Before she even graced the big screen in A Little Romance
and scored the cover of Time
magazine in 1979, Diane Lane
was playing with Meryl Streep's makeup as a "snot-nosed kid" in the cast of Joseph Papp
's plays. Since then, Diane has starred in more than 50 films—including classics such as The Outsiders
garnering accolades and awards for her textured and emotional performances along the way. Amy Paige Condon
caught up with the A-lister, who remains refreshingly down-to-earth after nearly three decades in the spotlight, on the eve of her honor for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema by the Savannah Film Festival.
Savannah magazine: How does it feel to be back in Savannah?
I feel very enlivened, actually. I’m delighted that this is as fabulous as it is. I’ve been warned; I’ve been a friend of Bobby Zarem’s for, oh, probably longer than I should admit, but the point is, he’s been trying to get me since the festival started. He was right. He did not hyperbolize anything—‘cause he can do that. He’s introduced me as “she was born and raised in Tybee” and I was like, I’m a New Yorker, what are you talking about? I did live there for a year. I’ve been adopted.
SM: Do you still speak y’all?
I do when I’m here.
SM: Any Southern phrases you carry with you?
) Oh, I had a bunch. I had so many. I morphed the minute I moved here. I loved it. I was a taxpayer in Georgia for 20 years, I just wasn’t always in this county.
SM: Your mother’s from Georgia?
Diane: Yeah, my grandmother, my mother. They were up in Wrightsville.
SM: Now that you’re back in Savannah, sweet or unsweet tea?
Diane: Unsweet always, for me.
SM: Fried chicken or shrimp ‘n’ grits?
I’m a fried chicken girl. Meat with a handle.
SM: This is kind of a reunion week for you. You’re back in Savannah and Matt Dillon is here, whom you’ve made three films together. Are y’all going to get a chance to catch up?
I think we’re going to pass like ships in the night. We’ll probably just miss each other. I’ll leave him a note.
SM: So, we’re screening A Little Romance, the first movie you made, and you just finished doing Sweet Bird of Youth (in Chicago) …
I like to drive myself insane. It’s just a hobby.
SM: The New York Times called your performance “scarily intelligent.”
Y’know, I just read it yesterday, and I’ve already blocked it out. I wouldn’t allow myself to read it while I was doing the play, because it can mess with your mind. It’s a live thing every night—sometimes twice a day—and I didn’t want to have anything in my head to make the performance feel like it was no longer pure and my own, 100 percent. You don’t want to feel like you’re placating.
That being said, it was a great review and I was tickled. It could have gone the other way, and part of the reason why I came to this festival, I thought, well, if I lose my mind playing this character or I get terrible reviews and impale myself on some furniture, or if I can’t handle it, run away and break down in tears. I don’t know, anything is possible, right? It’s a big load, Tennessee Williams after a quarter century of being away from the theater. I’ve had a real case of who do I think I am? And, I thought, well I can go to the film festival and feel like, you see, I did at one time have a career. (Laughs.
Like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, I’ll be in a room looking at my old films where I’m really young in them. (Laughs
) Which is very much the character of the play. I just thought this is right up my alley. This will heal me from my psychic star of the play.
SM: When you are doing a play and it’s a very intense story and a rather dark character, are you living it because you’re playing it for so long?
Diane: I haven’t detoxed from her yet. My voice is blown out; my eyes are permanently swollen. And, I‘ll get there. I will get there from here. I just have to (makes whooshing sound
SM: This is the first time you’ve done theater in a really long time. How did it feel to be back on stage?
(We’re told to wrap up with one more question.
SM: What is your fondest memory of Savannah? Something you want to see?
Y’know, the way a young teenage girl has songs, and she gets all in her head about what’s romantic? I never recovered from the beauty of the squares at night in Savannah.
I would just go into these raptures of Romeo and Juliet fantasies, looking at the way street lights were with the moss and the benches—and, of course, it wasn’t safe to walk in them; it was 1980. Now, I think things are improved. I just never got over that visual.
It looked like something out of … a Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire. I didn’t even have anything to compare it to in literature. So whenever I read those images in literature, I was like, oh, I’ve been there. I’ve been to Savannah.
SM: They’re safe to walk through now. So, I hope you get a chance.