The New York Times
May 18, 1986

Learning to Live with Runaway Fame
Written by: Aljean Harmetz

What happens when dreams come true?

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 no oxygen.''

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 your own.''