Diane Lane's new film, 'Unfaithful,' calls on her to reveal parts of herself--body and soul--that have been kept under wraps for years.
A woman on a train is racked with an overwhelming tide of emotions. As she stares straight ahead, her watery eyes convey a deep sadness, but her lips are stretched out in a wide grin. She shakes uncontrollably, but it's difficult to tell whether her body is convulsing from laughter or sobs.
"Her face mirrors this kind of extraordinary confusion: excitement, guilt and sadness, because she's crying but she's also hysterical with laughter all at the same time. Quite honestly, I was amazed," director Adrian Lyne says. It's a scene from Lyne's latest venture into the sexual jungle, "Unfaithful," and the actress he's describing is Diane Lane. What's happening is this: Lane's character, suburban mom Constance Sumner, is reflecting on her tryst--the first of many--with her new lover in Manhattan. With no words and no cuts during the take, Lane expresses Constance's feelings of both liberation and mortification.
Lane says her acting in the scene came naturally. "That's how I freak out. I do that in my kitchen about a couple times a year. Not about such wonderful flashback material, of course," she says. "It wasn't scripted that way, but Adrian just told me to go for it, so I said sure. After a day on this movie, that [motivation] wasn't so hard to find."
Finding a part like this, however, hasn't been easy for Lane, who has been acting for three decades and has more than 35 films to her credit. Talented and beautiful, Lane has long seemed poised on the verge of real stardom--but somehow it has never happened. When "The Perfect Storm" hit theaters in 2000, many in Hollywood felt that the actress (who played opposite Mark Wahlberg in the big-budget film) would finally get a major dose of recognition. After years of playing lead roles in successful, small-budget films and supporting roles in not-so-successful, big-budget movies, Lane would surely reap the obvious benefits of that box office smash.
Things didn't exactly work out that way; in fact, they pretty much remained the same. The movie was a box office hit, but not the blockbuster some had anticipated. Which for Lane wasn't necessarily a bad thing--she has steady work, respect from her peers and, most important, a life she can live with.
"I don't really enjoy publicity except maybe accolades of some sort that you can earn over a long period of time because you keep moving, growing, changing and improving," says Lane, 37, between sips of tea during a recent interview at a Westwood restaurant. "If a person hits a bull's-eye target, then you've been over-defined, and you've found yourself fighting an image that you didn't mean to create. Fame is a funny animal: It can really turn around and bite you like a cat."
With "Unfaithful," the cat might be at Lane's door. The 20th Century Fox release opened last week to glowing reviews for Lane (although reviews for the film were more mixed). Lane plays a cheating wife whose actions result in tragic consequences. Although her character is happily married to successful businessman Edward Sumner (Richard Gere), a series of circumstances literally throws her into the arms of a handsome French bookseller (Olivier Martinez). When Edward discovers the affair, he surprises himself and everyone involved with rage that eventually turns their lives upside-down.
The role of the philanderer was tough for Lane, requiring her to act out explicit sex scenes and portray a wide range of vulnerabilities.
"It was like having a baby, and having had one, that's saying a lot," says Lane, laughing. "It was as exhausting as it appears to be, and there were a lot of takes. Adrian is a taskmaster that way; he just pulled the performance through and had a lot of faith that I had more in me."
Lyne found Lane to be sexy and refined yet unguarded. For "Unfaithful," she jokes that she was more naked than she'd been "in the last 10 years of my life."
Lyne, whose best-known films revolve around adultery and its disastrous consequences ("Fatal Attraction," "Indecent Proposal") chose Lane for the part after seeing her in the 1999 indie film "A Walk on the Moon."
The 61-year-old director said he needed an actress who could portray a wife and mother involved in a torrid sexual affair yet still be a woman whom audiences could like. The draw of "Unfaithful" (which is loosely based on the 1969 French film "La Femme Infidel") is just that: Although Constance and Edward make horribly wrong choices, moviegoers want them to pull through together. And Martinez's character (Paul Martel) is neither a predator nor a hopeless romantic, but rather a fairly normal guy (albeit one who looks as if he stepped out of an episode of "Red Shoe Diaries") who gets caught up in a heated, adulterous affair.
"What scared me was that maybe, at the end of the second act, I wouldn't have a movie anymore," Lyne says. "Because if the audience doesn't want Edward and Constance to be together again, then the movie is over. The thing with a film like this is, if you see the acting, then you're dead. I think acting is a misnomer, really. They either are the characters or it's no good."
But after just a few days of shooting, Lyne knew he had nothing to worry about. In a scene in which Constance arrives at Paul's apartment to explore the budding friendship, he asks to take her coat. She mistakes "coat" for "clothes" and her embarrassment is impossible to hide.
"She turned scarlet," says Lyne, raising his voice. "I mean she blushed to the root and my jaw just dropped. I have never seen anybody blush on screen before."
The daughter of drama coach Burt Lane and singer and actress Colleen Farrington, Lane started performing at age 6. Her first job was in Andrei Serban's "Medea" at the La Mama Experimental Theater Company in New York, and she continued acting in Serban-produced plays for the next several years. At the age of 14, she starred in "A Little Romance" with Laurence Olivier, who likened her to a young Grace Kelly. That accolade landed her photo on the cover of the August 1979 issue of Time magazine, with a cover line that read: "Hollywood Whiz Kids."
