New Again: Anjelica Huston
Yesterday, actress Anjelica Huston turned 63. The daughter of legendary director John Huston (The Asphalt Jungle, 1950; The African Queen, 1951; The Misfits, 1961) and granddaughter of actor Walter Huston, Anjelica made her acting debut over 45 years ago when she was just 16. The film was one directed by her father, and the critics were not kind about her performance. Evidently, however, they misjudged Houston: she’s been nominated for three Academy Awards (she won the Best Supporting Actress award in 1985 for her role in Prizzi’s Honor) and has a star on Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.”
Huston has always been an Interview favorite. She’s appeared on the cover four times: first in 1972 as a model, quickly followed by a 1974 cover with her then-boyfriend Jack Nicholson (we spelled his name wrong; oh, the ’70s). Our favorite Anjelica cover, however, is this 1987 one illustrated by Richard Bernstein. We’ve reprinted the accompanying interview in its entirety below.
Daughters of the Swan: Anjelica Huston With Joan Juliet Buck
Joan on Anjelica:
Angelica is probably my closest friend, and for that reason she’s the one adult I know the least. So much goes back so far and, in the way of a sister, I may have stopped paying attention long ago. Yet the closeness and utter disparity of our lives keep weaving in and out like contradictory threads. Childhood: I was taller and an actress; she was braver with horses and could almost speak Gaelic… Adolescence: she was taller now, braver about dancing and boys; I was better at French… Young Adulthood: she was taller still and had a famous boyfriend; I had hard work… And now The Real Thing: she has stopped growing, she has an Oscar; I have a book I’m happy about.
During the holidays, I was sent to Ireland to have a “normal life”—”children and dogs,” my parents said. It was a step through the looking glass. There were Anjelica and her brother, Tony. There were horses and the Irish countryside. I loved her mother, Ricki, to whom my new novel, Daughter of the Swan, is dedicated. It was a magical childhood that abides. The Irish songs and the bits of Yeats and the passionate Irish nationalism remain as backgrounds, I think, for both of us.
The Anjelica I knew started off small and complicated and shy. Out first Christmas together I declared we’d do a play for the adults. Halfway through the opening speech Anjelica stopped, looked up and announced: “I don’t like it and I won’t do it.” In moments of stress I shoot right back to that night and tell her to pull her socks up and get on with the show. When Anjelica sees I’m getting starchy, she tries to goad me into mad actions or, as a last resort, get me drunk. And I’m still afraid she is going to somehow force me to climb a cliff or drive at least 140 miles per hour. I think she’s afraid I’m going to give her homework.
Adolescence made her legs extremely long, and she became a model. When Ricki died, Anjelica came to stay with me in New York. We’d go shopping for shoes on 34th Street and pretend to be Irish girls just off an Aer Lingus charter. The photographers liked her to be dark and gloomy. Tragic. They didn’t see the drawings, the wicked letters, the wild improvisations. She is, and always has been, funny, with a gift for creating theater. When she left New York, she filled my apartment with large crawling plants and bamboo poles from which hung green plastic snakes. I think there was a rubber alligator on the coffee table. The note said, “This place is a jungle.”
And then came the difficult bit; I must have read somewhere that Cancer and Libra don’t get on. Or maybe it was just distance. Anjelica, with all her talents, didn’t work. And I wasn’t having any fun. The stuff we had in common was kid’s stuff, and we were too young to miss it except in the way you remember a party or a dream. I got married without inviting her. It was all classic English novel material. But we finally made up in London.
Years later, we were firm friends again, through crises big and small: giving up smoking, bad perms, her car crash, my divorce. We always ended up talking at her kitchen table, drawing just as we did as children (gold felt-tip replacing the Magic Markers of our youth), endlessly drawing as we talked late into the night.
Then she really began to work. The night I went to downtown Los Angeles to see Anjelica fearlessly perform before an audience of 17 people, I knew. The child pedant in me as glad to see her do something unglamorous, difficult, confidential, and brave. The friend was glad that she was funny. The critic thought the play was awful and Anjelica was objectively good.
