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Anjelica Huston Takes Center Stage

December 26, 1987|RODERICK MANN

Her notices for "The Dead,"--the last film directed by her father, John Huston--are the kind Anjelica Huston could well have written herself but, having no great ego to burnish, would not have.

But they do reflect what many critics now agree upon--that after years of waiting in the wings, she is finally in the spotlight, center stage.

For 20 years she seemed to do little except appear in small roles ("The Last Tycoon," "The Postman Always Rings Twice") and an occasional dud ("Ice Pirates"). There was one stage appearance (the L.A. production of "Tamara").

Sometimes it seemed as if the disaster of her father's movie "A Walk With Love and Death," in which she starred at 15, would dog her forever.

But if he had helped crumble any acting ambitions she might have had as a teen-ager, he made up for it when he cast her in "Prizzi's Honor," a role that earned her last year's Academy Award as best supporting actress. And in his last movie, "The Dead," John Huston gave her the chance to truly make her mark.

"I'm proud of it," she said the other day, sitting on a hotel sofa, managing to seem both regal and cozy at the same time. "But it was a tough movie to make. Everyone knew this was probably my father's last film. And I wasn't well--mononucleosis; not an entertaining disease."

Huston, who died this year, stayed with the movie right through editing.

That, according to his daughter, was unusual. "So often he would just disappear after shooting was completed," she said. "That's because he shot so economically that there weren't many ways to cut his work. It was rare for him to sit through editing. But on this one he did." A small smile. "Probably because he was unable to walk away" (wracked with emphysema, he spent his last months in a wheelchair).

Her father's death, though long expected, stunned her. She was just 17 when her mother, ballerina Ricky Soma, was killed in a car crash in France. "If death shocks you that early in your life, you're apt to carry an awareness of it with you always. Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about it. But it's still hard for me to come to terms with my father's death."

Aware, at 36, of nature's clock ticking, she says she would like a child now. "Not just to prolong the strain or anything like that; just because I would like to have a child. Obviously it would be preferable to have one within the context of marriage."

Her father had hoped she would marry Jack Nicholson, with whom she has been linked--on and off--since she was 21. He would joke that her relationship with Nicholson had lasted longer than his five marriages put together. "My father loved Jack," she said simply.

Seeing Nicholson in his new movie "Ironweed" disturbed her, she said. In it he plays an alcoholic.

"I think of Jack as being there when the world crumbles," she said. "To see him in a role in which he's on his way to ruin upset me very much. I found it deeply disturbing."

Nicholson was delighted when she won an Oscar for her work in "Prizzi's Honor," in which he starred.

Did the award change things for her?

"Before, I had to look for parts; now it's a little easier," she said. "But I'm still having to prove myself. Three days after I got the Oscar I read for 'The Witches of Eastwick.' I lost the role to Cher."

She has two movies awaiting release--"Mr. North," adapted from Thornton Wilder's "Theophilus North," and "A Handful of Dust," based on Evelyn Waugh's novel.

"They're just small parts," she said. "But good ones." She laughed. "In an interview recently Tony Curtis said it's better to play small roles when you're doing well because then you don't notice them getting smaller later on."

What she hopes to do now is find the financing for the Maria Callas story, based on the book by Arianna Stassinopolous. She will star, and hopes to get Ken Russell to direct.

She never met Callas, though her father did.

"At one point he had hoped to persuade her to be in his movie 'The Bible,' " she said. "I remember when my brother, Tony, and I were quite small children, he came in and told us he was going to have dinner with Callas. He asked our advice on how he should behave during dinner.

" 'Don't sing,' I told him. 'Don't drink,' my brother said.

"He related this to Callas at dinner. 'Oh,' she said, 'do you sing?' 'Only when I drink,' said my father."

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