50, is an Oscar-winning actress who has appeared in 39 movies, including “True Romance,” “
” “Lost Highway” and “Boyhood.” Her latest film is ‘Permanent” (Magnolia). She spoke with
The first time I appeared on stage I was 4. I performed as Chicken Little at the 1972 Philadelphia Folk Festival in front of thousands of hippies. When the audience applauded, I was so shy I lifted my dress over my head.
I grew up the middle child of five. All of us—Rosanna, Richmond, Alexis, David and me—became actors. Performing is in our blood. My great-grandparents were in vaudeville, my grandfather was comedian
and my dad, Lewis, was a character actor.
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Acting was a part of everyday life. My father had been in Chicago’s Second City group, and my mother, Mardi, was a poet. You got props in my house if you said something interesting or funny.
I don’t remember much about our first home in Chicago, only that we lived in a basement apartment. In 1972, when I was 4, we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My parents had joined a commune there called Skymont. They wanted to raise us in a spiritual, utopian society away from the rat race and closer to nature.
We lived in a cabin, and all seven of us slept in one room. There was no bathroom, running water or electricity. I liked that I got to run around wild and free.
Everyone in the commune looked down on ownership and had to contribute their income to the common good. Before long, we wound up living in intense poverty. We were so poor, the government dropped off food for us. When I outgrew my shoes, it took my mother days to find a pair someone else had outgrown.
After four years, the commune failed to become self-sufficient and we left. I still feel I have the heart of a poor child and an intimate understanding of what that experience is like.
Living there also helped me develop a love of art. Bands played every night, and we knew all the songs. People created things, since no one had any money.
After Skymont, we returned to Chicago. Then we moved to Los Angeles and lived in a hotel room for a brief time.
At first, L.A. was completely foreign to me. Kids asked me what kind of car my parents drove. I had no idea. In Virginia, we didn’t have a car. We often had to hitchhike for hours. I didn’t even realize there were different types.
I was very close to my father, and he could do no wrong. He wanted me to be strong and have my own voice. But he worked a lot as an actor and I missed him.
While my parents had spiritual depth, they also had human flaws. My dad smoked marijuana and drank a lot, and my mother physically abused us. I realize now she was under enormous stress.
When I was little in Virginia, my father, who was raised a Catholic, converted to Islam. My parents were religious seekers. In their opinion, there was one God and many roads or religions to get to God. My mom was Jewish, but my dad’s conversion was never a source of friction. They taught us religious tolerance.
During that time, my mom was there for us, but she was complicated. She had a violent streak and rage issues that she eventually dealt with years later in therapy. Then she became a therapist.
I had a love-hate relationship with her. I didn’t recognize then that she was a tremendous force for good in our household. No matter what happened at home, her kids meant everything to her.
At 15, I ran away from home. My best friend had been hit by a car and died. I stayed with her older sister. We needed each other for different reasons.
When I was 20, I moved in with my boyfriend and soon became a mom. A month after Enzo was born, my boyfriend and I split up. Suddenly, I had another human being to feed, clothe and house on my own. I became serious about acting and being successful.
Today, I live in Hollywood, in a Mediterranean-style house. I tend to get restless and move every few years. I never seem to find a place where I fit. I’m transient like that.
‘I still feel I have the heart of a poor child and an intimate understanding of what that experience is like.’
What I like most about the house is the backyard. I love having trees around. They remind me of Virginia. As I sit out there, birds land and sing, lizards run along the cement and the sky changes with the sun. Things are constantly in motion.
As much as my family moved around growing up, we were packrats about sentimentality. My mother kept all our drawings, and my dad gave me all of my grandfather’s stuff to archive. I became the family’s de-facto librarian.
My mom died in 1997, my dad died in 2001, my sister, Alexis, died in 2016, and many of our friends are gone. Life is fleeting. If I could go back in time, I’d want to make sure my parents and sister knew how much I loved them.