Anne Archer has been one of Hollywood’s favorite on-screen wives. She played wife to Michael Douglas in “Fatal Attraction” for which she was nominated for an Academy Award®, a Golden Globe and the British (BAFTA). She was memorable as Harrison Ford’s wife in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” and won a Golden Globe for her performance in “Short Cuts.”
Archer's New York stage debut was as in the Off-Broadway production of John Ford Noonan's "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking.” Since then has appeared in "The Poison Tree" at the Mark Taper Forum as well as productions in Europe, including the London’s West End production of "The Graduate," for which she received rave reviews. She currently plays Jane Fonda in “Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion,” a new play written and directed by her husband Terry Jastrow, on stage at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.
Archer recently sat down with your reporter for an exclusive interview in the library at the Casa del Mar hotel, which has been edited for continuity and print purposes.
Cohn: A lot of folks don’t know that you are the daughter of wonderful Marjorie Lord who thrilled people as Danny Thomas’ wife on the iconic “The Danny Thomas Show.” What was your childhood like having such a famous mother?
Archer: I thought everybody knew that I am her daughter. She really became famous on “The Danny Thomas Show” when I was around 11. Before that, she was working a lot in theatre in New York and I would visit her when I could. It was a wonderfully artistic childhood because we always had theatre people in our house. Every Thanksgiving or Christmas, whoever was working in L.A. and couldn’t be home with his or her family, would be at our house for dinner. She understood what it meant to be out of town when the holidays hit.
Cohn: How’s she doing?
Archer: She’s in her 90s, very much alive and is still vibrant, young, and attractive. If you saw her you would think she’s about 72. She’s never taken any medications in her life. She came to the play during previews three or four times and gave me fantastic notes. I really depend on her a lot and call her every day to tell her how the show went. She’s got great advice and the mental acuity of a 20 year old. She’s phenomenal and very, very alive. The greatest thing I can say about my mother is that she’s perceptive, wise, and just a plethora of wisdom, which is what age does for you.
Cohn: Did you always want to be an actor?
Archer: I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment business. Like most young girls, I took ballet classes and singing and piano lessons. I would make up dance routines with my girlfriends. We would practice very seriously at 10, 11, or 12 and then perform in front of as many people as we could get to watch us. I majored in theatre arts at Claremont College and then started touring professionally in my last year of college and got my first film eight months after I graduated.
Cohn: Besides Claremont College, did you take any other acting classes?
Archer: An actor told me about an acting teacher by the name Milton Katselas and I wound up studying with him for seven or eight years. Then I went back to his master class about 10 to 15 years ago and studied with him another five years.
Cohn: Was he a disciple of Stanislavsky or the Lee Strasberg method of acting?
Archer: He certainly studied those methods at one point and probably utilized bits and pieces, but he wasn’t a strict follower. Every great teacher has his own way so he probably developed his own technique.
Cohn: Let’s talk about your play, “Jane Fonda in the Court of Public Opinion.” What is the genesis of the material?
Archer: My husband Terry was doing research on a screenplay he was writing about famous football game between the University of Arkansas and The University of Texas and came across this information that Jane Fonda spoke at the University of Arkansas on the Vietnam War and other social issues, like the Civil Rights and Feminist movements. During that time, he was a young man just out of college and went to work for ABC Sports. Because of his position, he hadn’t paid much attention to the war as he was living a glamorous life flying all around the world covering sporting events. Terry became fascinated with Jane’s story and did a great deal of research including going to Hanoi to retrace her steps. He talked to a number of former POW’s and the 26 vets that were at the meeting in Waterbury, Connecticut. He wrote a screenplay about her activism but realized that the material would communicate better as a play. He made the focal point the meeting in Waterbury when the town was trying to boycott the filming of “Stanley & Iris” which she was to co-star with Robert De Niro.
Cohn: Did you have to get permission from Miss Fonda to use her name?
Archer: No. Her activities are in public domain, but you can’t say anything that’s not true. She came to the house to meet with Terry. He was clear that he a right to do this play. It was a very pleasant meeting and she said that if there was no way she could talk him out of it because he had no idea of the firestorm he would be walking into, that she would give him a few names of people he could talk to. She told him her story of the meeting in Waterbury as best as she could remember it.
Cohn: What was the hardest part in developing such a well-known, controversial character?
Archer: It’s an ongoing process. First of all, she’s alive and famous, and still visible today. While her voice is recognizable, she doesn’t have an odd accent or a distinctive physical characteristic. I can’t imitate her voice because I’m not the kind of actor that does voices. I would say it’s finding her soul and getting her beingness - who she is on the inside, understanding her viewpoint, why she did what she did, and her childhood that made her the person who she is today. There’s a strength about her and she’s fearless and doesn’t care what people think or say because she’s been hit so many times that she’s at peace with herself and the good things she did, and takes responsibility for the mistakes that she made. So, I’m trying to walk in those shoes.
