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Anjelica Huston is best known for her roles in “Prizzi’s Honor,” “The Grifters,” “The Addams Family” and the TV series “Smash.” She was born into Hollywood royalty, but the daughter of filmmaker John Huston struggled to establish her career. At the age of 29, a prominent director told her she’d never make it in Hollywood. Out loud, Huston responded he was probably right. Inside, she thought, “Watch me,” which is now the title of her new memoir. In it, Huston chronicles her emergence from the shadows cast by both her father and super-star boyfriend Jack Nicholson. She tells the story of a career that included both acting and directing and spanned more than four decades. A conversation with Academy-award winner Anjelica Huston.
- Anjelica Huston Actress and author of "A Story Lately Told"
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted with permission from “Watch Me,” ©Anjelica Huston, 2014. Scribner. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Video: Anjelica Huston and Raúl Juliá in Addams Family
Featured Video: Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson in Prizzi's Honor
Featured Video: Anjelica Huston and John Cusack in The Grifters
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last year, actress Anjelica Huston released the first of her two part memoir. In "A Story Lately Told," she described growing up in Ireland, London and New York as the daughter of John Huston, one of Hollywood's most celebrated filmmakers. Now, she's come out with the second half of her story. The book begins the moment she sets foot in Los Angeles and tries to establish her own career onscreen. "Watch Me: A Memoir," provides a candid account of Hollywood behind the scenes.
MS. DIANE REHMIt also offers a portrait of a woman the journey to finding her voice. Anjelica Huston joins me from NPR studio in New York. And you are welcome to join the conversation. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Anjelica Huston, it's so good to see you.
MS. ANJELICA HUSTONThank you, Diane.
REHMI'm glad you're with me. Anjelica, you begin this book when you actually land in California. But you were actually born there, weren't you, and then lived, for the most part, in Europe, during your childhood?
HUSTONThat's right. I was born at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles. And my father was making "African Queen" at the time I was born. And then followed that film with "Moulin Rouge," which he photographed in Paris. And from then, moved to Ireland, where I grew up.
REHMWas that good?
HUSTONIt was very good. I had a great childhood, which I write about in my first book, "A Story Lately Told." It was actually a wonderful, sort of, fantasy childhood. I think I had wonderful privileges when I was a child, and that I wasn't really exposed to the vagaries of Hollywood, But allowed to live as a child. And we were, we were very happy, my brother and I, running in the fields and riding our ponies and leading the country life.
REHMTell me what you expected when you landed in California.
HUSTONWell, sun, for one, which was devoutly to be wished. I'd grown up in Ireland and England, and spent four years in New York, not that sun doesn't shine in New York. Not quite the same way as California.
HUSTONAnd I remember, you know, it was the land of milk and honey. And the air smelled good and people looked glamorous and wore t-shirts and it was, for me, I thought it was just a wonderful place to be.
REHMDid you arrive with the idea in mind that you could create a career in Hollywood for yourself?
HUSTONWell, to tell you the truth, when I arrived, it was under quite different circumstances. I'd spent four years modeling in New York and in Europe. My boyfriend at the time was considerably older than I was, a photographer called Bob Richardson. And we had gone on a trip to Mexico with my father, who I think had decided he was going to be a bit more magnanimous about my relationship with my new boyfriend. Who I felt he didn't really want to approve of. And over the course of the vacation, it became evident that this relationship should not go on. I think, perhaps...
REHMWas not going to work.
HUSTONWas not gonna work, and I think, maybe, just having my father there allowed me to see it through his eyes a little bit. And so, the boyfriend and I split up at the baggage carousel at LAX. And that was really how I came to Los Angeles. I wasn't expecting much, just to get out of that relationship and spend a little time with my dad, a little peaceful time.
REHMI see. But early on, you met Jack Nicholson. Tell us about the first time you saw him.
HUSTONMy new stepmother, Cici, had been invited up to his house for a party. It was his birthday, and asked if she could bring me along. She didn't really know him, but she'd been invited by a friend of his. And three or four of us girls got into a car and went up to Mulholland Drive where he lived. And I was wearing a long, black evening dress, and I remember getting out of the car and the door of the ranch house opened, and there was that smile. Jack. And, of course, I'd seen him in "Easy Rider" years before in London.
