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Diane Lane: ‘I don’t want to join the ranks of quotable hashtags’

The former child star has built a varied career in everything from Coppola films to Justice League, but she's glad her daughter is joining the industry later than she did. She talks to James Mottram about her new sleeper hit 'Let Him Go' and missing the mammalian gratification of working with other people


Wednesday 16 December 2020 06:31 GMT
‘I’m grateful to be working in an industry that is increasing its appreciation of women:' Diane Lane discusses her career and new film ‘Let Him Go’
‘I’m grateful to be working in an industry that is increasing its appreciation of women:' Diane Lane discusses her career and new film ‘Let Him Go’ (Rex Features)

Diane Lane is sitting in her attorney’s office in Los Angeles as we chat over Zoom. Why she’s there, she’s not saying, but she’s in a playful mood, as our conversation skips from Kevin Costner – her co-star in new film Let Him Go – to Rob Lowe, James Gandolfini (she was in the TV movie Cinema Verité with him) and Mike Leigh (she’s a fan, sadly yet to be cast by the veteran Brit director). “I do wax on about others to avoid talking about myself!” she laughs, in a manner that suggests a mastery in the art of interview deflection.

The 55-year-old Lane may not be Nicole Kidman or Meryl Streep-famous, but she’s managed an elegant 40-year career in the business. As a teenager, she worked with Francis Ford Coppola twice in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Later, she won an Oscar nomination for infidelity drama Unfaithful. And later still, she played Superman’s adoptive mother Martha Kent in Man of Steel, her second foray into comic-book movies after the 2000AD adaptation Judge Dredd (1995).

She’s a born survivor, an actor who remains in demand despite the fickle nature of Hollywood. When we met several years ago, she told me: “I always live rope-to-rope in the jungle.” Is that still the case? “Do you think I have a master plan for the rest of my life, let alone my career?” she says. “That’s the analogy of the business. Because it is one thing at a time. It is one step at a time in life, if you’re walking, and one night’s sleep at a time. And – luckily in my profession – it’s one job at a time.”

The period of Covid-induced isolation has been difficult for her. “I’m not getting that mammalian gratification that I normally get from working with others,” she says. Worse still is coping with sanctimonious over-achievers. “This is the thing about this strange 2020. People are like, ‘What did you do with your isolation? Did you write the great American novel? Did you take up painting? Do you speak a new language? Can you cook new food? What do you have to show for yourselves?’ People are so obsessed with that mentality, especially in America.”

Lane did not learn Japanese or how to concoct Baked Alaska. She just watched a lot of telly. “Shamelessly and gratefully because I had a lot to catch up on and this is my profession,” she says. “I need to be more aware of the young talent that’s coming up and the amazing new directors and shows that people love and I didn’t get to see. I mean, it’s so many. Downton Abbey! Can you imagine? I haven’t seen Downton Abbey. I mean, that’s how behind I am. I need another decade to catch up.”

Fortunately, last year she shot Let Him Go, a cunning adaptation of Larry Watson’s 2013 novel that strays from domestic cosiness to neo-western terrain. She and Costner play Margaret and George, a long-term married couple from Montana whose son dies in a freak accident. Later, their daughter-in-law remarries a brute and he whisks her and their grandson back to his North Dakota family homestead, run with an iron fist by his mother (a sizzling Lesley Manville).

Like Deliverance meets Bloody Mama, the film takes an unexpected but satisfying turn late on, as the blood feud between the families gets really bloody. Lane is fiercely proud of the film. “I’ve played many things,” she says, “but what I loved about her was that she is a formidable mother.” In America, Let Him Go became a sleeper hit, taking $10m – impressive, given how difficult it is to get people to go to the cinemas amid the pandemic. “We were number one at the box office in the United States,” she says.

While Lane has never written, directed or produced in her career, she did help out behind the scenes here, taking the script to Costner, with whom she’d worked on Man of Steel. “Maybe people have easier access to me than they do to Kevin,” she chuckles. Costner readily agreed to co-star. “He wanted me to have top billing. He said, ‘This is your movie’ and he’s so generous like that. He’s the real deal.” While it’s true – Margaret is the lead – it’s almost unheard of for a male star to be so progressive.

