New York Times
May 18, 1986
to Live with Runaway Fame
Written by: Aljean Harmetz
What happens when dreams come
More to the point, what
happens when riches you never dared to dream about are accidentally poured into
your lap - fame, adulation, revenge on the world, money, an Academy Award?
Linda Hunt, Daniel Day Lewis,
Bronson Pinchot, Oprah Winfrey and Anjelica Huston were virtually unknown to
movie audiences when a single memorable performance brought them celebrity
overnight. An Off Off Broadway actress, two struggling young character
actors, a talk show host and a has-been, they were all -metaphorically, at least
- struck by lightning. They had the courage and the skill to saddle the
thunderbolt, but they could not have planned for the lucky accident that made
their sudden fame possible. How do they account for their lucky break and
how do they feel, looking back at it now?
''Success is a potent
thing. It disrupts your image of yourself,'' says Linda Hunt. ''I
was so associated with the struggle of my work, collecting unemployment, how
difficult it was to get opportunities to act. I'm still adjusting more
than three years after 'The Year of Living Dangerously' came out and two years
after I won the Oscar.''
Barely 4 feet 9 inches tall,
Miss Hunt was sure her life would be ''a constant rhythm with no leaps.''
Then she took the chance of playing Billy Kwan, a male dwarf, in ''The Year of
Living Dangerously,'' and life would never be a constant rhythm again.
''I bought my cousin a mink
coat last week,'' says Oprah Winfrey. ''It's hard for me to remember
drawing water from the well every morning and playing with corncob dolls.''
Miss Winfrey - a bulky black
woman who weighs in at 200 pounds - had a comfortable life as a talk show host
in Chicago when Quincy Jones came to town for six hours and, out of boredom,
flipped the dial on the television set in his hotel room to ''The Oprah Winfrey
Show.'' She had never acted before, but Mr. Jones, co-producer of ''The
Color Purple,'' chose her for the crucial role of the defiant Sophia. The
role brought her an Academy Award nomination and a starring role in a
forthcoming screen adaptation of Richard Wright's novel ''Native Son.''
And her television show will be seen across the country next fall.
''It used to be a choice
between working and not working. Now the choices are more difficult,'' says
Daniel Day Lewis.
''A Room With a View,'' in
which Mr. Day Lewis plays the insufferable prig Cecil Vyse, and ''My Beautiful
Laundrette,'' with his performance as a London bully boy who wants something
more from life than bashing Pakistanis, were finished nearly a year apart.
They opened in New York the same day, allowing movie critics to marvel publicly
at his range. ''My Beautiful Laundrette'' was never supposed to open in
New York at all. It was made for British television.
''There was a little part in
'Beverly Hills Cop,' about six lines, a fruity little guy,'' says Bronson
Pinchot. ''And the casting agent said, 'Can you improvise
something?' I almost didn't do it. I waited to audition for two
hours and, by then, I was so zany, I went ahead and did it.''
A poor, clever boy who had won
a scholarship to Yale, Bronson Pinchot foresaw a plodding future as an
actor. Even in college, he was a character actor, playing crisis-ridden
men in their 40's. ''I decided when I was 35 I'd start to get film roles -
playing the thinning hair, sensitive types. Until then, I'd work in
regional theater.'' Instead, that tiny role as Serge, a pretentious art
dealer with an indecipherable accent, made him a celebrity at 24.
''Sooner or later, there will
be tears before bedtime,'' warns Anjelica Huston. ''Within a week of
having won the Oscar for 'Prizzi's Honor,' I found myself doing a screen test at
Warner Bros. I didn't get the part. I was more upset by it because I
had won. It made me feel not having to prove myself any more was an
illusion at best.''
At the age of 15, Anjelica
Huston was given the chance to be a movie star when her father, John Huston,
starred her in his movie, ''A Walk With Love and Death,'' about two teen-agers
walking across Europe in the 14th century. With a sullen, reluctant
performance, she did her best to throw the opportunity away. At 32,
struggling toward what she had carelessly discarded 17 years earlier, she was
waving knives and cavorting in skin-tight leather briefs in some distant century
in ''The Ice Pirates.'' Her father wanted to reward its producer for
giving her the part, so he dug out some galleys of a book that had been lying on
his desk for two years - ''Prizzi's Honor.''