By the time Prizzi’s Honor rolled around I knew that she was taking off. It was only logical that I should lend her my mother’s clothes to play Maerose; her own clothes, or mine, would have proved that someone around here was an adult. Her performance showed that all the Anjelicas I knew were finally coming together—the beauty, the wit, the drama queen, and the self-mocking loon. I am delighted by her career, delighted to see that all the best parts of her are coming together in her work. The thing about old friends is that you know their weaknesses, but their strengths continually astound you. —Joan Juliet Buck
Anjelica on Joan:
Joan has been my friend, my first real friend since we met one Christmas Eve in Ireland, a thousand years ago. I think I was six years old, which would have made her nine at the time. She arrived long ago after dark from London with her parents. Jules and Joyce. I’d heard a lot about her; I’d anticipated her arrival for days. County Galway, where we lived, is remote, and glamour came from aboard. Our fathers were great friends—Jules had been a photojournalist and had made documentaries with my father during World War II. Joyce was elegant, with huge eyes, close-cropped hair and Grecian nose.
I remember perfectly my introduction to Joan. We were standing in our black marble hallway and Joan was pale and dark, with shoulder-length hair. I was immediately impressed by her green leather handbag with its large brass medallion and by her armload of Little LuLu comic books. She had been ill on the plane flying over and looked a little worse from the wear. We shook hands and stood close to our mothers. She was taller than I.
We became inseparable. We spent long summers growing up, taking day trips out to the cliffs of Moher, where we’d see schools of porpoises, or to Connemara to investigate ancient graveyards and climb Martello Towers. There was music in the ruins—we’d bring wonderful picnics and sin in the car. We’d go riding on our ponies and hold annual dog shows on the lawn. We dressed up constantly; Joan’s costumes were generally plum colored, with berries of the season, and she had penchant for hats. I was serious about veils, at that time predominantly those of bridal nature.
Later, we did the twist in the kitchen and Joan got kissed under a bridge. We talked about love and what we’d be when we grew up. Joan was original, electric and the organizer. She wrote poems in French. When my mother moved to London and I was going to the Lycée, Joan would visit me in the junior playground. I lived for a short time with the Bucks while my mother was finding a house. In her bedroom, Joan kept a plethora of white mice and an enormous, incontinent black poodle called Vladimir. I played with her Barbie dolls.
Somewhere in our 20s, our paths diverged; Joan wrote for all the Vogues and moved to Paris. Yet we continue to be friends, sisters under the skin. She has published two books; the latest, Daughter of the Swan, is garnering wonderful reviews. It is a brave book, and I am thrilled by its success. —Anjelica Huston
ANJELICA HUSTON: Joan, if I were a stranger sitting in front of you, how would you like to be known?
JOAN JULIET BUCK: I’d be sitting across from somebody who’s a wonderful actress with an Oscar. I’d be seriously hoping that she had read my book.
HUSTON: Well, I had, so we’re in luck.
BUCK: Can I see your Oscar again?
HUSTON: Yes, actually you can. Let’s go look. [lots of laughter]
BUCK: What a pretty Oscar!
HUSTON: It’s a dandy, isn’t it?
BUCK: It really is. I’ve never seen anyone sweeter except maybe a man…
HUSTON: Were you ever a man in a previous life?
BUCK: At one point I thought I had been one of those entertainers at the court of Philip II of Spain. You know, the jester.
HUSTON: It’s such a relief not to hear from someone that they were Cleopatra. All the people who’s had previous lives somehow always say they were King Henry VIII or Cleopatra of Nefertiti. I wish a little light could be shed on this, because it would be comforting to know that one had been here before.
BUCK: It would probably mean that one had known Shirley MacLaine in a previous life.
HUSTON: In other incarnations did she look like she does now, I wonder?
BUCK: Do you feel you’ve had a lot of previous lives?
HUSTON: Rather than go from one life to another, I think I live a lot of lives at the same time. I’ve done that ever since I was a child. It seemed that I was inhabited by some B movie. [laughs]
BUCK: Have you ever worried about this?
HUSTON: Yeah, often. Being called a person, as such, indicates that one should only have one character and be true to it. The nature of acting is that one is many characters and jumps from one skin to another as a way of life. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what all of your characters think at the same time. Sometimes one of my characters overrules one of my other characters. I’m trying to get them all to harmonize. It’s a hell of a job. It’s like driving a coach.
BUCK: I know what you mean. I put everything in different countries, which simplifies it. Paris is the only place where I feel that I lead a life that I can call my own.
