Role Recall: Anjelica Huston on ‘The Grifters,’ ‘Captain EO’ and More

Anjelica Huston
Anjelica Huston

Role Recall is a new Yahoo Movies interview series where film icons tell us the first thing that comes to mind when thinking back on their greatest hits.

A Story Lately Told
A Story Lately Told

Just because Anjelica Huston has released an autobiography, "A Story Told Lately" (Volume 1 in a two-parter), don't think the screen great is calling it quits.

"I don't believe in retirement," Huston said last week from Miami. "As long as one's of able mind and body, I think retirement is certainly not in my program any time soon."

The 62-year-old actress impresses in a whole new medium with her richly detailed stories about bouncing around New York, Ireland and London as a youth, and growing up among Hollywood royalty (her dad the legendary director John Huston, her grandfather actor Walter Huston …. All three Oscar winners, a multi-generational first for the Academy).

We thought the book's release the perfect excuse to ask the versatile thesp about her most beloved screen roles, from her lead debut in her father's "A Walk with Love and Death" to her Oscar-winning work in "Prizzi's Honor" to working alongside Michael Jackson in "Captain EO" to some of her latest adventures in the wacky world of Wes Andersonville.

"A Walk with Love and Death" (1969)
On working with her father, director John Huston: "'Walk with Love and Death' was a difficult movie for the both of us. I had ambitions as an actress but had no training. My father gave me this film as a sort of launching pad for a career and I think I was ill-equipped for it.

"I wasn't very attracted to the role, I was at school at the time, and there'd been a school search, a search launched for Juliet for "Romeo and Juliet," which Franco Zeffirelli was about to do. They talked to me about coming back for a third interview, and my father wrote to him and said that I would be working with him and please not to consider me anymore. I was very disappointed because I wanted to work with Franco Zeffirelli. I didn't necessarily want to work with my father on a movie." [laughs]

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
On her blink-and-you'll-miss-it-appearance: "It wasn't even a cameo. We just were standing on a bridge. I was with Aurore Clément, who was going out with [director] Milos Forman. My then-boyfriend Jack Nicholson's assistant Annie Marshall, and I think Brenda Vaccaro possibly, were all standing on a dock watching the boys come in from a fishing trip. And I think Milos just turned on the camera and got a quick shot of us for posterity.

"The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981)
"That was a Bob Rafelson film, starring Jack and Jessica Lange. They offered me the part of the lion tamer, which was actually a lot of fun, and it only took an afternoon. It was fun and it was challenging because it was Jack, of course, and I was nervous. And I also kind of had to go topless in the love scene in the movie and that made me nervous, but it was okay."

"This is Spinal Tap" (1984)
"I was very happy to be included in 'Spinal Tap,' which is to this day one of my favorite movies ever. For sheer relaxation and pleasure, 'Spinal Tap' is the ticket. I went to interview for the girlfriend and got the role of Polly Deutsch instead, but I was very pleased."

Prizzi's Honor
Prizzi's Honor

"Prizzi's Honor" (1985)
On winning an Oscar for her role as a mobster's estranged daughter: "Oh, it was a huge sort of vindication of all that had gone before. I'd been rudely criticized when I did 'A Walk with Love and Death' so this was really the flipside of all of that early torment. It was a great role, wonderful film. We had a tremendous time making that film. Jack Nicholson and I had been together for a few years at that point. And my father loved Jack. So it was really a family affair."

"Captain EO" (1986)
On working opposite Michael Jackson in this 3D short directed by Francis Ford Coppola, produced by George Lucas and shown at Disneyland: "Maybe a couple of months before, I had a dream about being in the desert with Michael Jackson, madly in love, and an elephant stampede came up behind us and they put their trunks around us as we were sort of floating in mid-air -- this very beautiful dream. So when 'Captain EO' came about, I suddenly realized that it was prescient.

"It was surprising because it seemed that anger was very difficult for him. He had a high voice and he was very tentative, very nervous about how he would come across. And I remember his reluctance to show anger or anything violent.

Captain EO
Captain EO

"I think the whole thing took about three weeks to shoot. It was a short film about Michael Jackson coming to my ugly hideous planet. I play of course a grand high witch … This was solidly in my witch period where I seemed to play every witch on the planet. But he comes to my planet and I'm cruel and evil, he sings to me and transforms my world. As it happened, [Michael] had a little retinue of space creatures, and one happened to be a green elephant, which only confirmed the prescience of my dream.

