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Fatale Attraction: Anne Archer

Actress Anne Archer has it all: elegance, sophistication, wit, a wonderful family, and a taste for fine cigars.
By Paul Chutkow | From Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
Fatale Attraction: Anne Archer

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Anne Archer has no liking for Hollywood flash or glitz. She and her husband, businessman/TV producer Terry Jastrow, live in a quiet, rustic corner of Brentwood, on a country lane surrounded by ranch houses, stables, horses and trails leading back into the wilds of a large canyon. From the outside, their house has the look and feel of a lovely country cottage, such as you might find in the south of France or on a hillside in Tuscany. A high wooden fence surrounds their yard; in front there is a simple wooden gate. When it opens, there is Henry, Archer's devoted white Labrador, greeting a guest with nothing more menacing than a warm slobber to the wrist.

The day before, at lunch in Beverly Hills, Archer was dressed to kill, in a smart designer suit, her hair freshly styled, her makeup just so. She looked ready to audition for a role as a high-powered '90s businesswoman. Not today. On her home turf, she's kicked back and comfy, dressed in black slacks, a gray polo shirt and a hooded black sweatshirt. Her hair's a bit mussed and she's wearing almost no makeup. Which only accentuates her stunning natural beauty and the intelligence in her eyes.

By Hollywood standards, Archer has performed what amounts to a miracle. In Fatal Attraction, she played Michael Douglas' betrayed yet understanding wife, earning an Academy Award nomination in the process. In two Tom Clancy blockbuster hits, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, Archer won popular acclaim as Harrison Ford's savvy, all-enduring wife, balancing her career as an eye surgeon with the difficult demands of being married to a CIA agent being hunted by Irish terrorists and Colombian drug lords. In Robert Altman's Short Cuts, in which Archer's character worked as a clown, the actress revealed a gift for quirky, offbeat comedy that made you wish Ernst Lubitsch and Cary Grant were still around.

Through these performances, Archer has established herself as one of the most respected--and classiest--actresses in the movie business. Remarkably, she has done so without becoming known in the business as an egomaniacal pain-in-the-arse prima donna. Even more remarkably, Archer has managed to maintain a happy, enduring marriage and a stable family life for her two sons, Tommy, now an adult, and Jeffrey, 11. She's even a devoted hockey mom who hauls her younger son off to games at 5 a.m. So when we settled into her den to talk about her life, her work and her love of fine cigars, one question was uppermost in my mind:

How in heaven's name has Anne Archer managed to have it all in the crazy world of Hollywood without losing her balance, her dignity or her sense of humor?

"It's in the genes," she says with a laugh. "My mother started out on Broadway at the age of 17. My father was also in the theater in New York and later made movies. So I learned some hard lessons about Hollywood when I was still very young."

As Archer talks, it becomes evident that she had a delightful, somewhat tumultuous childhood and an upbringing that admirably prepared her for the capriciousness of Hollywood, the inevitable highs and lows of an acting career and the cruel dilemmas that the movie business reserves for beautiful women with minds of their own. These days, Archer sometimes feels a bit trapped; she is tired of being typecast as "the good wife." As the accompanying photos make clear, she has a whole other side, a sexy, daring side that urges her to kick aside that good wife image and sprawl out on tables in the most fetching sort of way. This is the serious actress looking for growth, this is Archer's artistic streak searching for fresh oxygen and stimulus. It is a search that, like her grandmother and her mother before her, she knows only too well.

"My grandmother always wanted to become an actress," Archer says. "She was eccentric, volatile, mischievous and full of fun." She was also very beautiful and a talented dancer; by the age of 18 she was giving dancing lessons in San Francisco and performing in clubs under the stage name of Billie Lyon. At one critical moment in her young life, Archer's grandmother got on a train to Los Angeles, to see a Hollywood agent. This was a radical, rebellious act for a young woman of her generation, and on the way south, she was overcome with fear and guilt. Reaching Los Angeles, she turned around and came straight home, without ever seeing the agent. Her acting dreams ended right there.