As a teenager, Lane continued to work steadily in films such as "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish." Then, in 1984, she worked back- to-back on two major Hollywood productions: "Streets of Fire," with Michael Pare and Willem Dafoe, and "The Cotton Club," co-starring Gere. Even as a 19-year-old, remembers Gere, the actress left a lasting impression.
"She was just a kid, but she was in her skin at that point. She was in her body, which is extremely rare for an actress," says Gere, 52. "And she still has that kind of innate ability to be comfortable in her own skin, which makes it more meaningful when she gets into a character's skin. She's changed in the sense that she's had a life since then; she's been married and divorced and she's had a kid, but all that just makes her even richer. It all comes through."
When "Cotton Club" failed to live up to expectations, Lane says, she "freaked out and ran away."
"In my naivete at 19, I thought, 'Well, I'm in two huge films and certainly one of them is going to be successful.' I had listened to producers, but when have you ever heard a producer say their film is not going to be a hit?" says Lane, grinning. "So the movies were notoriously unsuccessful compared to their expectations, and people used a lot of words they didn't realize were hurtful to describe the lack of success ... because it's show business. It's not show love, show appreciation, show respect, show adoration. It's show business."
Lane left Hollywood for her mother's house in Georgia and started work on a different kind of project. Since her parents' divorce when she was a toddler, Lane had always been closer to her father. The relationship with her mother was strained even further during her rebellious teenage years.
"I hadn't been close to my mom for a long time, so we had a lot of homework to do. We had to repair our relationship because I wanted my mother back. It was nice to be there, put some meat on my bones with her Southern fried chicken," Lane says.
Her career benefited from the much-needed retreat. In 1989, she was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Lorena Wood in TV's landmark miniseries "Lonesome Dove." Throughout the first half of the '90s, she continued to work steadily, earning critical praise for her performance as Stella in the 1995 TV production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
The latter part of that decade saw Lane taking on more complex, cinematic features, such as "A Walk on the Moon." Directed by actor Tony Goldwyn, "Moon" is also about a cheating wife, but the story is more about coming-of-age than lustful angst. Lane played a repressed housewife who follows her heart and discovers her sexuality in 1969 at the time of Woodstock and the first manned landing on the moon.
"Diane was not the natural choice to play a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, and when I first met with her, she kept telling me how she was wrong for the part," Goldwyn says. "But when I started to look at her work, I saw something inside of her.... Deep down inside, she has this intelligence and complexity."
Although the movie wasn't a huge hit financially, her work impressed audiences. "There were a lot of women who came up to me, filled with this overflowing gratitude that their experience made it to the screen," Lane says. "It was funny to me, because I hadn't acknowledged that demographic of real people."
Lane downplays her considerable beauty--a beauty that seems to get richer as she ages. She wears little makeup, and her hair is pulled from her face in a casual ponytail. She looks put together in a skirt and cardigan, but far from glamorous.
Lane is a single mother of an 8-year-old daughter (with her ex- husband, actor Christopher Lambert). She's currently single ("'Dating'" is such an odd word. You're either in a relationship or you're not," she says) and spends her off-time doing mom things like taking her daughter to school and back, going to the movies and painting when she feels inspired.
"Motherhood is quite a consuming and very rewarding job, and one that I take like church--it's very serious to me. I mean, any parent who's worth their salt is worried about making the wrong decisions."
Although her daughter is already two years older than Lane was when she started in the business, Lane doesn't seem overly concerned that her child might want to follow in her footsteps.
If she wanted to become an actress, "I would say, 'Theater, theater, theater!'" Lane says. "It's something that feeds you back and gives you strength. It's culturally relevant in the sense that in the dark, we tell stories. There's a certain reverence and respect not only for the performer, but for the material itself."
Lane's early start in theater has clearly contributed to her success in a business in which child actors are generally washed up by the time they're 15. With a slew of former teenage actors the focus of numerous "True Hollywood Stories," the fact that Lane has managed to avoid a similar fate is quite a feat. To some young actors, she's something of a role model.
"Even though I love acting, it's hard when you're trying to balance your studies, friends and life on a movie set," says Anna Paquin, who was 15 when she played Lane's daughter in "A Walk on the Moon." "She could relate directly to that, because she's been there. And she's still acting, which is really reassuring and so nice to see."
With the release of "Unfaithful," it might get a little harder for Lane to maintain such a balanced existence. The film vividly shows the destruction of an all-American family by the adulterous actions of the near-perfect housewife. The sexual nature and intense love-making scenes between Lane and Martinez will certainly leave audiences talking.
But Lane thinks the movie portrays a valid lesson.
"I think that in life, affairs have no justification, and that's what I found refreshing about the concept of this film. Usually, philandering is the male domain, and for a woman to do it, she'd better have a checklist of excuses in most screenplays," Lane says. "But it doesn't work that way in real life, and this film shows that. People harm their own lives by this type of rash behavior.
"When people hear about a girlfriend of theirs cheating, they're amazed by it, but at the same time, life is filled with things that you couldn't possibly expect. You find yourself doing things that are against how you perceive yourself. It's like letting your inner child rule your life. And with that, there are consequences."
Clare Kleinedler is an occasional contributor to Calendar.
Copyright © 2003 Los Angeles Times