cathartic every day to
be able to cry, which was something extremely important to me. And when you
have a group of brilliant actors all working for the same thing, it’s a
lovely thing to be all on the same page. There is a big comfort there. You
know, life is like a sponge and every once in a while, you fall down a big
She knows the hole well. She’s only just clambered out of it. “I’m doing my
best to keep my head up and face forward. I found this little button the
other day in my handbag and it says ‘It’s not about you’, which is a very
good motto for me right now. I’m doing this show and it’s in New York and
there’s about five billion other people there. You’re always aware you’re
not alone in the city. It’s given me perspective on how I’m going to live.”
She had been scared of being in New York and had never wanted to leave the
house she shared in Venice, California, with Graham. A formidable building
opposite a tattoo parlour, it was built during the LA riots as the couple’s
very own fortress. Behind its warehouse-like facade is an idyllic courtyard
swimming pool, in which Graham used to swim fully clothed. It’s now on the
market for $16million. That, for her, is bittersweet.
“I love being back there because it’s my home,” she says. “The house speaks of
Bob and his absence. It puts me in another place there. It takes me back.
The house is beautiful and wonderful, but it’s Bob’s house and I have my own
reasons for wanting to move on. It’s as if there was a time for that house.
Now it’s a different time.” She has taken her two little dogs, her constant
companions, to New York, but even that is bittersweet. “The tragedy of
animals is they die. The more animals you have the more potential for
heartbreak. It’s hell, but at least it’s life, right?”
Huston seems gradually to be feeling more like herself again, and less like a
grieving widow. It was “easy to summon tears” at that time, she says with a
small laugh. “It’s a long process. And there’s a reason why widows were
forced to wear widows’ weaves in the old days. For a year you shouldn’t be
looked on and you shouldn’t look on yourself. You feel very raw.”
She felt that people treated her differently as a widow. Now she can say the
word “widow” quite easily and it doesn’t carry with it a sting or a shudder.
“People can react negatively, as if somehow you haven’t done enough or
they’re owed something. You think people are going to be wonderful and
comforting, but they’re not,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Some people don’t
like to think that you might be needy. But as time wears on, I think that’s
only one reaction. Some people are very sweetly drawn close to me. They want
And the people who turned away from her? “They can’t cope with neediness. Who
knows if it’s because they’re too weak or too strong. Recently I’ve enjoyed
people’s kindness and I appreciate it.”
Is she seeing anyone now? “I’m not in a romance yet but I’m feeling a lot
better than I was. I’m not looking to break hearts. I’m looking to mend
hearts. I think that’s what happens when you get past your fifties.” The
word romance seems to conjure up the word “Jack”. “I’m working with the
beautiful actor Jack
Davenport,” she teases, of her British co-star in Smash.
“He’s divine.” I was actually thinking of that other Jack: Nicholson. Does
he circle her at all still?
“I don’t think he has a lot of energy for circling. At least not me.” It’s as
if she doesn’t have any energy for talking about him, let alone seeing him –
although she says they speak from time to time. That intensity they once
felt for each other seems a lifetime ago. Once, a few years back, she burst
into tears at the mention of his name and said that losing him was “like a
death in the family”.
He’d been a big presence in her life and she described him as “catnip for
women”. In a similar way her father, legendary hell-raising film director
John Huston, was also larger-than-life catnip. She says that every time she
reads a new biography, she reads of some other woman who was involved with
him, and that he was “a stranger in his own house” who once slapped his
13-year-old daughter in a fight about her not wishing to go to art school.
She grew up in Galway in a big house called St Clerans. Her father loved
Ireland. Particularly in the Fifties, because it seemed the antidote to
America’s McCarthyism. America was about control. Ireland was about being
She and her mother, the ballerina Enrica Soma, moved into the guesthouse when
her parents split up. Her mother died in a car crash when Huston was 17. She
was playing a tape of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that Huston had
given her; her daughter was given the mangled cassette from the wreckage.
There is a huge sense that Huston, for perhaps the first time, enjoys looking
forward rather than feeling nostalgic for these big loves. She says that the
character she’s playing in Smash, Eileen Rand, “is very close
to me, but an exaggerated person. She is more openly mean than I allow
myself to be”. And then she laughs – her version of a mean laugh, which
can’t help being a little warm.
Her look today is chic. Pageboy hair. Anna Wintour meets Sherry Lansing.
Sitting in a café around the corner from the house, she is once again
luxuriating in her spectacularly catty one-liners. She looks as dramatic as
she ever did with her penetrating smoky eyes.
So many actresses of her generation have had their eyes transformed. Sometimes
the work is good and sometimes they look like stretched cat’s eyes. Huston
has not made her mind up. “A tiny bit of Botox here and there is not the end
of the world. It’s the stitching thing I don’t know about.
“It’s a slippery slope. I’m afraid of any kind of pain right now. I’ll do
anything to avoid it. I’m having my little dog spayed on Monday and that’s
traumatising me. I was talking to Jack Davenport about it and he said that
just before he had his dog done, he took pictures of the testicles before
they had to go. Isn’t that sweet? I’m afraid of anaesthetic for my animals
and for me.”
Graham once got upset with her when she had some Botox because he told her a
sad story and she was unable to look sympathetic. She laughs about that now.
“I feel less inclined to criticise other people’s ways of getting along,”
she says of cosmetic surgery addicts. “We all do what we have to do. The
other night I came down after a party and there was a Russian doorman at the
building and he said ‘I saw some pictures of you in the Post
today with Joan Rivers.’ And I said ‘how do we look?’ ‘Joan very good. You
bad.’ So it’s all relative.’
It’s nice to see her sense of humour still intact. She agrees. “It was gone
for a while and that was awful. I feel it’s like the blood rushing back to
my brain. I enjoy life. I am interested in it. I want to feel good about it
even though it’s hard getting older. Like Bette Davis once said, ‘It ain’t
‘50/50’ is released on Friday
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Orignal From: Anjelica Huston: tears not enough