Archer's mother, actress Marjorie Lord, had a similar dream, and she was not about to be deterred by fear, guilt or anything else. She started dancing lessons at the age of three, threw herself into the world of art and, at 16, left home bound for New York and Broadway and determined to see her name in lights. She made a name for herself in the New York theater and met and married John Archer, a dashing young actor who had several lead roles on Broadway before going to Hollywood to make movies. Anne was born a few years later, in 1947. But the strains of maintaining a household with two working actors proved to be crippling; Anne's parents divorced when she was only four.

"My mother was always in a show and on the road a lot. We communicated by letter. But we remained deeply attached," Archer says. The demands of her mother's acting career meant that Anne and her older brother, Gregg, were often left in the care of their grandmother. "She really raised us," Archer says. "Mom played the father role. Grandma was Mom."

At a very early age, Archer made up her mind that she, too, would become an actress. "I think I stated it pretty clearly at about age six," Archer recalls. "I was in a totally artistic world. I was putting shows together [for family and friends], performing, learning songs, playing the piano. I lived for ballet. I took dance class everyday. At one point, I thought I wanted to be a ballerina."

Through a hit play on Broadway, Archer's mother came to the attention of comedian Danny Thomas, the creator and star of Make Room for Daddy, one of the most popular shows in the then-emerging field of television. Actress Jean Hagen originally played Thomas' wife on the show, but when she stepped down, Lord took over--in what began as a big break and wound up as something of a curse. She had a great seven-year run in the role and became a beloved figure in millions of households across America. But in a cruel Hollywood irony, her success as Thomas' wife wound up stifling her career and her development as an actress.

"It restricted my whole career," Lord says in a telephone interview. "It very quickly happens that people start to typecast you as a wife. And because I was so identified with Danny, after I left the show many actors refused to have me as their wife on screen or on TV. I was very disappointed with the way my career went after the Danny Thomas show. But the theater was my salvation and I began to see different values in life. Maybe there was a big hand watching over me, seeing to it that I didn't have too much success."

For young Anne, watching her mother's career hit a wall was a harsh lesson about an actor's life and about the fickle nature of the Hollywood powers-that-be--a lesson that helped armor Archer for her own career as an actress. "In acting, 99 percent of the time you're rejected," Archer says. "And people in this town drop you flat when you're no longer hot. I saw that happen to my mother. I saw how superficial the town was. There were some hard years there for my mother. And I swore I'd never think I had it made. You really have to be prepared for the ups and downs of this business."

Still, despite the many problems she saw her mother and grandmother encounter, Archer was irresistibly drawn to actors and their unconventional lives. "When I grew up, holidays were the time to invite all the lost souls to the house for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Every actor who was on the road and not going home came to our house for dinner, and we sort of took care of everybody." It was during such festive occasions that Archer came to a realization:

"The artists are the special people. You could see their faults and you could see their egos. But they brought a fresh take to every moment. They brought energy and humor and variety. They just weren't your average people; they don't live life like everyone else. Theater people are just more fun, more eccentric, in a really heartwarming way."

So Archer threw herself into the pursuit of her dream. She worked on singing, on playing the piano; in the privacy of her room she would become Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady, complete with the English accent. By the age of 12 she was doing her own renditions of nightclub torch songs. Her pals at school in Los Angeles became swept up by rock and roll, but Archer's heart was in a different time, to a different beat.

"I loved the blues. I liked the minor chords. Everything I played was always minor chords. I just loved that sound. It was my sound. My friends talked constantly about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but that just wasn't my world. I was listening to Billie Holiday, old Sinatra, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson--and I loved Nat King Cole."

When Archer was 11, her mother married a San Francisco theater producer named Randolph Hale, who would later open Los Angeles' first theater in the round. But the mainstay of Archer's existence remained her mother. Lord encouraged Archer in her singing, acting and piano playing, but also conveyed the importance of keeping her values straight and balancing her acting ambitions with the more important and lasting things in life, such as family.

