‘It definitely got me a seat in therapy’: Diane Lane on child stardom, sleazy execs and thriving in her 50s | Television

In those final fading years of the New York socialites, Diane Lane was a teenager and already an actor. It was Manhattan in the 70s, and she had glimpses into the world of high society insiders such as Babe Paley and CZ Guest – women the writer Truman Capote “collected” and then betrayed, as depicted in the Disney Plus series Feud: Capote vs The Swans. Lane, who plays queen bee Slim Keith, remembers occasionally coming into these women’s orbits.

“I met Lee Radziwill on several occasions,” she says, of the sister of Jackie Kennedy and another of Capote’s “swans”. “I was a young person and she was not, but I distinctly remember what that feeling is when you have youth and you’re surrounded by people who don’t, and they’re looking at you with knives.” Lane smiles. Youth and beauty, then as now, were currency, as well as status. Around that time, Lane had been hailed as the next Grace Kelly by Laurence Olivier, with whom she had just starred in A Little Romance. Though even that, Lane points out, was an outdated reference. The world was changing.

Even though she’s only 59, Lane has been an actor for more than 50 years, landing her first stage role when she was six. She went on to work with Olivier and be directed numerous times by Francis Ford Coppola while still in her teens, followed by years of consistent work. She had near misses (she turned down Splash, and auditioned for Pretty Woman, which both became huge hits), and received an Oscar nomination in 2003 for Unfaithful. Even so, she seems to be having something of a well-deserved moment now. As well as Feud, she is in a new Netflix series, A Man in Full, playing Martha, the ex-wife of Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels), a real estate mogul facing bankruptcy.

Queen bee … as Slim Keith in Feud: Capote vs The Swans. Photograph: Pari Dukovic/FX

Lane seems so level-headed, particularly when you consider her early life, which might not feature the cliched rebellion of a former child star, but did have a wildness to it. She was the only child of Burt Lane, an acting coach and sometime New York taxi driver, and Colleen Farrington, a singer and Playboy model. The one-liner her dad always used, about guiding his daughter into acting, was that it was better than daycare. “The fact that you genetically turn out to be considered worthy to be in front of the camera, that’s my mother’s credit,” says Lane. She glances away from the camera on our video call, explaining that she’s looking at photographs of her late parents on her wall.

At seven, Lane joined La MaMa, an experimental theatre group in New York, and went off on a world tour in their care. I know it was the 70s, but does she look back and wonder what her parents were thinking? “Oh yeah, it definitely got me a seat in therapy,” she says with a smile. “When I was the mother of a seven-year-old [Lane has a grownup daughter with her first husband, the actor Christopher Lambert], there was no way I was going to put her on a plane and send her away. Phones and postcards, that’s what we had.”

Lane and Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish. Photograph: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Most people in the company were in their 20s, and they’d take it in turns to look after her, not always entirely responsibly – she has said before that in Amsterdam, she mistakenly ate hash brownies. “We were in Shiraz and Tehran and Beirut.” They liked to perform at ancient ruins, “outdoors with fire preferably”. There was nudity on stage, and depictions of sexual assault and murder, and rage, and it was all a bit wild and out there.

The world seemed more innocent then, she says. “You have to understand the comparisons are not on the same playing field. The experiences that I had were extraordinary and multicultural and filled with creative hearts, and intense experimentation and freedom.” She bought a pet tortoise on the streets of Paris, had it blessed at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and wore it around her neck in a pouch crocheted by one of the other actors (again, it was the 70s). “On the long flight home, he kept putting his little head up and I’d tap it back down.”

At 12, she was performing in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in New York with Meryl Streep, then at 14, her film debut, A Little Romance, with Olivier came out; about adolescent love, Lane played an American in Paris who meets a French boy. Time magazine put her on the cover. How did she cope with the attention? “I grew a very strong compartmentalisation muscle. I knew to not let it in to myself. It’s a skill I developed quickly, because I had to.” She was still at her normal school in New York, and she doesn’t think her friends were much aware of it. “So I just pretended like it never happened.”