HUSTONBut I wasn't really prepared for the charm offensive.
HUSTONHe was great looking. Amazing looking man. And he exuded this extraordinary kind of (speaks foreign language), joy, happiness. He was very charming, very alluring.
REHMAnd what about his house? What was that like?
HUSTONHis house was a quite ordinary ranch house. Like many others I've seen before and since in California. There was nothing that remarkable about it. It was before he became a major art collector, so I can't even remember there being many paintings on the wall. There were a few. He liked an American artist, I remember, called Llyn Foulkes. And there were quite a few of his pictures on the wall.
HUSTONBut, he didn't have the quite extraordinary collection that he came to later on.
REHMNow, tell me...
HUSTONThere was a fire burning in the fireplace. And music was playing and Greek food was being served. It was a nice atmosphere. It was not how I'd imagined Hollywood parties. It was more intimate and more down to Earth.
REHMAnd were there lots of other interesting people at that party to whom you spoke?
HUSTONNo. I didn't see anybody at that party. The room, I think, was filled to capacity. But there was only one person in the room for me. And that was Jack.
REHMAnd you, you and he danced together, I think, most of that night. Didn't you?
HUSTONYes we did. And that was a little peculiar, too, because I don't think I ever danced with Jack after that. And he always claimed he didn't like to dance. I mean, he was a great dancer, by the way. And then, yes, the relationship developed from there.
REHMBut there was something very curious. He did not take you home the next day because he said he had a ball game to go to.
HUSTONI got to go home. I got to go home to the Palisades in a taxi, in my evening dress.
REHMIn your evening dress.
HUSTONRather depressed about the whole thing.
REHMAnd Cici said to you, you'd better make sure that the next time you go out with this man, he agrees to come and get you and bring you home.
HUSTONExtremely good advice. And advice that I've followed ever since.
REHMHe did call you a couple of weeks later, I think. And asked you out. And then, canceled.
HUSTONIt was actually a few days later. I don't know if I could have stood waiting for weeks. But he called, and I said yes, that's very nice, but you have to come and pick me up and you have to take me home. And he said okay. All right. I'll do that. And then we sighed and we had this date for I think the next Saturday or something. And he called me on the Friday and said, I'm afraid I have to cancel. I had a previous obligation. And I said, well, does that make me a secondary obligation?
HUSTONHe said, don't say that. It's not worthy of you and it's derogatory to both of us. And so we made a date for the following night. And then he called to cancel, yeah. And I was rather depressed about that, but I went out to dinner with some friends and we were sitting at the restaurant. And one of my friends said, you said you had a date with Jack tonight, but he canceled. And I said, yes. He had a date. Or, he had something else he had to do. She said, well, he just went upstairs with a really pretty blonde.
HUSTONSo, I took my glass of wine in hand and went upstairs and introduced myself to the pretty blonde, who turned out to be his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Phillips. And I think he was sort of slightly shocked that I'd busted him that fast, out of the gate. But, it was all in good humor. And it didn't really -- me that much from accepting another date.
REHMAnjelica Huston. Her new memoir is titled, "Watch Me." It's all about her four decades in Hollywood. We're going to take just a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about her career in Hollywood, the movies she's made, the Academy Award she won. Lots. And you can join us. 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. Anjelica Huston is on the line with me from our NPR studios in New York. She's just written the second of her memoirs. It's titled "Watch Me." And you can join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Anjelica, I've just gotten a tweet from Lawrence who says, "If you all are going to talk about John Huston, please don't forget Walter Huston, Anjelica's grandpa." Did you know him well, Anjelica?
HUSTONOh, Diane. He died a year before I was born.
REHMI had that feeling.
HUSTONYes. Actually a couple of weeks before my brother Tony was born. I never knew my grandfather but I have a rather good story about him in that I grew up watching him on our home projector in various movies such as my father's film "Treasure of Sierra Madre," "Maltese Falcon." And I'd seen him play Scratch in "Devil and Daniel Webster," so I had an idea that he was an actor.