HUSTON: Would you say that Paris rather than America is home to you now?
BUCK: I’d like to live in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles all at the same time.
HUSTON: Yeah, I’d like a flying carpet, too.
BUCK: The thing about commuting internationally is that you have to be a lawyer or an airline steward to do it successfully.
HUSTON: Do you have a fear of flying?
BUCK: I’m horrified.
HUSTON: What are you afraid of?
BUCK: In Europe, bombs on the planes. In America, bumping into another plane.
HUSTON: Death, in other words.
BUCK: What about you?
HUSTON: Actually it’s not a fear of flying, but a fear of falling. It’s not just fear of falling exactly, it’s a fear of death. It’s seeing death as a black hole that you fall into. I’ve had encounters with the Grim Reaper. They’ve involved two especially serious relationships, my mother and father—my father quite recently. I’d always thought of dying as falling into a dark hole, and just recently it occurred to me that death might be white light and traveling upward. I don’t know whether its affected my fear of flying because it’s kind of a recent feeling, and I don’t think I’ve taken any plane trips since it began.
I find that if there’s some sort of crisis going on in my life, when I get onto an airplane don’t think twice about the crisis. It’s like when everyone in Los Angeles was complaining about their lives before the earthquake. Suddenly the earthquake hits and you realize the immensity of the universe and how enormous the sky is and how insignificant you are. By that afternoon everyone was giggling in the supermarkets. There was a great sense of camaraderie.
BUCK: In my novel Daughter of the Swan, there’s a chapter in which the heroine goes on the Concorde and faces her terror of flying. She realized that there’s nothing she can do and that flying is really a test of faith: Do you have the guts to live in the 20th century?
HUSTON: Would you say that you change or don’t change after the age of six?
BUCK: I was a very polite schoolgirl who did her work very well and hid under tables. I’d hate to think I haven’t changed at all [laughs].
HUSTON: It’s like… how you recognize your hands. I remember at one point being very young and looking down and saying, “These are my hands. These are the hands that will always be.” As time passes you see different things happening to those hands. I remember at a certain time liking the fact that they were getting bonier. The same thing carries us through mentally. We recognize what we’ve always recognized as being ours or close to us, even though those things go through many elemental changes. We follow out life as we do our hands.
BUCK: I think I go through much more violent incarnations than you do. I always find myself loathing what I’ve just been before—the person who was living in the apartment that I just left, the person I was a year before. I constantly have the feeling of shedding skins and changing.
HUSTON: Do you find that’s true even though you’ve gone from being the girl with the chocolate and the typewriter in the garret to your next incarnation, as someone in the public eye who’s being celebrated at parties for her book? Is it a tremendously hard transfer to make?
BUCK: I thought it would be horrible. But the best thing about what’s happening now is that I find I don’t have to pretend. I let the book do all the work. I don’t feel I have to be a better person just because I’m on a television show.
HUSTON: It’s certainly what I like best about getting older. You’re not up for grabs for criticism anymore. You make a decision, it’s made, it’s fine, you don’t have to go back and rework it. You don’t have to apologize.
BUCK: Did getting an Oscar have anything to do with your change in attitude?
HUSTON: No, I don’t think it had a whole lot to do with the Oscar. Maybe the success of Prizzi’s Honor and the fact that the critics were so nice about it made me feel good about myself as someone working in the public eye. And if I ever had a sense of predestination, that was a time when it seemed fated. It was almost as if I had to wait until I was a certain age before things would come about as I wanted them to. Do you ever envy other women?
BUCK: I only envy as basic old sexual jealousy. To me, falling in love is the first step in losing my confidence. If I’m in love with somebody, I think that obviously he must have other people in his life. Everything that makes me balanced and happy is suddenly in the hands of someone else. It’s an extremely uneasy feeling.
HUSTON: Don’t you think work is the big savior, Joan? It’s something that doesn’t belong to anyone else.
BUCK: Of course. This is where the real crunch about writing comes in; it’s not the empty page, it’s the empty life. You’re alone with your head, and you’re unprepared for human company when you emerge. It isn’t like I can go to work and rub up against a while lot of other people.
HUSTON: That’s what’s great about acting. Of course, at the end of a film, it’s a big, sad party and everyone exchanges addresses. I used to cry. But when you realize that you’re not crying at every wrap party, it’s a blessed relief.
