“Call us Patti Squared,” says 51-year-old actress and activist Patricia Arquette with a bright smile as she settles into a couch alongside supermodel Patti Hansen, 63. The pair have been friends since 1999, when their mutual manager, Molly Madden, introduced them at the première of Bringing Out the Dead, Martin Scorsese’s thriller that starred Arquette and her then-husband, Nicolas Cage. Now, 20 years and many hangs later, the Patties are toasting their everlasting friendship over a bottle of cabernet.
PATTI HANSEN: I think the most badass thing about you, and the thing I really admire you for, is your activism. I can monetarily help a lot of people, but you really get your hands in the dirt. I remember back when I had the handbag company Hung on U, there were these beautiful pictures of you in Haiti passing the bags filled with supplies out to people ... and recently you were in Africa building toilets.
PATRICIA ARQUETTE: I have a nonprofit organization called GiveLove, and we do ecological sanitation. We started in Haiti, where we were supporting a school and installing toilets. We also did a feeding program. You and Molly [Madden] had that handbag line, so we did a collaboration and filled the bags with stuff like rape whistles and flashlights.
PH: How do you find the time to physically go and do all these things and also have so many film projects?
PA: [Laughs] Well, my boyfriend [artist Eric White] asks, “Why do you never sleep?” I sleep about four hours a night. I’m also currently working with Congress to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed, which is very exciting. Most people think the ERA passed in America, but not enough states ratified it. Recently two more states did — Nevada and Illinois — but we still have more work ahead. I just keep learning about these horrendous laws, like how in seven states women can be required to co-parent with their convicted rapists. We really need the ERA to pass, so women are legally considered equal.
PH: And you’re also involved in getting equal pay for women. Why is that so important to you?
PA: There are more single moms than ever before, and a lot of working moms who have two jobs and are still in poverty. Even when you have a college degree, you’re still not getting paid as much as men. I have so much to say about this! But what about you? You’re an advocate for autism awareness.
PH: My nephew is autistic. It used to be a rare disorder, but now one in 59 kids gets diagnosed with it, so I like to help how I can. I have spoken out about autism, but I’m not good at that, so I support more monetarily. My nephew is involved with this amazing place up in Ridgefield [Conn.], about 20 minutes from us, called the Prospector Theater. A wonderful woman opened it, and she employs people with special needs. And, hey, if there is ever a film you want to show there ... they show all the latest movies.
PA: That’s so awesome. What do you think is badass about your life?
PH: [Laughs] I guess being married to Keith [Richards, of the Rolling Stones]. When I was younger, I just thought of myself as a free spirit, but having that connection with Keith felt badass. I think what it really means is just being honorable and loving and a good friend.
PA: Well, I think it’s pretty badass that you tamed a wild beast like Keith Richards.
PH: Everybody says that, but I don’t know. I think we both came into each other’s lives at a really good time. Everyone thinks he was the bad guy, but he got me at 23, and I probably could have gone off the rails. Who knows? I grew up in a great family — we were all very respectful of each other, and I never wanted to disappoint them. But, you know, it was the ’70s and early ’80s! You can imagine ... He sort of tamed me!
PA: [Laughs] You found your mate. I’ve also found my perfect partner. We’re just so in love. I think being in love is really badass.
PH: It’s comforting. I think a lot of people are afraid to spend their whole lives with one person. Keith said to me, “I’ll only do this once. We don’t go into a marriage with the possibility of divorce.” He was very straight about that. As you know, it’s not easy. Sometimes you’re together, and other times you’re going different ways, but we have respect for each other. We’ve been married for 35 years and have been together for 40.
PH: I know! And I don’t even feel 40. I just love him. We were meant to be together. And we’re very compassionate and understanding and committed. And a sense of humor is important. Keith loves when he makes me laugh. He loves it. He keeps telling me the same jokes over and over. And I do still think he’s cute.
PA: I bet he thinks you’re cute too! You look so good — like a hot yoga teacher!
PH: I just want to be healthy. I bent over at the beach not that long ago and was like, “Oh my god! What happened to my skin?” My thighs, my knees, my stomach had all lost their elasticity. I thought, “If Jane Fonda can look so fricking amazing at 81, I’ve got to work on this.” So I started exercising again. I’m trying to make it a habit because I have no discipline. I bought the TRX for suspension training. I really want to do this for myself.
PA: I just came off two movies where I had to gain weight, and it felt really unhealthy. The number-one thing I have to do is quit smoking. It’s such a horrible habit. When I have time, I love hiking. These days I’m always driving in the car, or on the phone, or texting, or reading a script, or on my computer. But I think nature is really, really healing. I love being at the ocean, on the beach.
PH: I also love being on the beach and feeling that ocean spray.
PA: You grew up in New York, right? And you were the youngest of seven kids, so your mom must have been kind of a badass.
PH: My mom is definitely at the top of my list of badass women. She was one of seven too. She grew up in Brooklyn and looked like Jean Harlow. I wish I had her humor. She had that Brooklyn mentality and was so quick with her comebacks.