"I preached that to her," Lord says. "I always felt that who you are as a human being is more important than success in the theater or whatever people see up there on the marquee. At one point I remember saying to her, 'You know, my dear, you have to learn to live a full life. Otherwise, you won't have anything to bring to the theater.'"

By the time she was a teenager, Archer had heard the message loud and clear. "All I wanted was to grow up and have a relationship and be loved by somebody. And be a big, successful actress and a great actress at the same time. I was a kid daydreaming. Creating fantasies. And it really started making me nuts at about age 12. That's puberty. Your hormones are talking, but you gotta sit it out for about eight more years. As a result, I was a very unhappy girl in high school. I was confused. I paid lots of attention to boys--and yet there were no boys in my life."

But nothing derailed her ambitions, or her dreams. After she graduated from Marlborough High School in Los Angeles, Archer remained in Southern California and went to private colleges, taking classes at Pitzer College and working in the Scripps theater department. She threw herself into her acting classes and participated in all the school plays and productions. Toward the end of her years at Scripps, she fell in love. Hard.

"He was older, handsome, mysterious, from a very, very wealthy blue-blood family in Los Angeles, and he was extremely eccentric," Archer says. "In fact, he was a bit of a lunatic. But he loved history and culture and he opened up whole new worlds for me." After graduation, they got married, and Archer had her first son, Tommy. Right away she came to understand, in a more profound way, her mother's message about the difficulties inherent in trying to balance an acting career and a family:

"If I hadn't been married, I'd have gone to New York and tried to work in the theater," she says. Instead, with a husband and baby, Archer chose to stay in Los Angeles. Through her mother, she found an agent who sent her scripts and sent her out on interviews. She got her first big break almost immediately. In 1972, she read for Jon Voight and director Charles Eastman and got a lead role in The All-American Boy, a major picture. The movie bombed, but Archer was on her way.

Over the next several years, Archer did theater, some smaller movies and a bit of television, and she continued to study acting. Along the way, she worked with some of the most prominent leading men in Hollywood: William Holden, James Coburn, Sylvester Stallone and Ryan O'Neal and, in later movies, Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Sam Elliott and Joe Mantegna. Still, Archer was a woman divided.

"Most actresses went through a pretty wild fling of it for the first 10 years," she says. "And they were up and down with boyfriends and live-in relationships and a different kind of living. But I had this kid and from the moment he was born I just felt this huge change in me. I felt a woman of the world, I felt that I understood life and I felt permanently changed. I also felt very protective of my child. The word 'tigress' would definitely apply."

Archer ran into a problem: It was the 1970s and directors weren't looking for urbane, sophisticated women of the world. "The kind of movies I would have been ideally castable for were really made more in the 1940s--sophisticated comedies with sophisticated actresses and snappy dialogue. I had this womanly quality, but it just wasn't fashionable at that time," she says. "When I came on the scene, what was fashionable was that you had to take all your clothes off and expose your breasts, which I was extremely conservative about. In the '70s, that's what everybody did. And the kind of star, the quality that was looked for, was kookiness. You know, Goldie Hawn. Or you played a hippie and were very eccentric, like Karen Black."

There was another aspect to the problem as well: the curse of beauty in Hollywood, something Archer's mother and countless other actresses before and since have faced.

"You're pretty, and you thought it was your plus, your ace in the hole to get you in the door,'' Archer says. "But it was really the thing that kept you limited as an actress." As she explains it, the studios are always trying to wedge actresses into narrowly confined niches. "If you're pretty, you've gotta be a sexpot and take your clothes off. So they want to cast you as a hooker. Or you can play the elegant, untouchable one and still take your clothes off. By way of choices, that was about it. Or, of course, you could be like Farrah Fawcett. You know: furniture."

During these early years of her career, Archer was having her frustrations at home as well. After six years of marital ups and downs, she decided to call it quits. Ever seeking balance and harmony, Archer managed to make it an amicable split. Today, she says, she remains good friends with her ex-husband (whom she prefers not to name)and he remains an excellent father to their son.