BUCK: I’m having fun now. This is easy, going around to bookstores to sign books.
HUSTON: Have you ever wanted to work with someone? Write a comedy?
BUCK: It’s an idea that I adore in the abstract, but I know I get very weird and defensive about what I’m working on—I wouldn’t even tell my secretary what the next page of my novel was about. I would hear these squeals as she found something out while typing it. I’m scared that if I collaborated on something with somebody, I would be in some way losing my own contact with what I was going and tempting fate.
HUSTON: What about tempting fate?
BUCK: Well, when I was awaking on the book I was much more interested in understanding things than enjoying them. And so I pushed a few situations, especially romantic, emotional ones. The temptation was to gamble with situations and let them play it as a game, to see how much of the energy of fiction was alive in itself.
HUSTON: Didn’t that make you feel sort of cold?
BUCK: Yeah, it made me miserable. Practically everything I did as an experiment while I was working on the book made me feel cold, angry, and decidedly peculiar. Clinical. Because I wasn’t acting from the motives people usually work from: to feel good, to have fun, to make something last.
HUSTON: Did you make love to an extremely old man, as your character does in the book?
BUCK: No, I didn’t. The scene is essential to the book. It wrote itself.
HUSTON: It’s funny, because I shortly after I read your book in its loose paper form—
BUCK: You were the first person to read it outside of my editor and my agent.
HUSTON: After I read it, I had a dream that I was having an extremely passionate affair with an old man. It was in Paris, too, and we were meeting in lavish hotels and having this absolutely breathtaking romance. I woke up blushing.
BUCK: The first erotic dream I ever had was when Emily Boothby, a friend from school, got married. Her father was an ambassador to the Council of Nations at Strasbourg, and I met the 80-year-old Swiss ambassador to the Council of Nations. My first erotic dream was that I was making it with him.
HUSTON: How old were you?
BUCK: I was 18. I was a slow starter. Unlike you.
HUSTON: Thank you, Joan.
BUCK: Let’s go back to the envy thing. Do you envy people?
HUSTON: Envy has been known to cross my heart. When I see a definitive piece of art, say, Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo, and someone proposes to me that I play in The Rose Tattoo, I feel a tremendous sense of self-doubt in light of her performance. I envy her having been able to do it as brilliantly as she did. Is that envy? Or if I see a painting that I particularly admire, like a Picasso, I envy the ability to paint like that. I feel envy when I see a ravishing blonde with enormous blue eyes and a small, delicate nose. I remember when I was about 14 or 15 I was asked by English Vogue if they could do my picture. I walked into a building on Grosvenor Square or wherever it was, and there was Cilia Hammond [famous ’60s model] in the dressing room.
BUCK: She has no nose.
HUSTON: Well, It was very small and perfect. I remember being completely intimidated, not by her necessarily, because she was a very benign and golden presence, but by her extraordinary beauty. I felt totally inadequate in terms of looks. Why was I being photographed when she was so much more beautiful that I was? I envied her looks, her hair, those blue eyes.
BUCK: Yet that was when you were becoming the girl everybody else envied…
HUSTON: Drama seems to play a great part in your books, Joan. These are not simple, countrified situations in which, say, a stranger comes to town. One of the difficulties of being a writer must be that you create drama that you can’t live out. That’s one of the wonderful things about acting. If you’re told, “Okay, you’re a demented cellist,” you can absolutely go ahead and be the demented cellist and not have to go with the idea and drop it in the light of something else.
BUCK: When you’re writing, you’re demented, alone, and full of doubt. It feels dangerous.
HUSTON: Tell me, Joan, do you ever feel, now that your book is out on the stands, that you’d like it take it back and redo it?
BUCK: I don’t like the idea of being forced to watch oneself in public. I loathed the first book, The Only Place to Be, once it was out. I was very embarrassed by it. I’d written it to show how clever I was and how much more I knew that other people. I was very ironic and cynical.
HUSTON: There are great descriptions in that book, though. There’s a scene with two women in a restaurant that’s beautifully written.
BUCK: I always end up putting two women in a restaurant—it’s like a tic. Why does so much happen at lunch with another woman? Why does so much get stirred up about the past and the present?