Cohn: You’ve worked with the biggest stars in Hollywood in the some of the most successful movies. What was it like working in a small Equity Waiver theatre?
Archer: For starters, we had to produce this ourselves, which is a financial commitment. There’s no one who takes care of your wigs and your hair or your wardrobe. It’s a lot more work. You have to wear all the hats at once. I like working in Equity theatre because you’re a little more cared for when you’re carrying the weight of the show, but, there’s another side of me that’s very fearless – that goes, man I’ll do everything. What do you want me to do? Get me the f@### vacuum and I’ll vacuum the dressing room. I’ll do whatever I have to do because I think I should be able to do everything. (laughs)
Cohn: What was the rehearsal process like?
Archer: It’s a mouthful for me and so emotional that rehearsals were very draining. But I fought the hardest to have the vets have their voices and their viewpoints heard. I knew the success of this piece would be in telling both sides of the story because that creates more drama and challenge for me as Jane. She wasn’t nervous when she went into that meeting in Waterbury because she knew if she could sit down face to face with the vets and air the issues, separate the lies from the truth, and have understanding on both sides, there might be a chance for healing. That’s the purpose of the play. We want it to be healing.
Cohn: Were you satisfied with the reviews?
Archer: Having the play reviewed may have been a mistake. A new piece of material has to be work shopped so that it can evolve and we’re still making changes based on valuable feedback. We hope to take it to New York when it’s ready.
Cohn: You’re married and have two adult sons. What was the most difficult part in combining career and family?
Archer: It was painful anytime I went away when my children were young. I would always try to make arrangements for them to come see me at least every three weeks, but sometimes I couldn’t, depending on where I was working. I did a play in New York for three months when my older son was only six and brought him there and put him a school. He was there for one week when a kid shut him in a locker. It was traumatic and he was so unhappy that I sent him home to be with his dad and his nanny. He was much happier at home than being in New York. It was very hard for me and very lonely. I think this problem exists for any woman whose work requires travel.
Cohn: When you look back at your body of work, was there one role that had a profound effect on you?
Archer: Obviously, “Fatal Attraction” certainly changed my life. It was so successful that it catapulted me into world attention. Making that movie was a happy experience – from the director Adrian Lyne to Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.
Cohn: How proactive should actors be in generating work?
Archer: I would say after all these years, and looking at my own mistakes, the most important thing, especially with the way the business is today, is to try to create your own product. You can’t wait for your agent to get you a job or sit back and wait for someone to say, “I believe in you.” You need to find something that you care about and even if you do it on a small scale, the fact that you’re putting creative energy into something, you will get a pay off in some way and may find another approach to looking at yourself, your career, and the business. The business has changed, and it’s now all about accounting.
Cohn: Do you think women have a shorter career timeframe than men?
Archer: Oh yes. Look at all the great starring roles that men can play in their 50s and 60s and even their 70s. I would love to have film projects. I meet on things and it’s the same old story for women in my age bracket.
Cohn: Is there a woman who you especially admire?
Archer: Eleanor Roosevelt. She was one of the chief architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She headed the committee to form that document, which was adopted by the U.N. that laid out 30 articles of man’s basic rights. Countries were supposed to take that from the U.N. and give it the rule of law in each of their countries, and many countries have done it, and many countries have not. She’s a big role model for me and motivated me to start an organization called Artists for Human Rights and that’s one of the things my organization is fighting for – to get that document made into the rule of law in countries all over the world. I do salons at my home on different human rights issues and invite notable guests to speak.
Cohn: You look great. What’s your workout routine?
Archer: I do Pilates twice a week, which is about all I’m doing these days. For many years I did a basic 10-15 minute routine with weights and stretches that I sometimes do consistently and sometimes don’t. When I’m working, I’m consistent and prep well for a film or a role in the theatre and take very good care of myself and eat very carefully and slim down. When I’m not in something, I slowly creep up. You can always tell how long I’ve been out of work by how fat I get. (laughs) Before going into rehearsals with this play, I was looking a little matronly so I got strict about my eating – I eat very healthfully and don’t ever starve myself or do weird diets. I did when I was younger but I don’t believe in that anymore because you’re never able to maintain anything good doing that. So, I just avoid the starch and the sugar and weigh myself every day. I’ve gone done from 133 to 125 just in the course of the play. I look better and Jane has always kept herself very slender and that’s part of her persona, so in playing her, it’s important that I look the part.
Cohn: Do you have a sweet tooth?
Archer: I like really dark chocolate. One piece will suffice, thank God. I had a nutritionist tell me that I should have one piece of 72% dark chocolate every day because it’s so high in anti-oxidants that it’s good for you. So I eat it for medicinal purposes. (laughs)
Cohn: Thank you for ending this interview on such a sweet note.
Archer: Thank you. This has been fun.