HUSTONBut not until I came to New York and saw him on -- in a classic movie called "Dodsworth" did I realize exactly who my grandfather was. Because he wasn't that little old prospector from "Treasure of Sierra Madre." He was a completely different character, a beautiful erudite sort of retired banker in "Dodsworth." And I think that was the moment I realized what a wonderful actor he was.
REHMWhen did you begin to believe that you could be an actor?
HUSTONI always knew I was an actress from the time that I was very small. It was just a matter of convincing other people. But I was pretty convinced. And I was one of those children who liked to dress up a lot and sort of show off and make people laugh and that kind of thing. So I knew it immediately.
REHMBut it was Tony Richardson who told you, you're never going to make it, which is where the title of your book comes from. Tell us about that encounter.
HUSTONWell, this was quite far along after I was in Los Angeles and after I'd been doing little parts here and there, but not really throwing my hat into the ring. And I was at a party one evening and Tony Richardson who actually gave me my first -- what I considered my first real job. Because my father gave me a movie to star in called "A Walk With Love and Death" when I was 16 years old.
HUSTONBut I never considered that a real job. Tony Richardson was directing "Hamlet" at the Roundhouse in London when I first met him. And I -- he gave me the job of understudying Maryann Faithful, which actually at the time was a really good job because she missed a few performances. But to get back to your question, I think I always had it in me. It was just a question of, you know, having the confidence and the courage to declare myself.
HUSTONAnd so I kind of skirted around the issue for some time but I'd been living with Jack for a couple of years. And I was at this party in Los Angeles and Tony Richardson was there. And he said, oh, Anjelica, love to see you, but poor little you, you're never going to do anything with your life. So much talent and so little to show for it. And although obviously it was quite a negative assessment, I remember looking at him and thinking, watch me. I'm going to do something with my life and I'm going to make something of myself. And it's not necessarily going to be in your time. It's going to be in my time. So I think that's really where the title came from, that moment.
REHMEven at 28 when you said to your dad, I want to act again, he responded that you were a little old for that, honey.
HUSTONThat's right. Yeah, I was pretty depressed by that assessment as well.
REHMI would think so.
HUSTONBut again, the little voice, watch me, peeped up. And I think obviously I don't know whether my career would've come together quite as successfully if my father hadn't given me my first leg up. But somehow I always have that little voice in the background that convinced me that I knew a little bit better than anyone else.
REHMWill you take us back a little? And I realize this may venture back into your first book, but what was your relationship with your father like through those very formative teenage years?
HUSTONWell, my father was -- he was a big man with big ideas and a big voice and a big presence. And he demanded a certain level of respect and awe actually. He was a wonderful father but he wasn't around very much. He was mostly in America or in other countries making movies. He commanded a tremendous amount of respect and adulation, I think, in general. People loved my father and gravitated to him. And he had that wonderful mellow voice. And he was very generous, generous with his time, with his interests.
HUSTONBut he was also quite judgmental, quite critical and quite demanding. My father -- you had to negotiate him a little bit. When he was good he was wonderful. When he was bad he was tough.
REHMHow old were you when your mother died in a car crash?
HUSTONI was 16, just 17.
REHMAnd how did that affect you?
HUSTONWell, it broke my world. I'd always imagined growing up that my father would die first. He was an older man already in his 40's when I was born. So I had no idea that anything would ever happen to my mother. Never -- that idea had never occurred to me. So her death was incredibly shocking. The worst shock I've ever had. Still -- me today.
REHMWas she driving or was she a passenger in the car?
HUSTONNo. She was with a companion who was driving, but it was her car.
REHMIt's -- I wonder how your mother and father were getting along at the time she died.
HUSTONThey never divorced but they'd been separated for at least four or five years. So although it was, as they say, an amicable separation I still felt that there was some disappointment between them, particularly on the part of my mother.
REHMAnd your father had had lots of extramarital relationships.
HUSTONMy father was prolific in most areas. But, yes, and told me about my little brother Danny when I was 16. And Danny was already a toddler. So there were lots of surprises in my family.
REHMAnd Danny was the child of another woman.
