The Education of Ellen Barkin

Ellen Barkin interview about her role in Ocean’s 13, her divorce from Ron Perelman, and aging in Hollywood.

By Jancee Dunn
Ellen Barkin on the cover of MORE's June 2007 issue
Photograph: Photo by: Lorenzo Agius

On the Set of Ocean’s 13
What better tonic for depression could there possibly be than to fly to Los Angeles and Las Vegas to act with Clooney, Damon, and Pitt? "I hadn’t worked, with two or three exceptions, for seven years," she says. "And when I did, it took an enormous toll on my personal life. So the idea that I was going to be able to work free and clear — and enjoy what I was doing — was so great." She grins wickedly. "Plus I was the only girl for miles, so everybody was happy to see me."
Weintraub says that even though the Ocean’s group was close-knit, from two prior films together, Barkin fit in immediately. "As much as she’s feminine and beguiling and sexy, she’s also one of the guys," he says. "She can get right down in there and talk like a sailor, and the guys appreciated that." Barkin’s character, he adds, is not a shrinking violet either — not a girl, but a woman with experience and character. "She’s glamorous," Weintraub says. "But she doesn’t hide her age. She lays it all out there. She’s not trying to be 18, which is great. She looks fantastic, is dressed beautifully."
Indeed, Barkin’s wardrobe was another thrill. "If you ever wanted to be in a more attention-getting wardrobe, you couldn’t dream it better," she says with relish. The clothes, designed by L’Wren Scott, were all pink. "Not baby pinks," Barkin clarifies, "heart-stopping fuchsias."
If that wasn’t enough, the mood on the set was downright giddy. "If I had had to play some woman who has some horrible thing happen to her, I would have had a nervous breakdown," she says. "But I was so excited to go to work. Al [Pacino] and I would say, ‘Boy, aren’t we lucky to be here?’ Just giggling and happy."
Moving Past Divorce
She pauses for a moment, suddenly pensive. It’s clear that she has not completely recovered from the ordeal of her divorce, but it’s equally apparent that this is a woman who can take care of herself. "At a certain point, my self-protection mechanism kicks in," she says intently. "And when it does, I know what to do. I’m not going to roll over and play dead. Once I get the fact that you’re kicking me in the head, I’m gonna grab your foot and twist your leg off." Last fall, she auctioned off all the lavish jewelry that Perelman had given her at Christie’s: the immense 22-plus-carat diamond ring, the period jewels, the emerald and diamond cuff. The sale netted over $20 million, among the top four single-owner jewelry sales in history.
Barkin says that the sale was not motivated by revenge. "It was practical," she says with a shrug. "Quite frankly, I couldn’t afford the jewelry, and I would have never worn it. I didn’t want to look down at my hand and feel bad about myself. When it’s done, it’s done for me. I move on." She sighs. "It doesn’t ever go away, and you don’t want it to go away," she says. "You want scars to remind you. But, you know, I think about the course of a life, and I didn’t think at this age I’d get to rediscover myself." She leans forward. "I remember turning 40 and really feeling spectacular, like, I feel substantial, I feel like I take up space. I know who I am, I know my strengths and weaknesses — and now I’m going to figure out what to do with them. And I feel like that again. I feel awake."
The first part of your life, she says, "is a process of figuring out who you are, what you do, what you like to do, how you relate to people, and the second half is ‘Now what are you going to do with it?’ And I think that’s certainly the more important act."

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