In the months after the breakup, the last thing Archer was seeking was another relationship. But in her acting class she met an aspiring actor named Terry Jastrow. "We did scenes together and he looked upon me as sort of a--I don't want to say 'mentor,' that's not the word--but I was fully in the business and working all the time. And so I educated him about the business part of acting. I treated him as a friend."

One day, Jastrow told Archer that he was going up to Stanford University for a football game. He was going to do a little work there and he was inviting two others from the acting class, David and Cheryl Ladd, to come along. Would Archer like to come? Archer was not sure. Then the Ladds backed out and Archer made up her mind: "Terry was heartbroken, so I said, 'OK, I'll come.'"

Jastrow had mentioned he was doing some work for ABC Sports at the game and Archer assumed he was working as a gofer, just to make a little money to help pay for his acting classes. Once she arrived in San Francisco, however, she got quite a shock. "Terry has this guy pick me up at the airport and drive me to the stadium. I don't know what's going on. Then this guy takes me into this television truck and there's Terry directing the entire show. For the first time I saw he wasn't a gofer; he was the boss of the whole thing! It was hysterical."

What Archer soon learned was that Terry Jastrow was one of Roone Arledge's wunderkinder and one of the youngest directors in the history of ABC Sports. The young man she saw in that TV truck bore little resemblance to the tentative, fumbling young man she had seen struggling in acting class. "Terry was different now. He was control. In acting, he was sort of looking to me for what was going on. And now I was on his turf." They started dating, later moved in together, got married and several years later had a son, Jeffrey. They have been together 18 years, and with Jastrow, Archer says she has found the necessary balance for which she had long been searching.

"There used to be a joke at ABC: There were no red lights in Terry Jastrow's life. And it's true today. He can't fail. He just makes it so right. I'm probably sane today because of him. He's very enthusiastic, very dynamic." Jastrow is now president of Jack Nicklaus Productions, which handles the legendary golfer's many business ventures and also produces broadcasts of golf tournaments.

At one point, Jastrow was the producer for Howard Cosell's sports magazine show, "Sports Beat," on ABC, and Cosell introduced him to the joys of smoking fine cigars. Archer quickly took to sharing a cigar with Jastrow, usually after dinner and preferably in some lovely tropical place. "Cigarettes bother me," she says. "But cigars are different. You don't inhale, the tobacco is good, there are no chemicals and it's only an occasional thing. So I like it. It's a social, relaxing event for me, not something I turn into a habit."

As with a great wine, or a great Port, Archer believes "you have to pay a certain kind of homage to smoking a fine cigar." She and Jastrow are part of an informal group of aficionados who meet from time to time at cigar friendly restaurants around Los Angeles. In Jastrow's home office, they have installed a special ventilation system so he can smoke in comfort. Archer says she has only two rules about cigar smoking: "Not in the car or in the bedroom."

At holidays and birthdays, Archer often gives Jastrow cigar accessories, such as cutters and ashtrays. Once she gave him a picture of himself smoking a cigar. On another occasion she gave him an engraved silver cigar case. His favorite smoke: Montecristo No. 1. Archer prefers a smaller Montecristo. "There are other cigars I like better; I just can't get them here," she says with a laugh.

Archer says she never smokes alone; for her, enjoying a fine cigar is something social and convivial, and usually festive. "We're pretty much a cigar smoking group, at least the men are," she says. "I'm usually the only woman smoking. I'm just very comfortable with cigars; I always have been. It's relaxing, it tastes good, it's just very enjoyable. And I love to blow smoke rings!"

For Archer and Jastrow, cigars are often an important part of a night out in Los Angeles. They like to go to George Hamilton's wine and smoke shop, for instance, or have dinner at Drai's, one of their favorite local restaurants. The food is good, and after dinner, Drai's has a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a cigar, Archer says. Above all, though, smoking a cigar is something she likes to share with her husband. "Ninety-nine percent of the time I smoke a cigar, I smoke it with Terry," she says. "And we love to smoke outdoors in the evening; I especially enjoy it in a tropical setting like Hawaii or the Caribbean." The sea breezes, the wine, the cigar after dinner; now there's a formula for keeping a marriage young.

