Last year, she nearly nabbed an Oscar for ‘Unfaithful’ but these days Diane Lane is all about faith
Drenched in obsidian attire, Diane Lane breezes into the room and immediately rolls up her sleeves. Carefree lady? Woman on a mission? Both.
The first thing she does is attack a packet of Zen tea at the refreshment table. Then she ambles gracefully toward a chair, sits down and smiles. She sips her tea. She fidgets. She folds one arm over the other, resting them in front of her abdomen.
Diane Lane is relaxed.
Diane Lane is nervous.
Diane Lane is about the take the biggest gamble of her entire career—headline a major motion picture.
But what a picture.
Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the Frances Mayes’ poignant soul-stirring memoir, pits the Oscar nominated actress against the biggest force of nature of all—faith. As in … taking a leap of and having some. Fresh off of last year’s turn as a cheating wife in Unfaithful, which landed her an Oscar nomination, Lane ventures into more heart-warming territory in Sun, playing a recently dumped-and-divorced San Francisco writer who, drowning in post-relationship misery, begrudgingly accepts a free trip to Tuscany to calm her rattled nerves. Emotions in motion, Lane’s character, Frances, finds herself longing for change with no real way of knowing how, exactly, to create it. Ultimately, she surprises even herself when, on an impulse, she purchases a rundown villa in Tuscany. She spends the next year remodeling everything about her life—inside and out.
Although she’s no newcomer to the industry, Lane has spent more years next to the celeb du jour than being one herself. The Richard Geres, the George Clooneys, the Mark Walhbergs—they were the ones who usually got main-course roles while Lane, although equally significant, adorned the cinematic table like shiny silverware waiting to cut into something big. Still, moviegoers knew her. She hit the cover of Time at 13 after a smash debut in 1979’s bittersweet A Little Romance. In 1984, she teamed for the first time with Richard Gere in Cotton Club, a fruitful move considering it cemented her working relationship with Francis Ford Coppola—she’d already worked with the acclaimed director in The Outsiders and Rumblefish. But Lane also proved herself to be a risktaker, especially in a turn as Paulette Goddard in 1962’s Chaplin, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough. A Walk on the Moon, in 1999, found Lane opposite future Lord of the Rings hottie Viggo Mortensen in a tale of infidelity, something of an appetizer for the 2002’s searing Unfaithful, where she and Gere teamed up once again. (There was also good reception for her role in A Perfect Storm opposite Clooney.)
While Under the Tuscan Sun, directed by Audrey Wells, moves through serendipitous waters—a believe-in-yourself-and-take-a-chance theme will do that—Lane hails Wells and costar Sandra Oh for being the manna she needed to pull her out of the intense acting hangover spawned after starring in Unfaithful. Sun really becomes a spiritual fix-er-upper when Lane’s remodel-the-Villa project turns into a gathering ground for like-minded souls craving connections. There’s romance, friendship, kindred connections—but in places you would not expect to find them. Much like life, Under the Tuscan Sun delivers surprises. Fortunately, Lane is the brightest one. In a recent interview, Lane opened up about change, life and taking chances.
Good Times: I had to laugh. There are three men in the film who help Frances—your character—reconstruct the villa. And they’re Polish. I’m Polish. So, how much of the language do you really know? How much did you have to learn?
Diane Lane: It’s like the tango in Cotton Club. I can’t tango to save my life, but I can do that one dance, you know what I mean? So how did I do? With the Polish, I mean.
GT: You were great.
DL: Yeah? I did alright?
GT: Yeah. You had to say “Dziekuje”, which means “thank you” in Polish.
DL: Yeah, “Dziekuje” and some other things were dubbed over which I chose because we were scrambling at the last minute. We had to go to an Internet Web site to look up some strange things that a man who would be coming on to you might say …
GT: What was most appealing about this project?
DL: I think the conquering of faith over self-doubt—simply put. God knows I could use that. (Laughs). The world can use that. I don’t know anybody who can’t use that. And I thought… I want to be part of that. I felt it was gift all the way around. To want to be part of this movie was kind of a no-brainer really [and] so much of this had to do with the casting… all the other roles are so equally important as mine because in some ways my character is living vicariously through the other characters and we really don’t get to know Francis except for how she responds and deals with these other people in the film. They always find out a facet of who she is and what they bring out in her, whether it’s a maternal instinct or a female kind of envy or idealization of another woman … or a sympathetic view of [the character in the film]—an 80-year-old woman crying about the fact that her e-mail lover won’t write her back. And then there’s this maternal thing of being a patron saint to this Romeo and Juliet couple in the film … and almost like an adopted sister to Sandra Oh’s character, a lesbian who is so brave—dumped , in a lurch , partnerless. There’s a lot of bravery going on here.
GT: So, in your life—since you were drawn to this and correct me if I am wrong—there must of have been some serendipity. When, in your life, did you have an Under the Tuscan Sun experience; where you tossed aside the rational and just went for it?
DL: Well, you know, there have been different times where I completely shut down after being … stupid or from unrequited love or some version of that; the disillusionment that comes after a divorce. But it doesn’t have to be that official, you know? It’s hard to tell your heart to turn off. You know?
GT: So true.
