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Exclusive interview: Anjelica Huston

(photo by REUTERS/Phil McCarten)

Anjelica Huston’s book A Story Lately Told is the fascinating tale of the former model and Hollywood veteran’s younger years. Here she shares why it was so important for her to document her extraordinary journey.

Exclusive interview: Anjelica Huston

To encapsulate the life of such a vividly interesting and accomplished woman as Anjelica Huston is a Sisyphean task. In 62 years, hers has been a life of extremes; the former model, Oscar-winning actor and director takes us on a journey of peaks and valleys in her memoir, A Story Lately Told. For all the glamour and glitz, she reveals her experiences are also infused with equal parts tragedy and loneliness.

“Yes, I am always lonely to a degree. I think we all are; it’s a bit of a fantasy to think that we are not.” She leans forward. “And as far as I am concerned, that loneliness is also a thing that allowed me to survive the death of my parents, of my husband, and it’s that intrinsic knowledge of my own aloneness which allows me to succeed as a woman alone.” She pauses. “It isn’t a particularly easy thing and it hasn’t been particularly easy for me, though being alone is getting easier. But when I lost my husband five years ago, that was a huge thing in my life; it was enormous.”

We’re taking in a morning cappuccino in a Beverly Hills cafe, 20 minutes drive from where she was born. That day arrived in 1951, in the absence of her father, John Huston, who was directing The African Queen in Uganda.

Due to John Huston’s disgust at the “witch-hunt”, from the House Committee on un-American Activities, who he believed were focusing on government investigations into communists within the film industry, (not necessarily targeted at him but his Hollywood friends), he left for Europe.

Consequently, his daughter’s earliest memories are of her formative years spent in County Galway, Ireland. “It was wonderful. Bucolic, restful, green and it was there that storytelling became a big part of my early life. I think my first ideas were formed there,” she recalls.

She moved to London at age 15 during the swinging 60s to begin a modelling career, and at her father’s insistence, she took on some small roles in a few of his movies. Clearly, nepotism was a non-issue for the Hustons.

In spite of her opulent lifestyle full of lavish trips throughout Europe at no expense spared, she developed an egalitarian attitude via osmosis.

“What I loved most about my father was his complete lack of snobbery. It didn’t matter what you did for a living as long as you did it well; that was very much part of his ethos.”

During this time in London she befriended such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, including Mick Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithful. At the same time, Huston’s mother, an Italian-American prima ballerina, Enrica (nee Soma) died in a car accident when Huston was just 16 years old. This prompted her move to New York. Now at 17 and in Manhattan, she modelled for Halston and met her first significant love, photographer Bob Richardson. She was 18; he was 42. They lived at the famed Chelsea Hotel and spent much time smoking pot and lolling about their artsy neighbourhood.

“My father was a huge influence on my life in many ways, especially the men that I chose who were always slightly larger-than-life, and usually considerably older than myself. That continued up until my marriage. I would always seek out strong men,” she says.

Once her relationship with Richardson came to an end, she moved to California and began a career as an actor. This is where her autobiography ends. Part two, still untitled, will be released later this year.

The upcoming tome will begin in Los Angeles, where she met Jack Nicholson. They became Hollywood’s most glamorous couple from 1973 to 1989 and worked together including Prizzi’s Honor (1985) directed by her father, in which she delivered an Oscar-winning performance. After she could no longer turn the other cheek during Nicholson’s prolific skirt-chasing trysts, she left him and married sculptor Robert Graham, in 1992, who died in 2008.

“I wrote the first book in part because I wanted to talk about my mother, that’s a big thing for me. I’m not just something that started up in her 20s with Jack Nicholson; I am something that started a long time before in the West of Ireland. I think that maybe it’s claiming my own recognition for who I am that’s important to me about this book.” With a penetrating gaze, she says, “I loved being Jack’s girlfriend; that’s all great and wonderful, but it’s not only who I am.”

Standing at 1.78 metres she’s an imposing woman who bears a no-nonsense demeanour. Elegantly dressed in a black Armani suit, her trademark straight, blunt haircut is perfectly coiffed. She doesn’t appear to have changed much since her heyday as an international fashion model.

Her sense of humour has served her well through the difficult times in her life. As she orders more tea, a typical Angeleno woman of the surgically enhanced variety walks by our table. Huston offers without missing a beat, “I was talking to Maggie Smith a few years ago. I said, ‘You should come back more often to Los Angeles, we love you so much here.’” She then proceeded to do a spot-on imitation of the esteemed Dame (currently enjoying a renaissance as the Dowager on Downton Abbey), complete with raised eyebrow. “Maggie said, ‘No darling; they don’t like old people in Los Angeles’”.

Huston shrugs her shoulders. “It’s difficult when you don’t look 20 anymore and you have to deal with the ageing process but if the choice is to pin it all back behind your head, then what do you do with your hands? It’s a losing battle, plastic surgery. It’s not for me. I don’t like pain and I’m a coward when it comes to that kind of thing. These days there’s so much we have to do to keep ourselves healthy, alive, vibrant, why does the knife have to be included in that set of objectives?”

Huston still lives in the house in Venice, California, that she shared with her husband, though she offers, “It’s up for sale. It’s difficult because I love it and it’s the house I shared with my husband,” she says, her voice trailing off a little. “I think I probably have to move along. But I still have my ranch (in Three Rivers, California) where I’m boarding some nice mustangs and that’s exciting. And soon it’ll be springtime when all the little piglets, chickens and ducks will be popping out and that always makes me happy,” she smiles. “As for the future, I’m not sure what my next hat will be.”

Close to her family, which includes a half-sibling, Danny Huston (American Horror Story), a half-sister, Allegra (on her mother’s side) and a host of nieces and nephews, curiously, she never became a mother herself.

“I’m not someone who regrets things a lot. Obviously sometimes you get into relationships that don’t work and you think, ‘Oh, why did I stay there for so long; I was an idiot,’ but maybe it’s because you have something to learn from that. I try to think more about the things I’m happy about. Life is not particularly easy for anyone. I believe you have to [focus] on the positive.”

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