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Q&A

Hayley Mills: 'Back Home' With Disney

June 03, 1990|Susan King

Hayley Mills was one of the top child stars of the '50s and '60s. She made her film debut in 1959 opposite her father, John Mills, in the classic British drama, "Tiger Bay." Put under contract by Walt Disney the following year, she came to Hollywood to start in numerous hit films for the stupid including "Pollyanna," for which she won a special Oscar, "The Parent Trap" and "That Darn Cat."

Mills is now back home at Disney. She stars in the new Disney Channel drama, "Back Home," which premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. Mills plays the mother of a 12-year-old daughter named Rusty who was evacuated from England and sent to America during World War II. When Rusty returns home after the war, Mills must help her very American daughter adjust to life in post-war England.

Mills, the 44-year-old mother of two teen-age sons, was interviewed by Susan King.

"Back Home" is an intriguing subject for a movie. I don't think a lot of people know that European children were evacuated to American during World War II.

I don't think it's common knowledge. But not many children were evacuated to America from the British Isles. Most children were just sent into the country, where they were considered safer from the bombing. Some people thought England could well be conquered by the Nazis so that's why they sent their children to America.

Is that why Rusty was evacuated?

We don't go into why she was sent to America. It was just the opportunity for a really good lifestyle totally free from the austerities and the rationing and the limitations of life the war imposed upon England.

There was very little in a way of the best kinds of food--things that one takes for granted now like orange juice, milk and meat. I am sure if I had been in that situation I would nothave evacuated my children, but not doing it, parents must have felt a terrible dilemma and very selfish to keep them.

Some children were very happy in their new homes; some had horrible experiences. The little girl in the movie was very lucky and had a wonderful experience and didn't want to leave. That was the danger.

In "Back Home," it's clear the mother and daughter had one of those relationships which were not terribly close before she left. She was 7 when she left, and between 7 and 12 a child changes quite a lot and they become a very independent-minded little person. In this case, she becomes an American really and identifies with the lovely life there. The England that Rusty returns to is the old world and an old world that is coping with the aftermath of the war.

When you came over to America to do the Walt Disney films, was it hard for you to go back to England?

Life wasn't like it was in the movie "Back Home" for me. I was more fortunate.

But being a child star in America was quite different than being one in England.

Quite different. As far as my own life was concerned going over to America was a most wonderful holiday. It was like going to Disneyland. There was never very much difference in my mind between the two. America was a playground and everything was larger than life. The sun was always shining and the cars were always clean and shiny and everyone said, "You're welcome."

It was rows and rows of comics, ice cream sundaes and endless channels on the TV. I was very well looked after. All I was expected to do was learn my lines and get on the set. Of course, when I came back to England I came back to reality and had to go to boarding school and behave myself and not wash my hair for a week.

Not wash your hair for a week?

Right. Boarding school had funny rules. By the end of the week, it was sort of stuck to your head. You had to get a letter from your doctor saying that for medical reasons this child has to have her hair washed more than once a week and then you go to wash it twice a week.

I don't know if we were saving the water, or if it was too much of a bother because all the girls had their hair down long.

Besides airing "Back Home," the Disney Channel is also showing your classic 1965 comedy, "That Darn Cat." Are you amazed those films are still so popular with both youngsters and adults?

Yes, I am, quite frankly. It says a lot for the staying power of the movies, doesn't it? The ones where all the ingredients come together and they really work, you can go on showing them and they don't seem to be too incredibly old-fashioned.

Some movies I have done I hope never get shown again. Don't ask me which ones, that would be quite disloyal. But you do know what I mean. Some are good for one viewing and that's it.

As far as "That Darn Cat" goes, there are some hysterically funny moments in that film, and I think you wait for those moments to come back.

Do you remember when he (Dean Jones) is chasing the cat in the drive-in? It's a wonderful moment. He's jumping on the roofs of the cars chasing the cat and he jumps into an open car and goes through the roof. All of that stuff is wonderful slapstick.

Are your two sons following in your footsteps?

Who knows, really. My 13-year-old loves acting, but he loves all sorts of things as well--the saxophone, cricket and animals. He had a little part in "Back Home." His name is Ace, and he plays the brother of the boy who befriends Rusty. He was introduced on camera by the brother and Ace looked up and said, "How do you do?" The director said, "That's not in the script; don't speak." He looked at me and said, "Mum, if someone introduces me, I say something."

I have an older son, Crispian, and actually we just got back from the Cannes Film Festival last night. Crispian and I and my father were promoting a family project.

You're going to do a film together?

Yes. It's my father, my son, my sister (Juliet) and my brother-in-law Maxwell Caulfield. It's a slightly black comedy called "The Last Straw." It's a script written by my brother, so it's incredibly nepotistic, but that's the way it goes.

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