HUSTONThat's right, of a woman called Zoe Sallis.
REHMBut here's where it gets complicated because you say in the book that in many ways your relationship with Jack was actually recreating your parents' relationship. What do you mean by that?
HUSTONI don't know that it was a full creation or a re-creation of my parents' relationship but there were certain auspices that were similar. My father's infidelities, my mother's -- I felt that my mother, for the most part, was trying to be the perfect wife for my father, had this idea that she was going to be everything for him. But that wasn't necessarily what he wanted. He was -- he had, as they say in Ireland, a roving eye.
HUSTONAnd I think I was concerned that my life with Jack would not reflect that sort of passive unhappiness that my mother had around my father's situation, around his affairs.
REHMAnd yet during your relationship with Jack Nicholson, you had a year-and-a-half affair with Ryan O'Neil. And in the book you talk about his hitting you. I wonder why you decided to include that story in the book.
HUSTONThe book is about me and about the things that formed me and the things that I've had to go through and the things I've had to overcome. And that's one thing. As one thing that -- it was quite important in my life. My father hit me once when I was growing up and that was a life-changer. I think any time somebody lifts a hand to you, certainly as a woman, as the weaker sex, it's a very shocking and life-changing thing.
HUSTONAnd so I felt that in all honesty I had to include that in the book. It's not that I want to categorize Ryan as a woman beater, but he hit me and he shouldn't have done that.
REHMAnd you in turn hit Jack.
HUSTONIt was hardly the same circumstance. I was very angry at Jack at the time for his lack of sensitivity to me.
REHMI'm glad you've talked about these in the book. I think it's important for women to hear that someone perceived as strong and as capable as you became a victim and at one point struck out yourself.
HUSTONI really appreciate that you say that, Diane, because that's my feeling too. There are a lot of strong women in the world who've had to endure this kind of thing. And it's my simple opinion that any man who lifts a hand against a woman is a coward and deserves to hear about it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tell us about the film "Prizzi's Honor" for which you won an Academy Award.
HUSTONWell, "Prizzi's" came to me in a kind of roundabout way. My father worked on a movie called "Man Who Would Be King" with a wonderful producer called John Forman. And John, for some reason, had faith in me and put me in a film that he was doing at MGM called "Ice Pirates" in which I got to play the best sword's woman in the world. And it was a good part for me because I got to sort of stride around and wield this weapon. And it gave me confidence, that role. But -- it wasn't that great a movie but it was a nice part and a good departure for me. And while I was...
REHMLet's hear a clip from it right now.
REHMThat's quite an accent you've got there, Anjelica.
HUSTONI picked that up in Brooklyn.
REHMOh, it sounds terrific though. I mean, considering the mellow voice you clearly have. How difficult was it to move into that accent?
HUSTONWell, it was a lot of fun. We hung out in Brooklyn. I went to church. Jack went to the gaming parlors. We had a really good time. And I love accents. I love the origins of accents. And on the film I remember when I first started out, I wanted to get together with the rest of the family to see what my relationship was with everyone.
HUSTONAnd so I spent some time with Bill Hickey who was playing the Don. And I spent some time with Robert Loggia, had a few lunches with him. And I said, well, what is it, Bob? Why does everyone talk this way, you know, in the mob? And he said, well, you know, not everybody needs to know your business. You can talk out the side of your mouth like they do in Sicily. And it gave me a great clue to the character.
REHMShort break, right back.
REHMAnjelica Huston is my guest today. She's on the line from our studios in New York as we talk about the second volume in her memoir. It's titled, "Watch Me." And indeed, many many folks are on the phone wanting to talk with you, Anjelica. So, I'm going to open the phones and hear what folks have to say. Let's go first to Jim in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Hi there, Jim. You're on the air.
JIMThank you, Diane, and good morning, Miss Huston.
JIMI got to watch -- oh, hi. I got to watch one of my favorite films, which I hadn't seen, the other night, sort of serendipitously, but I knew your book had come out. And it's called "Gardens of Stone." I think it's 1987.
