Smash Star Anjelica Huston
- by Jeanne Wolf
- Saturday Evening Post
Born of Hollywood royalty, the Smash star, now 61, has found a new inner confidence. Illustration by John Jay Cabuay.
When Anjelica Huston enters a room, she commands your attention just as she does on screen. She’s an imposing presence, even a little intimidating—she’s just so tall!—until she breaks into that charming, mischievous grin. It’s quickly obvious that the actress is nothing like the scheming, tough-as-nails producer, Eileen Rand, whom she plays on the NBC series, Smash.
As Huston speaks, revealing a self-deprecating sense of humor that’s thoroughly endearing, it’s hard to separate the drama in her life from the memorable characters she’s brought to life, from the mob wife in Prizzi’s Honor to Morticia in The Addams Family.
Huston was born into Hollywood royalty. Her dad was legendary director John Huston. Her mother, John’s fourth wife, was Italian ballerina, Enrica “Ricki” Soma. Houseguests ranged from Marlon Brando to John Paul Sartre and John Steinbeck. She began acting in small roles, mainly in her father’s films. Then, just as she was coming into her own, her mother was killed in a car accident. That changed the direction of her life.
She moved to New York, and as a young woman, her grace, stature, and angular good looks led her to modeling. Richard Avedon photographed her for Vogue. The big change in her life came when her father cast her in Prizzi’s Honor, a part that earned her an Oscar and made her a star. She co-starred with her longtime love Jack Nicholson. They were together for 16 years, but once she got famous there was a lot more interest in them as a couple—always talk about the ups and downs of that relationship.
Finally, they split—another big life-changer.
When she and Nicholson parted company, Hollywood watched to see if she’d ever find her Mr. Right. The answer came when she walked down the aisle with celebrated sculptor Robert Graham–known for works like the Olympic Gateway at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in D.C., and the Duke Ellington Monument in New York’s Central Park. The handsome artist and the beautiful actress were a standout couple in the arenas of entertainment and art.
Graham also loved to draw beautiful women and their bodies. There was one star-studded showing of his work where people teased him about nude drawings that looked an awful lot like Anjelica. She casually deflected the questions by talking about “my fantastic husband” and playing up his many other accomplishments. The two were inseparable, so his sudden death from a heart attack four years ago left her shattered. Her many friends within and without Hollywood rallied around her, but she credits Smash—her first venture into series television—with coming at a “vital time” and finally filling a void in her life.
Question: I have known you for years. I listen to the laugh in your voice and you’ve got the greatest smile. Why do they keep casting you as these stern women like Eileen in Smash?
Anjelica Huston: [Laughing] Well, Eileen does have a good sense of humor. But it’s true, they like me to be these slightly sinister characters. It’s good to play against type, I guess.
“Sometimes I’m a wimp, and other days I think I can conquer the world.” Photo courtesy NBC Universal.
Q: And what would you say your type is?
AH: I really don’t match any stereotype. I never felt like I “fit in.” That’s probably what makes me a great observer.
Q: But doesn’t your character’s feistiness reflect you maybe just a little?
AH: I would like to be as scrappy as Eileen. I can certainly wrap my brain around her scrappiness. But sometimes I’m a wimp, and other days I think I can conquer the world. I wish I could plan it out a bit better.
Q: You get some steamy romantic scenes on the show. Do you get a kick out of that?
AH: It all depends on who with. But it certainly livens things up—particularly at my age. I remember at the very outset, two years ago, I said to the producers, ‘Please, give me a love interest.’ I think it’s important to see strong women who also have a very vulnerable side and who are allowed to have a sexy side.
Q: As the years pass, what has changed for you?
AH: The older I get, the more I look for a good time. I remember when I was in my 20s and 30s, I was always in some fight with a boyfriend or involved in some drama, something to feel bad about. I feel so the opposite of that now. I just like to have a good time, smile, and be with my friends. You know, tell a story, have a drink. I’m certainly not looking for angst.
Q: You were married for 16 years to artist Robert Graham. Was being married part of what changed your outlook?