Living with Jastrow and her two sons, Archer has become accustomed to being the only woman in a world of males. "What happened to the ballet and cutting out paper dolls? I miss all that femininity a little bit," she says, "but I do enjoy being the only woman, too. Because you do get adored when you're the only woman in the family. You get a lot of attention and you don't have to share it with anybody!"

Being so feminine and yet so comfortable around men may well have had an important impact on Archer's career. When she read for the part of Michael Douglas' wife in Fatal Attraction, the producers and Douglas immediately saw the fit. Here was a woman who was smart, compassionate and very attractive, just the kind of wife Douglas' character would hate to lose. Working with Douglas, actress Glenn Close and director Adrian Lynne was the high-profile acting challenge Archer had spent so many years preparing for; being nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress was just icing on the cake.

"The time I was making Fatal Attraction were the happiest years of my life, without question," she says. "I'm my happiest in the actual moments of acting when it's going well. That's the happiest I ever feel. It's an aesthetic high that's better than sex. When the film was so recognized, and I got those accolades, that was a really fun time. And I don't think I realized how rare it is; I took it in stride. I see now that those are rare moments in life."

Then came the Clancy movies. Archer took what might have been a minor character and brought depth and intelligence to her role as the wife of CIA agent Jack Ryan, played by Harrison Ford. "I knew Harrison and I would be dynamite together," Archer says. "I knew that on the screen we would really look like a couple." But playing the role twice, she also knew the danger: The role could stamp her indelibly--and destructively--as the good wife, just as her mother had been stamped as the wife of Danny Thomas.

"I knew it could be death and it was exactly as I predicted," she says. "I got a lot of attention from those Clancy movies, but they really stamped me deeper into that mold." Some of the attention she got, though, was especially welcome. Gregg Archer, a pilot with Delta Airlines, had always taken his sister's acting career rather lightly. But he and his pilot buddies are fervent Clancy fans and she says those two films made her a hero to them.

Robert Altman's Short Cuts gave Archer a welcomed break from playing the sympathetic wife, and so did Mojave Moon, a film she recently finished with Danny Aiello. It's a romantic picture in which Archer plays a naive dreamer living in a trailer camp in the California desert. "I call her my ice cream girl," Archer says. "She's sensual, tasty. And she has a Monroe quality about her, lovable yet a bit off-center. She'd just love to have somebody love her. And that happens in the movie."

Still, Archer yearns for more. "Women characters don't have to be only victims, prostitutes or wives. What about great stories about interesting people who just happen to be women? And now there's a new twist: putting women into roles where they have to behave like a man. We're missing the point. Let's just create a rich character who's had a rich experience."

At the close of the interview, as Archer and Henry get up to stretch, one wonders if Archer has been tempted to try her hand at writing the kind of sophisticated roles she would most like to play. She has shied away from the idea. In the early 1980s, she and Jastrow wrote, produced and starred in their own movie, Waltz Across Texas, and while she feels it was a worthwhile experience, she's not eager to try it again.

Still, one can hope. As articulate as she is and with such a wealth of insight into Hollywood, actors and the perils of beauty, one can picture Archer writing a wonderful screenplay. Perhaps about a thoroughly '90s woman out on the edge and trying to have it all, as actress, wife and mom.

Or how about this: a warm-hearted mother-daughter saga about three bright, beautiful American women from the same family. Each would be from a different generation and yet each would pursue the same dream of finding creative and personal fulfillment through the craft of acting. An intimate look at Broadway, Hollywood and the crazy, often tumultuous lives and loves of a merry band of actors and artists, "the special people." Sounds like a winner.

Paul Chutkow, a freelance writer based in northern California, is the author of Depardieu, a biography of French actor Gerard Depardieu.

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