A famous daughter returns to Irish roots


Hollywood, says actress Anjelica Huston, is geared toward the very young. "And that's not what's necessarily fascinating," she says as she readies for the national opening of her first feature-film directing effort, "Agnes Browne." Daughter of director John Huston and granddaughter of Hollywood legend Walter Huston, the former model says she's interested in "the human dimension of life." Her film (in which she also stars because of the last-minute withdrawal of Rosie O'Donnell) is based on the best-selling Irish novel, "The Mammy," by Brendan O'Carroll.

"Stories have always been a huge part of the Irish experience," she says in describing this portrait of an Irish mother of seven who is suddenly widowed. "It's a community based on exchange, and I wanted to celebrate that intimate, more quiet dimension."

The story returns to a time before television and cellphones dominated our lives. "Pyrotechnics are fine and fun, and there will always be an audience for them," she says, "but there's also a more mature audience that wants to see films that make them think about life or give them another perspective."

The second-time director (her first effort, "Bastard Out of Carolina," aired on Showtime cable TV) says she was happy to return to the land of her childhood.

"I have a wellspring of emotion when it comes to Ireland," she says. As a child she was living on the country estate of her famous father when her parents separated. At the age of 11, Huston was sent to school in England. "I missed my childhood tremendously," she says. "I never really went back except for school holidays." It was, she adds, as if one life ended while another began. "It was as if everything was cut off, so I have a lot of unfinished business there."

The Oscar-winning actress ("Prizzi's Honor") describes encounters with childhood friends. "All of a sudden there was this [middle-aged adult], and it was deeply shocking and also marvelous to return to so much of my history," she says.

A woman who has been known for much of her life by her various connections to famous men (her father and grandfather, as well as a 17-year relationship with actor Jack Nicholson) acknowledges that these brought her many opportunities, but adds that she had to be strong enough to handle them.

"I remember a time in my life when I didn't want handouts," she says. "I didn't want anyone to give me anything because I was a Huston. But as time goes by," she adds with a laugh, "it's something I feel much [more] able to cope with ... and use ... to my advantage."

She may have resisted trading on her family name, but she recognizes the contribution her father made to her career, noting he was her first teacher. "He was a huge influence on me," she says. He encouraged her to listen to her instincts and most important, stay open to learning.

Consequently, Huston says she creates opportunities "just in case Hollywood stops knocking."

As for dwindling opportunities for older actresses, Huston takes an activist approach: "It's like sitting around a nursery and saying you don't have enough toys. You can wait till the next trip to the shop, or you can find a branch and whittle yourself a new toy."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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