HUSTON: And so little get accomplished? [laughs]
BUCK: Exactly. The book embarrassed me. This one I’m proud of. I don’t feel that if people are nice, they’ll like it; I feel that if they’re open to it, they’ll like it. I’m happier if they meet the book than if they meet me. And if they don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. I never thought I would feel this way. In the end, Daughter of the Swan turned out to be a fairytale, a dark fairytale—a strange myth with a force behind it that’s more a part of the book, I’d say, than a part of me. I was blessed to be able to do it. But God, it was scary. I used to envy people who had written books, the way I think women envy other women who’ve had babies. I was resentful, shy, and inhibited around people who had written books. They’d done things I wanted to do.
HUSTON: Writing must certainly be one of the hardest professions—writing and painting.
BUCK: But painters can see what they’re doing.
HUSTON: So can writers. There’s that intense moment when the first letter hits the page, or when the first brush stroke is made. As an actor, you already have a written word. You have its protection, so that whatever you do within that word, within the framework of the script, is up to you. The writer and painter have to make the initial action.
BUCK: [Painter] Jennifer Bartlett gave me a very, very good hint years ago about painting: it’s bad to think too much about that first thing. She told me she always gets up a little too early—six in the morning—so that when she starts working she’s still asleep and doesn’t know what she’s doing. It’s to take the work by surprise. That’s what I did for this book. The second I get up I’m in the study, which is a tiny little closet with a window. Just doing it without thinking about it. If you think, you freeze up.
HUSTON: For an actor, the problem with starting off sleepy is that it’s a take. You haven’t had your coffee and you have to know your lines; it can be problematic if you’re still sleepy. I think that listening is certainly as important as, if not more important than, delivery.
BUCK: Your character in [the upcoming film version of] The Dead, Gretta, is always listening and watching and reacting and being polite. She’s such more receptive than aggressive as a character. Whereas Maerose [Prizzi’s Honor] is just thunder-balls. Did you take two different approaches in portraying them?
HUSTON: Yes. The character dictates it. One thing about Maerose is that she’s going to be there. She’s hands-on. She goes about her intention, she’s a woman living very much in the present who’s not at all preoccupied wit her past. She’s concerned with getting ahead of her hurdles. Also, I found her very empathetic. I think a lot of people saw her as a monster-woman. But she’s been hurt in the past. She’s had some problems and she has to get through it in the way that she gets through it. Gretta, on the other hand, is harboring a secret, something that’s preoccupied her and that she’s held inside for very many years. She’s a Victorian at the turn of the century, she’s Irish, she’s Catholic. There are things that you do and things that you don’t do.
BUCK: Are you afraid of being typecast?
HUSTON: No. I notice I’m asked to play witches and bad women, but on the other hand I think The Dead is about as far a cry from Prizzi’s Honor as I could wish for. You’re only typecast because of what people had seen of you. My agent was telling me the other day that she still gets questions from producers as to whether I really speak with that Brooklyn accent.
BUCK: What about typecasting in life?
HUSTON: I don’t have all that great an awareness of how people see me in life. I don’t find myself thinking about it a lot.
BUCK: All I know is that right now people seem to think Daughter of the Swan is autobiographical. I needed to convince myself the story was true to be able to write it, but now I find I come across as the daughter of a homosexual antiquities dealer. I’ve given up trying to explain that I have never wished anyone dead, or gone 15 years without making love; that I am not Florence. I made up this story, and people think it’s true. You always seem to find people projecting stuff onto you.
HUSTON: I get irritated when people counsel me on what I should do with my life, or tell me I should get married, or tell me what I should do. I think people have their role models for happiness and it helps if others fit into that.
BUCK: Marriage, children?
HUSTON: Yes. Also I think there’s an impulse for criticism couched in that kind of talk.
BUCK: My worst image of myself is me sitting on a bed, smoking a cigarette, waiting for a phone call and thinking thoughts that don’t join together. What’s your equivalent?
HUSTON: Sitting in a darkened movie theater watching myself in close-up, full of self-criticism, smoking a cigarette, or not being able to smoke a cigarette. [laughs] What’s the phone call you’re waiting for?
BUCK: The phone call is anything I have to wait for.
HUSTON: One should never wait for a phone call from a man. I mean, from a man you’re interested in.