DL: Yeah, and … people prefer numbness over pain. I get it. But when you do that, everything else shuts off with it—creativity, receptivity, all kinds of things. So this [film] is not a How Stella Got Her Grove Back, it is an expose to many metaphors that hearken back to same thing … where the readiness is all there is. And that was one of the many little bumper stickers that got me through life many times—so far. And that, really, the opportunities are waiting. It’s just a question of are you ready to meet them half way? And I have —I have leapt into a new home in another state just because it felt right; reinvented myself or just saying, ‘Forget it—I am going to go down to Georgia and live with my mom for two years; I can’t take the heat in the kitchen, I am getting out!’ You know? And I feel like I have experienced everything, pretty much, that my character has, emotionally—distributed differently, in different circumstances, different sequences. I feel I wasn’t making anything up to portray her, which is refreshing, because, I mean, in Unfaithful there was so much denial going on and I thought: ‘My God. I could never be this woman.’ So, obviously, I am not paid to be her. I am paid to empathize and I had to redirect my whole emotional equipment to play her and I did not have to do that for this character. It was such a reprieve after all that pain. Richard [Gere] was saying, ‘That’s why I did Chicago.’ Yeah, that’s a big change.”
GT: Are you emotionally driven?
DL: You mean, in life?
GT: Yes. Well, are you the sort of person that is ruled by your emotions? Or, are you more practical?
DL: I overheard Audrey Wells (writer and director) in conversations and she was saying that with Francis, we never see her ‘decorate’ her house. It’s not like she’s suddenly Martha Stewart saying, ‘Oh … look at the Tuscan draperies!’ It’s not about that for her. It’s about the people in her life. And after she said that, I thought, Oh, that’s what I should have done [in my life], because I remained, uh, relatively, isolated. And therein lies the distance, because it definitely limits your ability to grow. You got to get messy and deal with other people’s stuff … and not picking up the phone and hiding doesn’t really make you grow much. So, I am becoming more emotionally driven just because I think it’s a lot healthier than being all up in my head—you know, understanding everything but doing nothing about it; feeling smart and being very alone. Not fun.
GT: Did you read Frances Mayes’ memoir?
DL: I was asked not to read it by Audrey but I cheated. I read it anyway. I loved it. I never felt more in Tuscany than when I was reading her book—more than when I was in Tuscany. She really knows how to bring it home. She really knows how to focus on the sensorial details and experience it through her writing. The book was so appreciative of the place; you have to really delve into it and I didn’t have that experience while filming in Tuscany. I was working. I would like to go back there and experience it. So … I did read the book, but there was no real plot per se. You can never take that book and try to bring it to the screen. you have to invent some crises to resolve.
GT: I appreciated the dialogue in the film—so rich.
GT: Yes … as a writer, I was drawn to that. What do you think?
DL: Writing is the most exposing art form in a way. It’s also the most subjective in the sense that people can relate to each other’s writing. Frances has a gift of writing every description and that was a necessary part of my character. And it’s in there and I love it. I like to write. I am not good with the beginning, middle and end, but I am good with letters.
GT: So, what do you love most about acting?
DL: What do I love most about acting?
GT: Yeah. What’s it like for you?
DL: Um, I think I am really, at heart, a sociologist or an archeologist, or something like that because I think acting is a case by case study of really analyzing life and leaping into something experientially that I would not have the courage or the effort to do in my real life. So I get to live, vicariously, many lives and try new things. And I learn a lot—I learn a lot. I love the exposure to people and the reactions to the work. Some love it, some don’t. It’s a big experiment. It’s addicting. It’s kind of like Gamblers’ Anonymous … or Gamblers’ Obvious. It’s not anonymous at all. We actors are addicted and we’re trying it again and again. People in show biz are addicted to the gamble. It’s always a crapshoot. My thing is that I’ve gotten better at it—choosing roles. It’s not me really, it’s just that the opportunities have gotten better; that I am able to find roles that I care about.
GT: Word association time.
GT: Francis Ford Coppola.
DL: Papa Bear.
GT: Richard Attenborough.
DL: Dignified empathy.
GT: Richard Gere.
GT: George Clooney.
GT: Funloving, mysterious.
GT: Show biz.
DL: I see a big turning cog wheel. Something out of Charlie Chaplin’s machinary–it’s a visual, not a word.
GT: Believing in your dreams.
DL: Faith and that inner voice.
GT: Meat or veggies?
DL: You mean I have to choose?
GT: Which one resonates more with you?
DL: I would say vegetables.
GT: What’s your most recurring inhibition?
GT: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
DL: That I’ve given? (Laughs). Well, I just use everything from Shakespeare, you know, ‘To thine own self be true …’ and if you could just stay honest at the peril of being popular. You can’t please everybody all the time; there’s this balance between wanting everybody to be happy and wanting to be loved and wanting everything to be OK and being really honest—and there is the riddle. It takes homework, you know? There’s this balance to being really aware and being able to let go. To me, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
GT: So, what’s the best advice you’ve been given?
DL: Enjoy it.
GT: What is the most interesting thing you learned about yourself lately?
DL: That I have stick-to-it-edness, with the things that matter to me. I don’t give up on myself as easily as I used to.