After more than 40 years as an actor, Diane Lane is thankful for one thing: her scripts no longer routinely include the line: “He’ll kill us if he finds us!” At one point in her career, she laughs, three of her characters were called on to say just that. “I don’t ever want to say that again, because it’s always coming from this ‘clandestine-affair woman’.”
That’s just one of the female archetypes Lane has played among more than 70 roles to date, which have taken in films for directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Richard Attenborough. She played angsty teens in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, before graduating to action-star sidekicks in Judge Dredd and Murder at 1600, big-star love interests in The Perfect Storm and Hardball, even Superman’s rather young mum in Batman V Superman and Justice League. Along the way she turned down starring roles in Splash, Risky Business and Pretty Woman, and her most notable performances have all resulted from stepping outside of convention, playing unfulfilled women looking for more in A Walk on the Moon, Under the Tuscan Sun and Unfaithful, a role that earned her a best actress Oscar nomination.
Thankfully, at 53, Lane’s roles have become much more original; in fact, she is arguably more prominent than she has ever been, with roles in Matthew Weiner’s splashy Mad Men follow-up The Romanoffs on Amazon and the controversial final season of House of Cards on Netflix.
“It’s a relief to be the protagonist, instead of the girlfriend,” she says, grateful for the increased screentime now given to women aged over 40 on TV.
Lane says it’s a “loss to culture” that more films with female perspectives aren’t made, although she is quick to add she doesn’t feel frustrated by such limitations. “I don’t feel angry or abused,” she says. “I just feel like I had a lot of colours and they really only wanted three of them. So, they’re into red, orange and green? I’ve got all these other colours but ...”
In House of Cards, Lane is given space to show some black as the scheming childhood friend of Robin Wright’s newly confirmed president. She has spoken of her need to play more morally compromised characters (“I think the word started with a B,” she smiles), but has also noted that “one person’s bitch is another person’s hero”. The antagonistic relationship between the women is one of the main selling points of a spiky, Kevin Spacey-free season.
Lane had already shot scenes with Spacey before he was removed from the production after being accused of sexual assault by Anthony Rapp. (Spacey apologised to Rapp, but said he did not remember the encounter.) In a first for me, Lane’s publicist has insisted on staying in the room for our interview on account of my gender. I ask Lane about Spacey’s reputation as a bully (the actor Jon Bernthal has said this was true of Spacey’s behaviour on the set of Baby Driver).
“When you look back you see things differently from a different landscape, or through a different filter, rather, and all I can say is ...” She pauses. “I have tremendous respect for his artistry and it seemed to me ... you know, I didn’t question anything, so to me it was a wonderful opportunity to do what I do and it continued to be that. It’s just that some ingredients had shifted around. I didn’t have any judgment. It’s not my place to have any judgment.”
There’s similar diplomacy when I bring up the #MeToo movement more generally. She says that a bubble meant she hadn’t previously been aware of the stories that women in the industry have told over the past year, which have also included allegations against the Romanoffs’ showrunner Weiner - which he denies. She says she has been lucky enough to have no stories herself.
I’ve heard a lot of disparaging things about actors whether they’re female or not, and about women whether they’re actors or not.
“It certainly didn’t darken my door,” she says. “Now, I don’t know if people knew better than to try to approach me like the couch was a verb, because it wasn’t ever a verb for me.” This, she believes, was because of her father, who was an acting coach. Today, she says that “having a strong father who explained stuff to you” perhaps helped to protect her.
In fact, Lane’s father was such a strong influence in her life she once told the Telegraph : “I did not live my life. I lived the life my father wanted for me. But it’s great. It’s much better and I’m glad.”
Lane was born in New York and her parents divorced when she was just two weeks old. By seven, she had made her stage debut at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre club in New York. While still a child, she toured the Middle East and Europe with the 20-strong group of actors - but without her parents, her colleagues apparently taking on the babysitting duties.
By 12, she was acting with Meryl Streep on Broadway in The Cherry Orchard, and at 13 opposite Laurence Olivier in the film A Little Romance; he called her the next Grace Kelly .
However, Lane has described how behind the scenes she felt tossed between her parents like a football. She has said her mother (a singer, model and Playboy centrefold) disagreed with her father about her acting, and has spoken about the physical toll of going to school every day and performing every night (“I’d go to the bathroom and go to sleep on the floor,” she told Esquire). At 15, she declared independence from her father, running away to LA with a friend for a week, and on her return moved in with a friend’s family. In 1981, her mother enticed her into her car and drove her to Georgia against her will . “All she wanted to do was talk to me, but I was too busy freaking out,” Lane said in 1989. Lane and her father challenged her mother in court, and Lane returned to New York after six weeks. Mother and daughter did not speak for three years. In 2002, her father died. Lane has said he felt the success she’d had as an actor “was his success, too. And rightfully so.”
I ask if her parents’ jobs meant that she entered the industry with her defences up. “There were plenty of cautionary tales around and, you know, that kind of girl, and leading people on, men on,” she says. “I remember when one of my husbands - who shall remain nameless - said to me: ‘You know, it was interesting when I met you, you had the least amount of come-hither vibe of any female I’ve ever been in the presence of.’ And I said: ‘Well, yeah, that’s a skill, that’s an important skill,’ because you don’t want to send signals that you’re not intending to send or be misinterpreted or that sort of thing.”
She has previously put down to a mindset of wilful naivity the fact that she sidestepped the cliche of the self-destructing child actor. She would go to parties and assume the bowls of white powder were the sugar substitute Sweet’N Low.
She says she has experienced disrespect in her career, but has never been completely sure why. “It’s hard to know if it was a genderist bias or if it was just generic for an actor, because neither one is famous for reverence,” she tells me. “I’ve heard a lot of disparaging things about actors whether they’re female or not, and about women whether they’re actors or not.”
How have sets changed since people started speaking out? “I do find that there’s a lot less yelling,” she says.
Up next is the big-screen thriller Serenity with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Then there is her forthcoming role in FX’s post-apocalyptic drama Y: The Last Man, based on the comic book series, which sees her playing a senator in a society where just one man is left. Dystopia has continued to feel prescient, she says. While she was shooting in Brooklyn, news of Hurricane Michael mixed with that of Donald Trump’s latest mishaps. “Nothing but flames come out of the television any more,” she says.
I ask what keeps her up at night. “I think the through-line that I’ve experienced is overwhelm,” she says. “You know, can I really handle as much as I’ve taken on? Have I thought enough about the future to meet it with some sense of preparedness? There are people who have lived their lives like survivalists and they are literally hoarding cans of food and have canoes in their backyard, that kind of thing. And I’m not sure. Are they gonna be right?”
Before filming started on House of Cards, Lane bingewatched earlier seasons and was reminded of a time when a mere image of the White House wasn’t a “trigger”, but now, as dark as things might seem, she remains hopeful.
“There’s that moment when you’re awake at night and you get overwhelmed by your id running amok and you creep yourself out,” she says. “But there will be a dawn and if you’re lucky enough you’ll get to see it. I’m hoping that our better natures rise up.”
–Guardian News & Media Ltd