Diane Lane stars alongside Kevin Costner in ‘Let him Go’ (Focus Features)

“He’s such a gentleman,” she says. “I mean, this guy’s done it all, seen it all, been it all. He is a walking, living, breathing icon for a reason. And he’s got it. So what does he need to hoard? Nothing about Kevin is miserly.” I can’t exactly imagine that happening back in the Eighties when Lane was starting out, I say. “It’s an age thing. It’s a grace that comes with having lived. In the Eighties, I wouldn’t have been working with people who are that gracious normally. They were closer to my age.”

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To her credit, Lane’s career has evolved gracefully as she’s got older; she’s rarely had periods away from the screen. But does she feel Hollywood is still an ageist place? “I don’t know any more, because I’m at this age myself,” she says. “I look around, and I realise that the voting body of these awards entities primarily are people that are older. So what does that tell you? What does that wind up meaning? How do you factor that in? Is it something to be factored in? Is this a greyhound race? This is where art and commerce bump up against each other. So we can analyse it all day long.”

Seeing as we’re moving into industry chat, has she ever suffered from being paid far less than her male co-stars? “Oh, well, if I ever write a book, it’ll be a chapter in it,” she says, cryptically. “And in the meantime, I’m not going to touch that hot potato because I don’t do social media and I don’t really want to join the ranks of quotable hashtags on topics that can sort of boomerang at you, but I will just say, I acknowledge your question. I have experience on the topic. And I’m grateful to be working in an industry that is increasing its appreciation of women.”

Diane Lane earned an Oscar nomination for her role in ‘Unfaithful’ (Rex Features)

If Lane ever does write an autobiography, there will be tales to tell. She has twice been married and divorced – both times to actors. First Highlander star Christopher Lambert, then Josh Brolin, which came to an end in 2013. Her daughter Eleanor, 27, from her marriage to Lambert, has now started acting. As Lane recently told one reporter: “I’m so glad she waited to be ready on her own terms, because I was hijacked.” She’s referring to her own entry into the business. Her father, Burt Lane, was an acting coach and actor, raising her solo after he divorced from Lane’s mother, the singer and model Colleen Farrington.

Acting from the age of six, she starred opposite Laurence Olivier in A Little Romance when she was 13 – “a very intense, very memorable journey”, not least because Olivier declared her the next Grace Kelly. By the time she made The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, she was working with a swathe of adolescent A-Listers-in-waiting – Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Nicolas Cage and Rob Lowe. “We were this weird blend of hyper-insecure, hyper-over-confident,” she says, “which is totally age appropriate.”

Lane may not have carved out multi-million-dollar franchises like Cruise and Cage did, but she is part of the DC Comics universe since Man of Steel. She’ll soon be back as Martha Kent in Zack Snyder’s re-cut Justice League, the 2017 superhero ensemble movie that was originally finished by Joss Whedon when Snyder was forced to leave the project for personal reasons. Now, after pressure from fans, Snyder’s gathered all the footage he filmed that Whedon junked, editing it into a four-hour movie that premieres next year.

C Thomas Howell and Diane Lane in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Outsiders’ (Rex Features)

“I look forward to seeing it because it’s a highly anticipated fan-driven entity,” Lane says. “I mean, this film came about by demand, literally. It’s another iteration of a film that’s already been released. How odd is that?” Has she seen it yet? “No, I can’t wait to see it. Because I hardly remember what I filmed originally with Zack. I mean, I can’t wait to see it only because we did different things with Joss. But both [my] scenes were with Amy Adams [as Superman’s love, Lois Lane] … so I had a good time because it was me and Amy.”

Lane is also going back into quarantine for two weeks in Canada to shoot Y: The Last Man, an FX post-apocalyptic series in which she plays a congresswoman. “There’s a pandemic within it!” she says. “Oh my gosh, life imitating art imitating life imitating art.” Finally, back on set, she’ll be getting that “mammalian gratification” she’s been craving. She seems relieved; the “old normal” may yet return. “We’ll get through this time together,” she says. “Better days are coming.”

Let Him Go is in cinemas from 18 December 

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