JIMAnd I have to say it's a perfectly cast movie. And all the more so with you. I thought it was a really subtle, grounding performance, because it's a pretty darn masculine film, as you know. And I was just wondered, your father is famous for his deep voice, but you got to work with James Earl Jones. I was just wondering what that was like to work with Francis Coppola and that wonderful cast.
HUSTONThank you, Jim. Yeah, it was really an amazing experience to work on "Gardens of Stone." But I'd have to say that my favorite days on that film were when we were in rehearsal in the Kennedy Center in Washington. We had a terrible thing happen on that film, which was that Francis's song, Gio Coppola, was killed in a boating accident.
REHMOh, I recall that.
HUSTONOn the Potomac.
HUSTONYeah, and it really colored the movie for all of us. I think, and we had to go back to work afterwards and Francis really didn't have the time he needed to recover. And when something like that happens in the middle of a production, there's, you know, you feel so bad and there's no way, really, to express your sympathy. And I just felt that Francis, you know, he was really amazing. He tried to continue and did continue to make the film, but I felt like his heart, his heart was broken.
HUSTONIt was a wonderful thing to work with James Earl Jones, Lonette McKee, Jimmy Kahn, fine actors. A wonderful setting. It was a very emotional, very, very beautiful time, but, but very much overshadowed.
REHMHere's an email from Lou who says Anjelica Huston's performance in "The Grifters" is one of my favorites of hers. How does she feel about the film and working with Annette Benning and John Cusack?
HUSTONWell, I'd have to say that I agree with that. It's one of my favorite movies that I've done, too.
HUSTONIt was such a beautifully written part, and I love Jim Thompson as a writer. I think he's, he's got this fantastic dark soul. And some of the one-liners in the movie were just delicious. It's a tough woman in a --living in a monstrous world and working with John Cusack and Annette Benning was really wonderful. I remember going into rehearsal with both of them and on the first read through, I thought, wow, I'd better pull my socks up. These two are something.
HUSTONIt was, it was a really great experience. Stephen Frears is a wonderful director. And it was about Los Angeles in a kind of wonderful, sinister light. It was deeply enjoyable to make that film.
REHMWhen you worked with your father on "Prizzi's Honor," what was that like?
HUSTONIt was a lot of fun, Diane. We worked in Brooklyn. We all hung out together. As I mentioned before, John Foreman was our producer and John really knew how to make a film set fun. So, I remember a lot of laughs and Jack and I used to go to a restaurant called Mary Lou's in the Village, that was owned by a man called Tommy Barratta. And Tommy came to cook for Jack on the set. And so, Jack's trailer was always sort of emanating these delicious smells. Spaghettis and olives and wonderful sausages. So I think when we weren't putting on weight, we were just having pure fun on that movie.
REHMTell us about the movie, "The Dead."
HUSTON"The Dead" was my father's last film. And it was from James Joyce's short story. It was a unique experience, as well, in that all these Irish actors had come over from the Abbey Theater. They -- basically, my father had chosen them on tape, because he wasn't well enough to travel to Ireland at the time.
HUSTONThey all came over expecting Hollywood. And of course, we were all set up at a warehouse in Valencia, some 30 miles out of the city, so I'm afraid their dreams of glamour were slightly smashed. But it was a very unified cast. It was, in a way, more like making a play, because we were isolated. We were in this warehouse, and I remember the actors playing a lot of card games. It was -- it's funny. You know, when you ask me about films, I always seem to be, to talk about the food and what we were doing in our off time.
HUSTONI don't know why that sort of defines these movies for me. I should be talking about the scripts.
REHMBut clearly, it was a special film for you.
HUSTONIt truly was. And to see my father working at the top of his game, at a time when he could barely breathe. I think the critic Pauline Cale said that directing for John Huston on this film was obviously easier than breathing. Seamless quality and the masterful quality of his work.
REHMLet's hear a clip from "The Dead."
REHMOh, your voice is so different there.
HUSTONBeach that is.
HUSTONI had to wait for the whole movie to do that scene. It's such a beautifully written and such a delicately written short story. It happens on the Feast of the Epiphany around an evening given by these two older women, sisters who are great aficionados in the musical world. And they bring together a cast of characters who come to celebrate the dinner with them. And there wasn't -- to do throughout the film, except to be sort of modest and quiet and compliant with my husband, played by Donal McCann.
