Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Diane Lane

A stage veteran before she made her first films as a teenager, Diane Lane landed on the cover of TIME magazine in a 1979 profile of rising child stars. Few of those featured, however, were as lucky as Lane in making the transition to adult roles, and while her career has had the requisite peaks and valleys, she has continued to land challenging and diverse roles ranging from a frontier prostitute in the acclaimed miniseries "Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1989) to sexually awakening Jewish housewife of "A Walk on the Moon" (1999) to her Oscar-nominated turn as a straying wife in the provocative "Unfaithful" (2002) .

The only daughter of parents who split within weeks of her birth, the petite blonde Lane was raised by her father in NYC. By the age of six, she had begun her showbiz career in earnest with a role in "Medea" staged by the famed LaMaMa theater company. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Lane amassed numerous stage credits, including a world tour with LaMaMa and in various productions at the New York Shakespeare Festival (most notably Elizabeth Swados' "Runaways"). While she was deemed inappropriate model material, the poised, attractive teenager quickly made the transition to films. Her breakthrough role came in "A Little Romance" (1979), as a precocious American girl who experiences first love with an equally gifted French boy, abetted by an eccentric Englishman. That she shared screen time with Laurence Olivier and proved a strong and engaging presence helped propel her career and made her the "It girl" of the moment.

Lane capitalized on her growing fame with TV-movies (e.g., "Miss All-American", CBS 1982) and the femme lead opposite Matt Dillon in a pair of films adapted from S E Hinton novels, "The Outsiders" and Rumble Fish" (both 1983), both directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The helmer has admitted to being infatuated with the starlet which is a possible explanation for his hiring her to co-star with Richard Gere in the ill-fated "The Cotton Club" (1984). A sprawling would-be epic, the movie suffered greatly from the lack of chemistry between Gere and Lane (although she looked fabulous in the period clothing) as well as from her miscasting--at 18, she was clearly too young to play a world-weary gangster's moll who tempts a musician into an affair. It didn't help her career, either, when she declined the part of the mermaid in "Splash" in favor of portraying a rock star diva in Walter Hill's muddled musical "Streets of Fire" (also 1984).

After a hiatus to regroup, Lane attempted to forge a screen persona but the fickleness of Tinseltown reduced her to appearing in drivel like "Lady Beware" (1987), She did have a moderately good turn as a stripper opposite Matt Dillon in the noirish "The Big Town" (also 1987), but few saw the flick in its theatrical release. One of her best 80s roles came on the small screen as the prostitute who accompanies a group of men on a cattle drive in the award-winning adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel "Lonesome Dove".

Despite her fine work and an Emmy nomination, good follow-up roles failed to materialize in the early 90s. Lane co-starred as the daughter of a man who may have been a Nazi sympathizer in the 1990 HBO drama "Descending Angel" and made the most of her limited screen time as Paulette Goddard in Richard Attenborough's reverent biopic "Chaplin" (1992). Once again television provided a pair of fine roles: as the young version of the titular "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" (CBS, 1994) and as Stella to Alec Baldwin's Stanley Kowalski in a remake of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (CBS, 1995). In between, the actress attempted to raise her international stock by hitching on to Sylvester Stallone's renown, but the resulting film, "Judge Dredd" (1995) was a dismal mess. A reteaming with director Walter Hill as a luminous woman from the past of "Wild Bill" (also 1995) showcased her gifts but that film proved a box-office disappointment as well. Lane slowly rebounded as the mother of a boy with a rare genetic disease that aged him rapidly (and turned him into Robin Williams!) in "Jack", directed by Francis Ford Coppola and by playing a competent Secret Service agent in the thriller "Murder at 1600" (1997).

The 1969-set indie "A Walk on the Moon" (1999), Tony Goldwyn's directorial debut, however, allowed her to fully realize her screen potential. As a vaguely unhappy Jewish wife and mother who embarks on an affair, Lane earned some of the best reviews of her career and rejuvenated her standing in Hollywood. She subsequently began the millennium co-starring opposite Bill Pullman in the TV remake of "The Virginian" (TNT, 2000) and portrayed Mark Wahlberg's land-bound girlfriend in "The Perfect Storm" (2000). Even as audiences were growing ever aware that her acting abilities were equal to her enduring beauty, she still found herself cast in relatively minor roles in films of varying quality, from the terrific such as "My Dog Skip" (2000) to the terrible, like the thriller "The Glass House" (2001).

Finally, in 2002 Lane was cast in a role that perfectly showcased her remarkable talents when she took the lead in "Unfaithful," director Adrian Lyne's psychological and often erotic look at a mature woman who has no reason to upset her happy home life but nevertheless embarks on a torrid affair with a young lover that ultimately results in tragedy. Lane's sensual, natural and conflicted performance--better, actually, than the movie itself--won her heaps of accolades, including an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, and marked a new high point in her career.

At last established as a bankable leading lady, Lane's follow-up was the lighter-weight romantic comedy "Under the Tuscan Sun" (2003), based on the popular book by author Frances Mayes, in which Lane played a 35-year-old San Francisco writer who makes an impulsive home purchase in Tuscany and discovers romance as she renovates her dilapidated new house.

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