When the script for "Under the Tuscan Sun" landed in Diane Lane's lap, a little voice tapped her on the shoulder and said, "This is a gift, just receive it."
The movie, which debuts Friday, opened the door to sunnier days for Lane after last year's emotionally draining "Unfaithful." The actress received her first Oscar nomination for her role as an adulteress whose infidelity leads to drastic repercussions for both her family and her lover.
"After 'Unfaithful' being so grim, I was really welcoming something with a little less angst and tears, shame and regret," laughs Lane in an interview at the Ritz Carlton in Boston recently. "I wanted something that was lighter for the audience - and for me."
In "Tuscan Sun," Lane plays Frances Mayes, a newly divorced woman from San Francisco who buys a "fixer-upper" villa in Tuscany. For the first time in her career, Lane is carrying a Hollywood movie all by herself. There are no big-name costars.
Audrey Wells, director and screenwriter of "Tuscan Sun," says Lane was the only actress she had in mind to play Mayes when she sat down to write the screenplay.
"Diane is fascinating to watch on screen," she says. "She's entirely authentic. Every time her character is feeling something, Diane is really going through that. She's surprising."
Wells was working on a book about a woman overcoming heartbreak when she started to read writer Frances Mayes' memoir.
"But it didn't have the kind of structure that lends itself to a movie," says Wells, who added a more dramatic story line. "I realized these two stories were in search of each other. Both were internal adventure stories."
"I loved the sense of starting over and the fact that it was about love and multigenerational," says Lane, adding that it opened her mind up to "getting your confidence back, to start over when you've been really hurt."
But even the famed beauty of the Italian countryside couldn't keep Lane away from Los Angeles beyond the three months needed for filming.
"It was hard not to be homesick," says Lane. "Three months is a long time to be away from your family. I don't care if it's Tahiti or any other kind of paradise image. I try to work efficiently because of my daughter."
Nonetheless, she says, if you want to maintain your career, "you have to make more than one movie a year to keep rolling. Sort of like children, the average is 2.3? It winds up being 1.3 movies a year."
Another fact of the job that takes her away from her 10-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and fiancé, Josh Brolin, are interviews, like, well, this one.
But, Lane says, if you don't make appearances, neither will audiences. "Movies are canceled after the first weekend if they don't do well. Right now, you've got three weekends at the most. So I'll do whatever is necessary. It's 'show business,' not 'show love.' If people don't show up for it, then let the 14-year-old males rule."
Lane started acting at age 6 and appeared on the cover of Time magazine by age 14. She went on to star in more than 40 films and TV movies. But it wasn't until last year's "Unfaithful," that she was elevated to star status.
"I have moved up a notch on Hollywood's list," Lane says about her first Oscar nomination. "It's nice to hear about [scripts] a little earlier."
Over the course of her long career, Lane has avoided being typecast. She played a 1960s housewife in "A Walk on the Moon," a sinister guardian in "The Glass House," and a cheating wife in "Unfaithful." As she approaches 40, Lane doesn't seem to be bothered about getting older in Hollywood.
"Character actresses work into their 60s and 70s," she says.
Not that Hollywood's obsession with youth doesn't concern her in a more general way. Lane points out that magazines regularly airbrush leading men who are under 40.
"That's very disturbing because what that tells me is that we are marketing a myth," she says. "At some point, I'd like to see a little less myth.
"Fortunately, I have a good attitude about it, because [otherwise] I would have spent all my money" on plastic surgery.
And she points out, Hollywood's youth obsession is a hazard everyone knows about going into the business. "It's like being a sports person. At 35, that could be it. It would be nice to see some molds broken. If I can participate in that, I would be very happy."
Besides carrying her first Hollywood film, there's another first for Lane in her 32-year career: She's unsure what's in store for her next. "It's a little anxious-making," she says. "There was a job I took with Bruce Willis this summer, kind of a caper that I thought would be lots of fun. But it went the way some movies go."
But Lane says she is up for anything, whether it be comedy, romance, or action. "The whole point of being an actor is trying different things, and hopefully surprise myself and other people."