PA: My mom grew up in a Jewish family and went to college when she was 16. Her parents said to her, “Look, we only have money to cover your clothes and tuition for this semester. You have to find a husband by the end of the year.” But she ended up dating a non-Jewish person, and that was a big deal. She was really a seeker. She wanted to find her way and her truth. She raised us and battled breast cancer. I know you’ve had your struggles with cancer too. [Hansen is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and bladder cancer in 2007.]
PH: Yeah, people ask me, “Was it devastating?” And there were those moments when I had to sit down and make decisions, but I had to move on and get through it and help the family not to worry. I guess that helped me deal with it.
PA: What did you learn from your mom that you’ve taught your daughters? [Hansen and Richards have two daughters, Theodora, 34, and Alexandra, 33.]
PH: Unconditional love is definitely the most important thing. And no lying. I can’t stand liars. [Laughs] What about you with your kids? [Arquette has a daughter, Harlow Olivia, 16, from her marriage to actor Thomas Jane, and a son, Enzo, 30, from her relationship with musician Paul Rossi.]
PA: Unconditional love, for sure. My mom also never put on airs. She always accepted people and made friends with everyone and felt that everyone had something to contribute. She was the one who taught me about activism too.
PH: Let’s talk about your latest projects, like Escape at Dannemora. I love that Ben Stiller directed it. I recently watched Flirting with Disaster, which you also did with Ben. The relationship you have with him is so great. I really admire your openness to playing that role [of Tilly, an adulteress and prison tailor] in Dannemora.
PA: I was excited to play a woman who is unapologetically sexual, who doesn’t look like the typical movie version of that woman. It was exciting to be able to explore that and the idea that everyone wants love and to feel alive.
PH: And what about The Act? You play Dee Dee, a mother suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy who makes her daughter think she is really sick when she isn’t. How did you dive into that role?
PA: Dee Dee is another person who’s very complicated and not “likable,” but as an actor, it’s fun to move past that and work on seeing these characters as full human beings. But, yeah, this illness is really painful and a difficult thing to observe. Mental illness in America is so understudied. Her love was destructive and goes against most of our instincts as moms.
PH: It seems like films and TV shows are opening up for more women of all ages. Like Big Little Lies — I mean, I’m not in Hollywood, but to me it seems like there’s some seriously powerful shit going down right now.
PA: There are a lot of incredible actresses doing great work and new networks willing to let women have these good vehicles. Obviously, we need a lot more roles for women of color because we’re still behind in that respect, but it’s starting to catch up — a little more in television than in film. When I grew up, you really felt like you’d be forced into retirement by 50. But now I’m getting some of the best parts of my life.
PH: Yeah, that was the whole thing in modeling too. Your career was supposedly over after 22! But now work for older women is starting to happen.
PA: How did it feel going back to the runway in February? [Hansen closed Michael Kors’s fall 2019 show.]
PH: That was a great moment with Michael. He’s so sweet. It was such an honor to walk his show, and of course the theme was Studio 54, which was a lot of fun.
PA: Studio 54 is where you met Keith, right?
PH: Yeah. Isn’t that funny? I think he was hiding from John Belushi and Anita Ekberg. Keith didn’t really go to Studio 54, but he did that night. It was meant to be.
PA: Absolutely! Did you like walking the runway when you were younger?
PH: No, in the ’70s and ’80s it was a separate group of girls who did the runway. Calvin Klein was the one who decided that all the models he was working with for the magazines should also be on the catwalk, so we did our first runway show with him. But I wasn’t very good at it. I also wasn’t really comfortable in front of the camera.
PA: Really? I saw your beautiful Patti Hansen book. All these amazing photographers took pictures of you. What was that like?
PH: I have a different appreciation for it now. I can see the work that went into it by all the editors and photographers. Now I can actually wear the clothes, but at 18, 19, I was just a mannequin.
PA: If you had a magic wand and could grant your daughters badass qualities, what would you give them?
PH: To totally love their bodies. I mean, it’s still a thing to try to be perfect. Everybody’s always taking selfies. It drives me nuts! Self-worth is so important.
PA: Yeah, acceptance is key. Growing up, the first thing I wanted to do was be a mom and get married. I love cooking and making Easter baskets and organizing treasure hunts and stuff like that. But I also work for women’s empowerment, and a lot of people think that can’t be symbiotic with the homemaking aspects of being a woman. But l love all that, and I think there’s a space for both to occupy your life.
PH: How important are your female friendships?
PA: When I do get to see my best old, dear friends, I feel like I get so much from them and those relationships.
PH: You can tell those friends anything, right? All you have to do is pick up the phone and you’re right there. It’s the best.
PA: The best. I’m going to call you!
PH: Call me anytime.
Photographed by: Paul McLean/LGA Management. Styling: Alicia Lombardini. Hair: Dennis Gots/Oribe/The Wall Group. Makeup: Jenna Anton/Ilia Beauty/Forward Artists. Manicure: Ashlie Johnson/The Wall Group. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions.
Lead image credits: On Arquette: Stella McCartney coat. Dolce & Gabbana blouse. Isabel Marant trousers from Neiman Marcus. Chopard earrings. Verdura brooch. On Hansen: Simone Rocha coat. Max Mara turtleneck. Stella McCartney trousers. Gaspar Gloves by Dorothy Gaspar gloves. Chanel Fine Jewelry ring. Buccellati bracelet and ring.
For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 19.