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PROFILE : The Amy Chronicles : After years in the shadow of her parents, not to mention ex-husband Steven Spielberg, Amy Irving is now secure in her own identity. 'I've never been so alive,' says star of Arthur Miller's new play, 'Broken Glass'

April 17, 1994|PATRICK PACHECO | Patrick Pacheco is a regular contributor to Calendar who lives in New York. Judy Brennan, a regular contributor to Calendar, contributed to this article

Irving got the chance to join the company, which also includes Ron Rifkin and Frances Conroy, in December when she received a copy of the play at the Santa Monica home she shares with Barreto, 4-year-old Gabriel, 8-year-old Max and Helena, Barreto's 17-year-old daughter by a previous marriage. Since Miller was not familiar with Irving's theater work, the producers were keen for her to fly to New York to audition for the playwright.

"I wanted to hate this play," Irving says, alluding to the disruptions that doing the play would visit on her family. "But then I read it. I showed it to my mother (actress Priscilla Pointer) and she said, 'Go. Do it. Your family will survive.' "

On a December morning just after seeing a private screening of "Schindler's List," Irving flew to New York and auditioned. "How do you know this woman so well?" Miller asked of Irving after she had read the first scene of the play. Although she quickly won the part, there was still some question among the creative team as to whether Irving could pull it off. Makeup, after all, could only fade her beauty so much.

"They were all concerned," Irving says. "But I've had a lot of experience in my life. I have a lot to draw on. It's not just the obvious marriage f---ups. It's a lot of, you know, growing up . . . loss, whether it's through death, career disappointments, marriage failures. I've spent a lot of time exploring very strong issues with my father, very strong issues with Steven, very strong issues with my husband (she calls Barreto her husband, though they are not legally wed). I've had very intense relationships all along the way, and they've all, in one way or another, involved a loss of identity. I can't be more specific than that."

"Amy's a very complicated person," says Rifkin, who plays her husband in the drama and recommended her for the role. "There are a lot of layers to her. And the more you get to know her, the more layers you discover underneath those layers. She has the maturity that comes from knowing that life is full of surprises, some of them pleasant and some of them painful. Like any good actor, she can translate those deep feelings into her work. I think she's a lot more like Sylvia than anybody thought."

Irving struggled for her own identity from early on, as the daughter of Pointer and her husband, distinguished director Jules Irving. Irving's paternal grandfather was a Russian Jewish immigrant, and she says she has drawn on that heritage to create the Jewish characters she has played in "Crossing Delancey," "Yentl" and now "Broken Glass."

She was reared a Christian Scientist, however, and the family observed no religious customs or traditions.

"I'm not an advocate of organized religion," she says resolutely. "I really leave my children's religious education to their fathers. Max gets his sense of Jewishness from Steven; Gabriel gets his Catholicism from Bruno."

The altar in the Irving household was the stage. Along with her brother, David, now a film director and teacher, and her sister, Katie, who works with deaf children in Santa Fe, N.M., Irving literally grew up in the theater.

"I can't imagine a more wonderful way of growing up," she says of her youth, spent first in San Francisco, where her father headed the prestigious Actor's Workshop, and then in New York, where he was appointed director of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater. Pointer was a leading member of her husband's repertory of actors.

"Instead of using baby-sitters, Mama would put us in the front row where she could watch us from the stage," Irving recalls. "My father was an amazing artistic director, and the values of the Actor's Workshop were special. It was about the work, not money or fame. Things were very disillusioning when I got out into the real world."

After studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and the American Conservatory Theatre, Irving worked in the competitive arena of Los Angeles theater, where actors kept one eye cocked for a spot on "Starsky and Hutch." Despite her dismay at the bald ambition, Irving initially thrived in that environment. She was soon making a splashy film debut in Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976), which she followed with the director's "The Fury" (1978).

"The most shocking thing to me was that talent or training had little or nothing to do with it," Irving says. "The reason people were working was because they were a type or a look. I couldn't really complain, because my career was happening as fast as I might've wanted it to. Working with De Palma was great--completely strange --but great."

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