"I had extensive makeup, a lot of prosthetics, it took about seven hours to put on all my prosthetics every morning … When the camera turned around on Michael, he asked that I still be in makeup even though I was off camera. I was initially a bit irritated by that because it took so long and I knew that I wouldn't be on camera. But I did it and I remember from the moment he started to sing, I was sort of overwhelmed, I'd never seen a transformation like that. The power of his voice, the incredible sort of electricity that surrounded him when he began to sing was astonishing. And all of the inhibitions that he seemed to have as a person disappeared and he became this dynamic and extraordinary force. Michael was a genius at what he did and capable of practically anything on stage. I think he was extraordinary."

Anjelica Huston in The Grifters
Anjelica Huston in The Grifters

"The Grifters" (1990)
"'The Grifters' was a sort of miracle that came to me. I don't really understand how it came to be because initially Melanie Griffith was going to play the part [of Lilly Dillon] but didn't do it. I remember meeting Stephen Frears in New York at my agent's apartment. And we struck it up. I'd been friends with his wife [artist Anne Rothenstein] in school, we were actually in school together when we were about 14 … At a certain point he started to tell me why I was wrong for this part he was casting. And I remember we went out for a walk after the dinner, and we walked me home to my hotel and he said goodnight.

"And then a couple of days later I get a call from my agent saying that Stephen Frears wants you to audition for 'The Grifters.' And that was odd because he already told me that I was all wrong. So I was surprised that he wanted to see me again for the role. I knew at this point Martin Scorsese was producing and I'd always been extremely impressed by him.

"So I was very nervous, I went to the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and I remember deliberating that morning about what I would wear. I wore a very flimsy red dress and my instinct about the character was that she should be blonde, but I can't possibly go on this interview in a blonde wig, they'll think I'm demented. So I left out the blonde wig, but I went in this skimpy red dress. About halfway through my reading, Stephen looked at me and said, have you thought about maybe being a blonde? Maybe you should be a blonde for this role. Really I'm that far ahead? I've got my foot in. And I said, well that's so funny, I was thinking the same way. So we got a hairdresser in, she did some styling on my head with some blonde wigs and we took some photographs and that was it, I got the part. Shockingly, because I'm really bad in auditions. I don't like auditions. I don't work well in tests."

Addams Family Values
Addams Family Values

"The Addams Family" (1991)
On whether or not she was nervous taking on such a treasured pop culture institution: "No actually, I don't remember being that nervous about Morticia Addams. The mantel of Morticia seemed to come naturally to me since I guess I'd been an aficionado of the Charles Addams cartoon since I was 7. I loved the book of cartoons and I used to read it all the time in Ireland when I was growing up. [I would] pretend to be Morticia.

"I was just surprised they didn't ask Cher because I always thought Cher and Morticia would be a great match. So I was delighted, but it was so precisely written, the character was very clear-cut to me, so it was almost as though I was following in a path that had already been laid."

"Buffalo '66" (1998)
"Buffalo in the winter, yes, it's slightly daunting. But I liked that script a lot. And it thought the part was very amusing. Vince Gallo was an interesting young director. I thought that he had a great vision but that he had a little to learn about social interaction. [laughs]

Angelica Huston in The Royal Tenenbaums
Angelica Huston in The Royal Tenenbaums

"The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)
On entering Wes Anderson's universe in the first of three films of his she'd appear in, with "Life Aquatic" and "Darjeeling Limited" to follow: "It's a universe I'm happy to exist in. I love Wes and I loved that he loved me. There's a lot of mutual affection there. I love his vision. It's deceptively simple looking, but actually it's complicated. And Wes, for somebody who seems so, how can I say, it all seems to come very easily, and he seems to be very receptive and very tolerant, and not that forceful on the surface. I think Wes is one of the steelier people I know, one of the most intrepid people I know.

"It is very deceptive, because he looks like the guy that the muscle man kicks the sand in his face, but the interior of Wes is the muscle man. He has an extraordinary brain, a fantastic instinct, and knows precisely what he wants."

Anjelica Huston's memoir "A Story Told Lately" is available now.

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