Oscar winning actress Angelica Huston has often played quirky roles in films like The Addams Family and The Royal Tenenbaums. This weekend, the 60 year-old Hollywood star plays her most normal character to date in the cancer comedy 50/50.
The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man whose life changes drastically when he is diagnosed with cancer. Huston plays Diane, his overbearing mother.
Huston's own husband, sculptor Robert Graham Jr., died three years ago, and she talked to Reuters about that life-changing event and how it impacted her character in 50/50. She also revealed she's working on a memoir.
Q: It takes a minute or two to even recognize you in 50/50. What made you decide to wear a frosted wig?
A: The way I look in life is a bit dramatic for what I wanted for her. Certain roles demand that you take a big step outside yourself. I wanted her to be a middle class woman living in Seattle who shops at the mall, wears blazers and probably would have played golf if she weren't having to go through this ordeal with a son who's sick and a husband who has Alzheimer's.
Q: Did you draw on your own experiences for the role?
A: I lost my husband a year before I made this movie. So it came from a deeply personal place. I took everything -- all of my experience from the five months I spent with him in (intensive care) to day-to-day occurrences in the hospital -- which was kind of ludicrous at the same time as being heartbreaking. I think so much of what a caregiver does is to bring love and humor to a situation in which they have absolutely no power. That's what I was kind of channeling for Diane.
Q: Is that one of the reasons you accepted the role?
A: It was coincidental. I don't think it hurt that I'd had the experience. Although, God, I prefer not to have had the experience, no question about that. I didn't accept the role because it was cathartic, I accepted it because it really touched me. I fell in love with this woman who is going through this horrible ordeal, whose presence was suffocating to her son. I understood it from quite a few points of view, from his point of view as well as my own, and the character's.
Q: Were there days on the film that hit too close to home?
A: Yes. Not to talk about cancer when cancer is in the room is not to talk about the elephant in the room. To be able to talk about the elephant in the room was for me quite a relief at the time. At the same time that it's painful, it's also a wonderful way of exorcising demons and pulling in the demons to have a closer look at them.
Q: Switching gears. You're currently filming the upcoming TV drama Smash set in the world of Broadway. Is this your first time doing a TV series?
A: I've guested a few times, but I've never done a series. I play a Broadway producer and I'm shooting in New York, so I'm out of my comfort home and ground, Los Angeles.
Q: What made you decide to take a series?
A: Well, I'm a single woman now. I think work is very important for me right now. Something to do with my time, particularly since my life has changed so radically over the last couple of years. But it's good. It takes my mind off other things.
Q: In what way?
A: The death of a parent is one thing. But the death of a chosen mate is very different because it's the life that you've chosen, not the life that was given to you. The surprise factor when it doesn't go your way is really life changing. You're never prepared for it. You're given hope until the last minute and that's part of what makes it shocking.
Q: You've lived quite a life. Any plans for a memoir?
A: I started writing my memoirs last year, and I think the publisher is looking at (a publication date of) 2013. I've been asked to write it through the years and this seemed like a good time to do it.
Q: What can we expect to see in it?
A: So far its memories, dreams, reflections. I'll see what shape it takes.