AH: I think so. We had a lot of fun. We understood each other. We both had big egos. [Laughs] We both felt very, very lucky. He was a great guy. Of course we fought some times. We’re not robots. You have to have differences and then you come together. There’s no better thing than that unity sort of sense of purpose. Although, I have to say, being with a partner can be difficult too. It’s like ‘Oh, is that what you’re going to wear?’ ‘Well, what do you mean I look fat?’ It’s funny. When I was getting ready to go out the other night I thought, there’s absolutely nobody in my life to tell me how I should look, how I should act, or what I should say. In fact, I doubt that there’s anyone who cares very much one way or the other what I do! And in a way, that was very liberating.
Q: But you do come home to an empty house.
AH: That’s just what the circumstance is right now. You have to roll with the punches. After Bob’s death, I did learn a lot. It was actually fascinating to see that if I emphasized the positive I was able to still have a good time. That was sort of shocking to me as a suddenly single person.
Q: Before you got married, your most famous relationship was with Jack Nicholson, which certainly had its highs and lows.
AH: Jack is somebody I’ve adored in my life and will continue to love forever. I don’t take him lightly. As it happens, we had a really lovely conversation on the phone yesterday—a conversation that started off a little bumpy and wound up just completely wonderful. That’s a real relationship. Real relationships have a continuity, and Jack and I have a deep abiding love and affection for each other. I’m proud that we’ve gotten through some very tough times together.
Q: Could there be another man in your future?
AH: It would have to be the right one. Someone who it would make sense to have a love with. Someone who wanted to share that. I can’t say I’m looking for it. I don’t think I’ve ever really looked for it. I’ve never been one of those women who said, ‘Fix me up on a date.’ I always just feel like if the time is right, it’ll come to you. I’ve worked with horses all my life and there’s something that every person who’s ever worked with a horse knows. You can go into a field and try to catch a horse and chase your horse all over the place and you’ll never get your hands on it. But if you go into a field and sit down on the grass, whoa! Probably within 5 minutes that horse will come to you. I think that’s how it is with people too.
Q: There have been a lot of changes in your life recently—an important part in a TV series—the first time you’ve done series television.
AH: All of a sudden things have gotten very busy. But that’s a good thing. I think one should always be optimistic. I think it’s people who reflect too much on what they’ve lost who become incapable of forward motion. But forward motion is important. Change is important. My Los Angeles house is for sale now. It’s very bittersweet for me because while it’s too large for me as a single person, it’s the house I shared with Bob.
Q: You grew up with two very strong parents [director John Huston and ballerina Ricki Soma]. How did they influence you?
AH: I didn’t have a conventional upbringing but they both gave me an awareness of beauty, which is what my life is about. They also gave me a lot to read, and they had very interesting people around. I was constantly exposed to the possibilities in life and alternative ways of thinking and being and existing. They always showed me that one didn’t have to go along with the herd. At the same time, they emphasized that it was possible to do that gracefully.
Q: There were a lot of Hollywood luminaries in your life who were friends of your renowned family. Many of them are still your friends.
AH: It’s kind of great. It’s like being a part of a big, wonderful diverse mad family.
Q: You’ve had your share of fame, and weekly TV brings even more fans. How do they treat you?
AH: I like them. They’ve always been a very nice group of people who’ve never intruded on me or been aggressive. But I do like the people who like me. It sounds really corny, doesn’t it? I’ll go along with Sally Field on that one.
Q: You’re writing a memoir. How is that going?
AH: I’m kind of in the midst of it, and it’s daunting, but on the other hand, it feels quite cathartic. Since I’m in the process, it’s a bit hard to talk about. I remember quite a lot, I have to say. Sometimes I wish I remembered a bit less.
Q: For example?
AH: Well, I remember that when my mother died I was going through that very difficult period where I was just becoming a woman. And she was sort of having to make the adjustments to that.
Q: Your life has been fascinating. What can you say that you learned over the years?
AH: I’ve always felt like I’ve kind of had an inherent knowledge about things, like that horse knowledge I was talking about. I wouldn’t call it wisdom exactly. But you recognize certain patterns in yourself and other people, and you learn what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. Hopefully I’ve made a little progress over the years. I’m very Cancerian by nature, crablike, and I don’t like a lot of big changes in my life. I’m happy when I’m on the ride. It’s just thinking about getting on the plane that I don’t like.
Q: Who’s the biggest influence in your life now?
AH: I guess it’s still Bob. I find myself wondering what he would have thought—more than I wonder what my parents would have thought. I still kind of dress for him—like his eyes are on me.