HUSTONAnd then, at the end of the film, there's this scene between their characters that kind of turns the whole story on its head. And that was the scene we were listening to.
REHMLet's go back to the phones and let's see -- ah. To Orlando, Florida. Hi John. You're on the air.
JOHNHello Miss Rehm. Hello Miss Huston. How are you doing today?
HUSTONI'm great. How are you, John?
JOHNI'm doing amazing. It's a -- I'm humbled to be talking to the both of you, so thank you very much. I was at Epcot, over at Disney, not too terribly long ago, and they have Captain Eo over there. And I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo by you, Miss Huston. And that got me to thinking about other movies that you've done, that are a little bit more special effects heavy like "The Witches" and other things of that nature. And I was wondering, how did that process come about, because they're definitely different than things like "Prizzi's Honor" and things of that nature. So...
HUSTONWell, as you've probably, if you know anything about my career, you know I have a bit of a penchant for witches, witch like characters.
HUSTONI learned something wonderful about witches while I was actually playing "The Witches," which is witches are witches because they're in agony. So, that was my real secret to playing witches. They're just furious, because they're ugly, they're in pain. They have humps, their feet hurt. So, I kind of identify with them. I think Cap -- making Captain Eo was the first time I worked with Francis Ford Coppola. And I was thrilled, very excited to be working with him. But even more so with the amazing Michael Jackson. Michael -- I can't say Michael was much of an actor. He was, he was so sweet and so shy and so reticent. I couldn't imagine Michael hurting a fly.
HUSTONAnd in our rehearsals, I remember at one point, Francis saying, well, shout at her, Michael. You know, stand up to her. And I'm playing this horrible, evil witch. The grand, high leader, one of my, you know, with kind of coils, intestinal coils on my head. And I remember Michael just not really being capable of that. It seemed like such a big demand from him to express anger or -- in any way. Later, I had a day when I was off camera and he was going to be singing the song that changes my planet to -- from somewhere sort of dark and grim and horrible into a place of beauty and music.
HUSTONAnd he was on a platform that was rising slowly. And he'd asked that even though I was off camera, that I'd be in full makeup and hung from my usual place in the ceiling. Which was not, not that comfortable on the back. I was a bit -- off.
HUSTONFor eight 'o clock in the morning, having to go through all of this, for lines off, basically. Well, when Michael started to sing and the platform started to raise, my jaw dropped.
HUSTONHis whole demeanor changed and something so powerful and so extraordinary happened in front of my eyes. Discomfort completely dissipated and I was caught, you know, like a fly, in the web of Michael Jackson.
REHMI can certainly understand that.
HUSTONI've never seen anything quite like that. That kind of instant and then to something so strong, so dynamic. It was, it was a privilege to be there.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There are an awful lot of fans of Morticia Addams in "The Addams Family." Let's hear a tiny clip of that.
REHMHow was that for you?
HUSTONPure romance. I loved playing Morticia Addams. And the main reason I loved playing Morticia Addams was Raul Julia. What a great guy and what a sweetheart.
REHMGreat actor. Fantastic.
HUSTONAnd patient and dear and wonderful. And also, for those of you who didn't know, a wonderful opera singer. And in the times that we weren't shooting, he was entertaining the entire set with opera. Playing with the children. He was just perfect. No one could have played that part the way Raul played it, and he was the most selfless, generous performer you can imagine.
REHMAnd he died way too young.
HUSTONOh yes. He did. He became sick when we were making the second Addams Family movie, "Addams Family Values." And again, we had to go to tango lessons and do a lot of rehearsals. And sometimes, the days got very long on "Addams Family," and I never heard a peep out of Raul. He was just a consummate actor and a beautiful person.
REHMAs are you, Anjelica Huston.
HUSTONAw, you're sweet.
REHMAnd the book, titled, "Watch Me," is just the perfect title for you in this memoir. Congratulations.
HUSTONDiane, thank you so much. What a pleasure to talk to you.
REHMAnd thank you. Thanks to all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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