BUCK: The wisdom of Anjelica! You’re much more self-contained than I am. I like that moment when I open the door and go out to see what’s going on.
HUSTON: What’s your best vision of yourself?
BUCK: Being back in Paris, in a good state over the typewriter, Chopin Nocturnes playing in the next room. I’d like it if I had the whole top floor and there was an elevator… and some wonderful person about to come home from directing a Greek play. In terms of things to strive for, it’s really that moment when I don’t exist any longer but what I’m doing exists…
HUSTON: If I were to have any sort of solid idea about which moments were God’s manifestations, they would be those moments where one has practically nothing to do with what’s going on. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.
BUCK: What are the others, Anjelica?
BUCK: What’s the first thing you reach for in the morning?
HUSTON: Generally, the telephone, because it always wakes me up, when people call who rise earlier than I.
BUCK: Should we talk about our noses?
HUSTON: The fact that we have them? If we must. I’ve done a sort of turnabout on the subject of my nose. There was a long time when I wasn’t especially enamored of my nose. Then I was in a car crash and my nose took all the impact. I broke it in four places, I realized that if I hadn’t had the nose my entire face would have gone through the windshield, so I had a newfound respect for my nose.
BUCK: As a fender.
HUSTON: As a fender and defender. It certainly doesn’t disturb me as much as it used to. How about you?
BUCK: This nose had a couple of books in it, at least. This is not a passive nose.
HUSTON: Back to the aging process. At a certain point you stop looking at your features, at what you don’t look like. You start looking at lines and signs of fatigue rather than at the shape of your mouth.
BUCK: Then again, as you get older our eyesight fails a little. [laughs]
HUSTON: There’s comfort in everything. Describe your ideal man to me, Joan.
BUCK: He’s European, but not French, because they’re too static. Nor is he Italian, English, Swiss, Scandinavian, Spanish or Greek.
BUCK: Could be. The Germans have a wonderful combination of pathos, energy, and humor. They are like Californians with an education.
HUSTON: They don’t invest enough in their wardrobes, I find.
BUCK: Some do. Alas.
HUSTON: Do you like blond men?
BUCK: There is something very attractive about blonds, especially for brunettes. Its been said that blonds are loved and brunettes do the loving. Do you find this to be true?
HUSTON: Lies, all lies.
BUCK: I haven’t finished about my ideal man. He has to be in the general line of work that I consider to be true work—writing, directing, something to do with theater, the arts.
HUSTON: Better yet, acting?
BUCK: No. Oh, sorry!
HUSTON: Are you mostly attracted to artists? Have you ever fallen in love with a man who wasn’t in the arts?
BUCK: Yes, I have, but it was a terrible mistake. He never got what I was all about. There’s a different kind of give and take. Men who aren’t in the arts don’t like the up-and-down business. Could you ever be in love with somebody not in the arts?
HUSTON: It would probably be very sensible to be in love with someone who was not in the arts and who wasn’t so prone to ups and downs. When I think of people who aren’t in the arts, I immediately think of politicians for some reason, and I would never want to be with a politician. Have you ever been with a politician?
BUCK: I’ve been in rooms with politicians. Sometimes alone… We’ve never discussed success and what it brings. Tell me about that.
HUSTON: I like things pretty close around me. I like to know that my house is safe, that the people and animals I love are well and happy. I like to feel as peaceful as possible. That doesn’t have a whole lot to so with money.
BUCK: I love being in borrowed houses. I love being a bit out of my context. I miss my context dreadfully, but I’m excited by that.
HUSTON: I’m a collector—I collect everything. I can’t throw things away. For some reason I think I’m going to need tiny wooden teddy bears with their arms hacked off.
BUCK: You’re surrounded by everything that I’ve seen for the last 30 years.
HUSTON: What do you most dislike in life?
BUCK: Crowded elevators. Misunderstandings.
HUSTON: I agree with that. Misunderstandings would be on my list. And unrequited love is no fun.
BUCK: I though I’d written that out of my system.
HUSTON: I once wrote “Unrequited love is a bore,” and I thought I had made it up. Then I heard Billie Holiday sing it.
BUCK: I don’t mind snakes or spiders, and I quite like rats. Earthworms are disgusting. And atonal music.