Except for Anjelica Huston,
who grew up using her father's and grandfather Walter Huston's Oscars as toys,
the actors felt themselves overwhelmed by the sudden success.
''I think about it all the
time,'' says Miss Hunt, in that striking dark voice that seems to measure
mountains with a syllable. ''The world runs on star names. I asked
Wally Shawn, 'If I hadn't won the Academy Award, would you have written ''Aunt
Dan and Lemon'' for me?' ''
''It's like someone put me on
a mailing list for thermal underwear,'' says 28-year-old Mr. Day Lewis,
describing the feeling of being badgered by strangers. ''I'm trying to be
realistic. By 1987, they may have somebody else's address. I'm quite
capable of living on very little. I don't have a car. I live in
London in a nice flat that doesn't belong to me. The only thing I would
hate to do without is privacy.''
Privacy is the first thing
lost when Newsweek describes you as ''one of the few people alive who could
steal a scene from Eddie Murphy.'' Says Mr. Pinchot, ''Last year, after
'Beverly Hills Cop' came out, people were leaning out of cars and screaming at
me. I took a short vacation. I went to Greece for five days. I
stayed two months in a hostel at the top of a mountain. I realized I was
terrified to come back. I don't answer the phone. I have no social
life at all. The minute I'm not working, I jump in my car and go away.''
''The hardest part is that
people assume you've changed,'' says Miss Winfrey. ''They think you're
condescending, non-caring, an arrogant snob. They know if they were famous
for three minutes they would lose their minds and they assume I've lost
mine. The least thing and they say, 'You're too good for me now.' ''
Was it luck that made Quincy
Jones twist the television dial? Miss Winfrey shakes her head. ''I
act as if everything depends upon me and pray as if everything depends upon
God. Success in your work is not luck. If the door opens and you're
not ready to go through . . . '' Her words echo Mr. Day Lewis.
''Acting,'' he says, ''like poker, requires a great deal of skill, but you win
or lose on how you apply good fortune.''
Miss Winfrey has always been
ready to go through any door and, if the door wouldn't open, she has talked it
down. By the time she was 8, she was known as ''The Little Speaker,''
reciting ''Invictus'' at church teas and black social clubs. ''People say,
'How can you not be oppressed if you were born in Mississippi in 1954?' I
always excelled. If you're the best, nobody can put you down.''
Raped at the age of 9 by a
19-year-old cousin, she lived for months with the fear that a stomachache meant
she was having a baby. Yet she is puzzled by the bitter people who come on
her talk show crying for revenge.
Like Miss Winfrey, Linda Hunt
is ''blessed with resilience and enormous confidence'' in herself as an
actor. Few ironies are lost on her. She has certainly not missed the
irony that her short body - an obstacle to so many parts during the 10 years she
was building an Off Off Broadway career - was a necessity for the role that
brought her national prominence and an Academy Award.
''The side of myself that
tends toward cynicism is greatly amused by it,'' she says.
When Peter Weir came to
America in desperate need of recasting the role of Billy Kwan just four weeks
before ''The Year of Living Dangerously'' was to go into production, she was
acting Off Off Broadway in ''Metamorphosis in Miniature'' for $250 a week.
She thought: ''If Peter and I are wrong and totally crazy and this turns out to
be an embarrassment, I'll have wrecked my career.''
She had wanted to be an
actress since she was 12, and she says that, ''since my body is me,'' she has
never thought of her stature as a limitation. Particularly not in the
beginning. ''I had youth on my side,'' she says. ''It doesn't matter what
anyone says to you if you have youth on your side.''
