Life in the Diane Lane

Diane Lane has always refused to exploit her looks at the expense of her talent. Now, at 41, that decision has paid off. Her career’s unstoppable and she’s having the time of her life.

By Jamie Diamond

Moving Forward

In the five years since, from A Walk on the Moon through The Perfect Storm through Unfaithful through this spring — when, in addition to Fierce People, she will also be seen in Killshot, a thriller by Shakespeare in Love director John Madden — she has become the onscreen embodiment of the experienced woman. This is what experience looks like: sensual, maternal, sexy, strong, surprising, and wryly good-humored.

Of plastic surgery, she says, "I don’t feel that apologetic yet. I feel like you’re apologizing if you have plastic surgery, apologizing for nature and history and experience. I take comfort that aging happens to everybody. It’s part of life. Aging offers great lessons in dignity, since the indignity wins in the end. Yes, it bothers me when I have lines or puffiness or droops. But it connects me with the human race. Like weather bringing people together, aging brings people together." But then she adds, "I’m also terrified of a doctor making me look like somebody else. If I could see the after picture and say, ‘That looks great,’ then maybe I’d opt for it. Maybe I’m just a chicken shit, actually."

The Death of an Actress

In the kids’ store in Toronto, clutching her book selections, she proceeds to a basket jam-packed with tiny plastic windup toys. "We’re starting a new tradition — a Christmas elf who leaves little things around the house," she whispers conspiratorially, as if her children in California (in addition to Eleanor, there are Lane’s stepchildren, Eden Brolin, also 12, and Trevor Brolin, 17) might be hiding within earshot. "When Christmas comes around again, one of these would be perfect." Of course the toy she picks — an electric-blue penguin — is wound so tightly that it can’t hop. A saleslady mysteriously appears and deftly removes it from Lane’s hand, saying, "Once they’re dead, they’re dead." Lane regards her and says evenly, "Yes, that’s my understanding of death as well."

"I was killed in every play I did," she says, laughing, in a nearby wine bar. She takes off her coat and scarf, revealing a delicate green western-style cotton shirt fastened with mother-of-pearl buttons. As a child, she toured Iran, Holland, and Italy as an actor with the avant-garde La MaMa Troupe, unchaperoned by either parent. "I was killed in Electra, Medea, and The Trojan Women. In Agamemnon, I got impaled. I was thrown off a cliff. I died on stage in every way there was to die except suffocation. I was in Greek tragedies, and they deal with the death of innocence. Only later did I pay attention to what I’d been doing with my childhood. It was a sign of that expansive, experimental time that I was entrusted with the care of myself."

Lane’s Lovely Life

Her own innocence long gone, Lane is lively. Whenever she recalls an experience, expressions flicker over her face as if she’s watching a private movie and experiencing each scene as exciting and newly minted. When she talks, she uses her hands and takes on different voices. She climbs onto a wooden chair to demonstrate how gingerly she perched on hot Jeep seats while honeymooning in Death Valley with Brolin two summers ago. Describing the communal spirit that develops during filmmaking — "An intense intimacy occurs when creative people share a goal" — she smacks her palm onto the center of her chest. Then she gazes searchingly around the restaurant and whispers, "You forget that life is waiting for you."

The life that awaits Lane is still, in good measure, a mother’s life, an experience she has been able to use often in her work. In Fierce People, a 16-year-old boy’s coming-of-age story set on the East Coast in 1978, she plays a mother who initially acts more screwed up than her screwed-up kid. "This is going to sound crazy," she admits, "but the truth is my stepson read the script — the protagonist is about the age he was at that time — and he liked it and told me that I should do it." She also felt drawn to the era and the mother-son relationship. "It’s that last time before the son starts losing complete faith in his mother," she says, softly.

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