Diane Lane Is a Lane Changer

A producer of the new documentary "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" asked Diane Lane to help expose the abuse of women in Somaliland, she leapt at the chance. Here, the Oscar-nominated actress talks about what she learned, the newly empty nest she shares with husband Josh Brolin and the difficult childhood that led to her extraordinary career

by Margot Dougherty
diane lane image
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

Because of rehearsals and performances, “I was missing out on a lot, sports and friend stuff,” she says. “Normal childhood looked like a candy store and Christmas to me.” It got further out of reach when, at 14, Lane landed on the cover of Time for a story about child stars that included Tatum O’Neal and Brooke Shields. “I was so happy to see other specimens,” Lane says. “It was such a rarity. I don’t think young people today remember there was a time when 14-year-olds didn’t control the entertainment industry.”

Burt Lane, who died in 2002, was determined that his daughter be able to take care of herself. “He would say, ‘I did not raise you for bondage,’ ” she remembers. “He would elucidate this whole scenario: A guy is going to chain you to a chair, have his way with you until you’re pregnant with his child and you have to have it, and that will be your life. It was a really toxic cartoon.” In hindsight, though, she says she understands her father’s concern about the potential traps of being female. “That is women’s plight historically and today in many parts of the world, because women don’t have any say over their bodies. [My dad] couldn’t believe that would be the fate of his only flesh and blood daughter, his only child.” (Actually, Burt had another daughter, from a prior marriage, whom Diane first met in her twenties. “We didn’t have that much in common to continue forward,” she says. “But we did strip away the mystery.”)

By necessity, Lane was a self-reliant child. Dern remembers going to stay with her friend at the Hilton in Los Angeles when she was making 1984’s Streets of Fire, “just to make it feel a little homier.” One of the foundations of their friendship, Dern says, was that both young women were intrigued by the idea of “being seekers. We didn’t necessarily know what we were longing for, but we were interested in the idea of an internal search, a sense of self or connection to something larger. Trying to become a grownup in a healthy way was, oddly, a deep interest for both of us, even at 12 and 15.” By 19, when Lane was starring in The Cotton Club, her first of three movies with Gere and the third of four she made with Coppola, she had a moment of realization. “I said, ‘OK, I am now wiser than my father in every aspect of filmmaking.’ I outgrew his ability to give me advice. He agreed.” Coppola says he remembers Lane at that time as a “sweet and very hardworking young lady. From the moment I worked with her, I had a crush on her—as did many who saw those pictures.”

Burt Lane moved on to the role of cheerleader, but his fears may have colored Lane’s idea of having children. “I thought, If I have a child, I’ll be focused on the one and won’t be able to do great things,” she says. “In fact, it’s the opposite: Because of having had a child, I have gone past my comfort zone and been willing to put myself out there.”

When Lane married Brolin in 2004, they united their children—her daughter and his son and daughter—in a blended family. Barbra Streisand, who is married to Josh’s father, actor James Brolin, is an active grandmother. “What I enjoy most about Barbra is how participatory she is in the family,” Lane says. “She’s a mensch. She comes to the kids’ plays and graduations. It was never an issue or question. She wants that involvement.”

Last year Lane and Brolin faced an instant empty-nest scenario: Within two weeks, all three kids moved out, two of them to New York and one to Asia. “I can still hear the sound of Velcro ripping, the tearing-away feeling,” Lane says. “Wait! Where are you going? Was it something I said?” Being without them “is kind of chilling,” she adds, “but I like straightforward showdowns with fate. I’m feeling good about it.”

First Published August 28, 2012

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