After he acted with Diane Lane in her first film, 1979’s A Little Romance, Laurence Olivier called the then-14-year-old “the new Grace Kelly.” The description still feels apt. Like Kelly, Lane comes off as simultaneously hot and cool, her honey-smooth voice and air of classy self-possession paired with a mischievous sense of fun and unselfconscious sexuality. But fortunately for Lane, as she discussed in our recent conversation, she came along at a much better time for women than Kelly did, a time when Hollywood and the world at large were less prone to stereotyping women.
Lane has played everything from tough to tender in a wide roles ranging from a preternaturally self-reliant teen in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish to an inchoately frustrated young housewife in Tony Goldwyn’s A Walk on the Moon to early reality television star Pat Loud, who embodied so many of the changes that rocked middle- and upper-middle-class America in the ’70s, in Cinema Verite. For all their differences, her characters share a sense of integrity and a watchful intelligence that point to complicated inner lives.
Her latest feature, Paris Can Wait, is a spiritual midlife journey written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, Francis’s wife, that’s packaged as a will-they-or-won’t-they romance. Lane’s Anne, the wife of a prominent director, is happily married and living a more than comfortable life, but her creativity and engagement with the world has been channeled almost exclusively into supporting her husband and daughter—until they are reawakened on a road trip with Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a friend and colleague of her husband’s.
Lane was back in her hometown of New York last week to promote Paris Can Wait, which she describes as a “middle-life check-in.” Quick to laugh, yet thoughtful in her almost free-associative answers, she seemed unguarded and comfortable in her own skin throughout our interview.
What time did you start these interviews this morning?
They came to my room at 7:30. Girl hours. Backwards in heels. [Laughs] And then they have the nerve to criticize how you look! [Laughs] You do it!
Exactly! When you quit acting in films for a while in 2008, you said you weren’t coming back at all if you didn’t start seeing better roles for women.
Oh sure. Eighteen months felt like a long time when I was in my 20s. Now it feels like—a couple of hours. Time does morph as it goes forward.
But do you think things getting somewhat better for women in Hollywood?
I think the culture wants to be represented. I think that’s what’s going on, rather than some minority being a squeaky wheel that needs grease. You see what I’m saying? We’re 52 percent [of the population]. I just was a juror at the Tribeca Film Fest for the Nora Ephron award, which was fascinating. I’d never been on a jury before. It gave me a frame of reference for this film, because it would have qualified: female director, female screenwriter. That’s Nora’s legacy, and she set the bar high. She grossed a lot of millions of dollars! She was very successful. So, be successful. That’s the punchline. Because it’s show business. Its not show love, show friends, show respect, show fair. We are a capitalist contribution to the globe.
But even being successful at the box office isn’t always enough. There have been films by and about women that have done well but then have been treated like one-offs.
I think looking forward is the key, keeping your eyes forward and focusing on what’s right, what’s improving, rather than looking back. I mean, it’s good to take stock once in a while of the improvements, but I don’t like living in the past, that’s for sure. I’ve enjoyed—I guess mostly in westerns—playing women from other centuries, because we’ve come a long way. [Laughs] You know, we’re not chattel; we can own land; we can keep our name; we can vote; we can have our kids inherit things from us.
One traditional trajectory for an actress has been to do love stories when you’re young and then other things as you get older, but you seem to have done the opposite. You did all kinds of roles when you were young, but you didn’t really do romances until your late 30s and 40s, and here you are making another one. Do you think this is another sign of things getting better? Is Hollywood finally ready to let grown women have romantic and sexual lives on screen?
I think that the female perspective and the female experience is invariably expanding, and that’s being reflected back to us in the media that we pay to enjoy. I’m very grateful for television, that there’s such diversity of roles available for women to relate to and feel spoken to, in terms of experiences that they’d never seen reflected back before. You see it on screen and you feel the thing: I have felt that. Thank goodness someone is interested in seeing that thing, or hearing what this quagmire or this conflict is. I think we’re out of the box. It’s an interesting time because I’m not 14. I’m not marketing my youth. I have other things to offer. And my peace of mind and my value have increased tremendously, simultaneously, as I have released that craving for that particular—what do you call it when they appreciate you?
Yeah, that particular affirmation of being judged on your appearance. You’re more realistic about what’s doable, and choosing how to use your energy more wisely.
Francis Ford Coppola gave you two of the early roles that helped get people to take you seriously as an actor, in Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, and he cast you in two other movies after that. What’s your relationship like with the Coppola family?
We didn’t socialize. But I remember Sofia when she was eight years old, playing my sister in Rumble Fish. And I was close enough to experience the loss when [Francis and Eleanor’s son] Gio passed away, tragically and violently, when I was about 20 years old. It was shocking to think: How are they going to pull together after such a loss? It’s dealt with in our film, a bit, when [Anne] talks about losing her son. We discover things about these characters. Nobody is spared grief in life.