Anjelica Huston, Oscar winner for "Prizzi's Honor" (1985), is not only known her talent but also for the powerful men in her life. Among them was her father, Oscar-winning director John Huston, and Jack Nicholson, the Oscar-winning actor with whom she had a 17-year relationship. She was born in California in 1951, and soon afterward her father moved the family to Ireland, where they lived in a country estate in Galway until her parents separated. Her mother moved them to London but was killed in a car accident when Ms. Huston was 17. In 1992, she married sculptor Robert Graham Jr. He died in 2008.
The actress, 60, is working on her memoirs. You can see her at 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC's "Smash," in which she plays a Broadway producer going through a contentious divorce and trying to get financing for "Marilyn the Musical."
You don't have to say if you will or will not, but do you want to sing on "Smash"?
Well, um, wow. Yeah, I guess I want to sing. You know, I think it's just a matter of whether or not I think people want to hear me sing [laughs].
Did your lineage ever feel like a burden?
When I was in my teens and I wanted it to all be about me, I think it got in my way a little bit. I wanted a sort of autonomy on my life, and it seemed to me that, you know, I was being expected to live up to something that I didn't necessarily feel should be part of my life.
You felt like you had no choice but to be in the family business.
Yes, I did feel that way. I was also kind of reluctant to accept what I thought were handouts, you know, charity because I was a Huston, when it came to parts and stuff like that. I wanted to earn my own way. I wanted to do it my way.
Your life has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. Did you find work to be a kind of sanctuary through the sad times?
Yes, and I think it became very clear to me, even in my 20s, that work is something that really is all about you. It's all about what you have to put out in the world. It's the one thing that nobody else really has a right to criticize. I mean, obviously my work is criticized, but the right to work and the impulse behind it always seemed to me that was a very individual choice as to what you did and the way that you did it. ... You know, as soon as I walk onto a set, it can be about the other actors and obviously everyone who is involved in a production, but what I bring to it is uniquely mine.
I understand you are writing your memoir. Looking back, does it feel like you've had multiple lifetimes?
At least nine. Very much so. There was my early life in Ireland, and then there was my life in England. Then life post my mother's death in '69, when I came to New York and lived here. Then there was my departure and removal to Los Angeles, where I lived for 17 years with Jack Nicholson. Then there was my sort of emergence as an actress in my own right. Then there were various other smaller lives, and then there was my marriage. Now there is this sort of period where I've been in New York post my husband's death (three years ago). It's another new sort of door opening.
You could have been defined by all these powerful men in your life, especially your dad and Jack Nicholson.
Well, I am defined by them, but I'm grateful to be defined by them. The only reason Jack and my father look big is they were more public than, for instance, my husband. But all of them have defined me, and I hope I've left my imprint on them.
In other interviews, you have said your father could be very critical, and on top of that your mother died when you were just 17. Those circumstances could paralyze someone with insecurity. Was that an issue for you?
Well, I was very insecure but also very headstrong, which is a bit of a troublesome dichotomy [laughing]. I'm shy and gregarious. It sort of depends on which -- I won't even say day you find me on -- because it's a bit more mercurial than that even. But I think it is one of the reasons why I think acting is a good profession for me, because I've always had laughter under the tears and tears under the laughter. I have a facility for that, and it's kind of the way I am, you know, sort of the way my personality seems to unfold. My character seems to be planted in two worlds at the same time -- two emotional worlds at the same time, at least [laughing].
Have you ever used your considerable skill as an actress to your advantage in real life?
You know, real life is the one place I don't like to act because acting in real life feels like a lie. You have to be very, very careful. When I was a kid I would lie. I was sort of prone to it, prone to a certain level of dishonesty [laughs]. You know, a parent would ask you, "Did you do ..." and I would reply, "Yes." It was mostly because I didn't. I was lazy about certain things. I just didn't want to really engage. It was the easy way. But I don't advocate it. It's not a good thing.
You seem to always have found a way to move forward. Do you have any regrets personally or professionally?
Well, tons of regrets, but you have to realize that at the times where you made those decisions -- and sometimes they were bad decisions -- but it was for a reason. Whatever that reaction was, sometimes many years forward you think: What on Earth was on my mind when I did that? I think the point is to forgive yourself and go on. Some people need a church to forgive themselves or a God to forgive themselves, but I think somewhere it is in all of us to allow ourselves that forgiveness and that possibility to absolve ourselves from our sins, our misdemeanors, our crimes. Hopefully, we learn from them and do better.
Do you believe in life after death?
I believe in something after death. I am not sure if it is life.
Well, you have a lot of people to meet in the afterworld.
I hope so, I truly do. Some people I feel are out there, and some people I feel are a bit farther above, a bit farther on. I'm not quite sure if it is something we can describe as life. But I think something goes on. Otherwise where does -- when I think about my husband who was so full of character and who was so full of knowledge and accomplishment -- where does that go? That goes somewhere. That just doesn't dissipate into thin air. Of course the more we know about the thin air, the more we know it is full of molecules and light and speed and sound. Whatever becomes of us, I think we turn into matter of some kind.