Her parents had split up when Lane was only weeks old, and Lane was largely raised by her father. When she was 15, fiercely independent and with her own earnings, she ran away to Los Angeles. Dramas continued – once back in New York, her mother bundled her into a car and drove her to her home in Georgia, until Lane and her father took her to court and she was allowed to return home.

With Olivier Martinez in Unfaithful, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

As a young woman navigating the industry, she says she didn’t experience harassment. “I was a very street-savvy kid. I knew who to give a wide berth to.” She would see one man “who shall remain nameless, at parties and just …” She mimics orbiting him without their paths crossing. But there were instances on sets that, looking back, seem outrageous.

In one film as a young actor, on the day she would be taking her clothes off, a load of executives – from the studio’s parent company, and nothing to do with the film – came to watch. “I was like, really? You’ve got to be kidding me. This can’t be an accident. They were all lined up in the back. That’s messed up, that shouldn’t happen to somebody.” She got on with the job, she says. “Be a professional and not let it get under my skin. I’ve had other executives who timed it so that they were visiting the set on the day when you’re in your robe or what have you. Is that coincidence? I wonder.”

‘When you have youth and you’re surrounded by people who don’t, they’re looking at you with knives.’ Photograph: Art Zelin/Getty Images

Her mother, who had been photographed for Playboy, had been objectified. Was that something that provided a warning for Lane? She pauses. “I’m gonna save that for my memoirs. I can’t really talk about that out of respect for the dead and also the fact that I’m not sure … at one point, she was intending to write a book.” Her mother, she says, often told her, “‘That’s my story, not yours, you don’t get to tell my story.’ And I thought, wow, OK, fair enough.”

It must have affected her though – as a teenager, Lane had visited the Playboy mansion and was introduced to Hugh Hefner. She is clearly beautiful and has an earthy sexiness, but she also doesn’t strike me as someone who turns it up to her advantage. She pauses, makes a thoughtful “hmm” and says, “I have been critiqued as being somebody who does not flirt. I don’t know if that’s an answer to your question. Maybe they’re correlated.”

‘I’m grateful to work because it’s all a game of luck’ … with Lucy Liu, centre, in A Man in Full. Photograph: Mark Hill/Netflix

In Feud, Keith is certainly someone who uses her looks to her advantage, and the sexiness of Lane’s character in A Man in Full is something of a plot point. Look away now if you don’t want spoilers, or mental images of giant penises, but this is the show where TV drama’s (probably) biggest erect phallus makes its entrance. “I mean, it had its own beauty team, key light, direction and intimacy coordinator and everything.” In the UK, where such things are regulated, one MP said streaming services should come under the power of Ofcom and there have been other complaints.

Highs and lows … Lane in The Cotton Club, one of Francis Ford Coppola’s biggest failures. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

Lane never had a career plan – “That’s half the fun, isn’t it? The element of surprise” – and since it has spanned five decades, there have been highs and lows. Being cast by Coppola was thrilling, but not a guarantee of success – one of the four films of his she appeared in, The Cotton Club, was one of his biggest failures. Throughout her career, people have often talked of Lane’s comebacks. “You cycle through periods where there’s work that nobody sees, and when you do something that’s a hit everybody goes, ‘So glad you’re working again.’” She laughs. “And you say, ‘I’ve been working this whole time in things that you don’t know exist.’ That’s fine. Everything’s not for everybody. I’m grateful to work because it’s all a game of luck. When you talk about your last job, you think, ‘Well, that may be the last job.’”

Stepping away from the industry for periods of time has been important, she says, “to keep perspective, to stay interested, to keep a part of yourself that’s just for you so that you have a well to draw from. You have to have life experiences that piss you off enough to play somebody who is very upset. You can’t just have life be a bowl of strawberries and cream every day in your trailer.” She laughs. “I’m teasing, of course – that’s never happened to me in my trailer.”

Last year, Lane was in demand, the world seemingly woken up to interesting roles for older women. “There seems to be work and I’m grateful for it.” She is thrilled, she says with a laugh, to still be associated with child stardom. “It’s nice to have a generation of people that have been with me,” she says of those who have grown up watching Lane. “Maybe they feel that way again, now we’re not so young. I feel that I’ve got to play the different ages that I have been. I’m not trapped, trying to play 35, I’m playing the age of women that I am.”

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