HUSTON: I hate public embarrassment, public humiliation. Not being able to help someone you love. Impotence. The smell of hospitals. Guilt. And remorse. What do you like most in life?
BUCK: The country, which scares me a little. The geology of America confuses me. It’s too big; things are too far apart. I like nice, close European countrysides. I like the way time slows down.
HUSTON: That’s a first choice for me too. I think about Irish fields and it fills my heart with love.
BUCK: We haven’t talked about your writing or your drawing. Your letters are the funniest, most comforting, most present, most enveloping, most delightful things I’ve ever gotten from anybody.
HUSTON: Truly, I must say the same for yours.
BUCK: I used to think the reason that you didn’t write for a living was—
HUSTON: That you’d hate me if I wrote a book before you?
BUCK: Well, that, but also that you considered writing uninteresting.
HUSTON: I read much more that I do anything else. I don’t watch too much television, because I like books.
BUCK: The funny thing is that you, a tall big woman, always have tiny, precise, detailed, fine-point descriptions of things in your letters and tiny amazing detail in your drawings.
HUSTON: It makes certain art teachers want to mess me up. I actually have to work on making my handwriting bigger. I like intricate stuff.
BUCK: I always see myself going around with a roller brush.
HUSTON: If you were an animal, Joan, which animal would you be?
BUCK: I’d be a dog with wings. What would you be?
HUSTON: I think I’d be a giraffe with wings. We could fly around heaven together, have a whole lot of fun. What fruit would you be?
BUCK: I would be a very small, hard, bright green pear. The kind that tears your gums slightly when you eat it. What would you be?
HUSTON: A pomegranate.
BUCK: They’re inedible.
HUSTON: No, they’re not. They’re great.
BUCK: They’re just like you. They take hours and hours and hours of fuss.
HUSTON: But they have all those tiny, intricate little seeds.
BUCK: But each seed has a big thing in it that you can’t eat.
HUSTON: But they’re so squishy and great.
BUCK: Complicated and squishy, and small and hard. What about this: Are actors always in the present and writers always in the past?
HUSTON: I think that’s facile. An actor definitely has to be in the past a well as the present; an actor must react to past experiences every minute, every second. If writers live in the past, how do you explain them sitting around in awful bathrobes with greasy hair and cups of coffee and chocolates all around? When they’re not doing that they’re out drinking scotch at Elaine’s at 4 a.m.
BUCK: Do you think that we’re just living out a prolonged adolescence?
HUSTON: No. I think we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s the nature of the modern world to label whatever it is that you’re doing. One can’t live a life without falling into a category. What I like to think, and perhaps it is an adolescent thought, is that anything can happen. As long as you think that anything can happen, it will. We’re all allowed to have our dreams.
BUCK: Don’t you think that what we do as we go along limits our possibilities? It strengthens us but it also limits our possibilities?
HUSTON: No, I don’t. I watched my father at the end of his life; physically, his possibilities became narrower and narrower. As they grew narrower, his mind expanded and he became more gentle, more loving, more giving, more vulnerable, more creative, more of a father than he ever was before. I would hardly call that a regression. It was a fantastic, inspirational thing to witness. I see so many of my friends, young people, killing themselves in one way or another. Here you and I smoking cigarettes. It’s such a mystery. Up until a certain point, we have to keep our energy down, to subvert it, and when we can’t do that anymore for health reasons or whatever, only then can we see life as a glorious thing to be lives, strived for, worked at. Another thing on my list of hatreds is being sick at heart and looking out the window on a perfectly beautiful day, being in a perfectly beautiful place and feeling like hell itself. That’s terrible. What you have to remember is that the great feelings come after the terrible ones.
BUCK: What did Ireland give you?
HUSTON: Lots of green in the back of my mind. Lots of moisture and bramble bushes and wild sounds off in the distance. A soft feeling on my face from walks in the rain.
BUCK: That poetic sense of Ireland is the thing we share most. That and the humor.
HUSTON: I think it is. The poetry of the moment. What do you think is out there that you want?
BUCK: It would be very nice if there were such thing as true love.
HUSTON: It happens. Congratulations on your book, Joan.
BUCK: Congratulations on your film, Anjelica.
HUSTON: Thank you.
THIS ARTICLE INTIALLY APPEARED IN THE DECEMBER 1987 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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