As a child, Daniel Day Lewis,
too, ''nurtured this secret desire.'' However, the acting he imagined was
''a wonderful world in which people did a lot of fencing and dressed up in other
peoples' clothes.'' When he was 12, the uses of acting changed for
him. The son of the late poet laureate of England, C. Day Lewis, Mr. Day
Lewis had had an unorthodox early education for a member of the British upper
class. ''My parents believed myself and my sister should not grow up with
predigested ideas of who we should associate with, so they sent us to the local
school in southwest London,'' he says. ''I grew up with working-class lads
and loved their company.''
When finally sent away to
boarding school at the age of 11, he ''couldn't cope with the vast, disciplinary
apparatus'' and ''spent most nighttimes locked in the lavatory in floods of
tears.'' In addition, ''my ostentatious rebelliousness made me very
unpopular with my peers, who wanted to get on with their homework.''
Before he found it necessary
''for my survival'' to run away at the age of 13, he had discovered in school
plays ''the perfect, the only, world to escape into.''
For Bronson Pinchot, acting
was an accident. Of the five lucky actors, he is the one who most believes
in luck. ''I feel charmed,'' he says. ''I spent last month what I
made in 1983. I feel like a Dickens character swooped out of the bad life
and put in the bosom of the best.''
Because of ''Beverly Hills
Cop,'' a television series was created for him. ''Perfect Strangers'' on
ABC is one of the few successful new programs this season. Already, he is
subtly deferred to. On a sound stage at M-G-M, on the eve of his 26th
birthday this week, one can watch the producers and director laugh at each of
his gestures as a bewildered immigrant.
Abandoned by his father when
he was 3 years old, he is the first member of his family to go to college.
A high school teacher thought he had talent as a painter. "I would
have gone to illustration school,'' he says, ''but someone behind my back
arranged for me to go to Yale.'' He supplemented his 80 percent
scholarship by working in a surgical buckle factory, and his clothes were so
ragged that his classmates thought he was striving for reverse chic. As a
lark he tried out for a college production of ''As You Like It'' and got the
part of Jaques. The head of the undergraduate drama school saw the play
and said, 'Would you like to learn how to act? I can teach you.' ''
A year after he graduated, he
got a small but meaty role as a friend of Tom Cruise in the movie ''Risky
Business.'' ''I knew it would put me on the map,'' he says. When the
movie was released with most of his scenes cut, he was ''inconsolable.''
So he expected that his two
small scenes would be cut out of ''Beverly Hills Cop.'' ''At previews, all
I could see was that I was extremely overweight. I watched the movie and
thought, I'll never let myself get that fat again.''
''Prizzi's Honor'' was
directed by Anjelica Huston's father and starred Jack Nicholson, her lover
offscreen for the last decade. These connections are inexorably bound up
with her reaction to everything that has happened. At 15, ''nepotism'' was
the kindest word used to describe her sullen performance in ''A Walk With Love
and Death.'' ''I was pronounced wooden and unattractive, and there was a
certain bravado in my reaction,'' she says. ''I told my father, 'You just think
I'm lovely because I'm your daughter.'''
When she told her father five
years ago that she wanted to be an actress, he suggested that it was a little
late to start again. She felt embarrassed because her only parts came from
friends - Penny Marshall got her on the television show ''Laverne and Shirley,''
Shelley Duvall put her on Showtime's ''Faerie Tale Theater,'' Bob Rafelson gave
her a role in his movie ''The Postman Always Rings Twice.''
John Huston, Jack Nicholson
and Anjelica Huston were nominated for Oscars for ''Prizzi's Honor.'' Only
Miss Huston won, leaving her with a jumble of emotions.
She wanted her father to
win. Mr. Huston, with his voracious appetite for life, has been left frail
by emphysema and the infirmities of old age. He carried his oxygen tank
even to the Academy Award ceremonies.
''This man has been in the
hospital more times than anyone should be, but he shakes off the dog on his
ankle,'' says Miss Huston. ''He's brilliant, he's modern, he cuts straight
through to the truth of the matter. He got out of the hospital the other
day and sat in my house far into the night talking, with a glass of brandy and
And yet, because Mr. Huston
did not win as her director, ''it proves it wasn't nepotism,'' she says.
''There couldn't have been a clearer statement from the Academy: You won it on