Photo by William Claxton

Rebecca De Mornay
Like Only
Leonard Cohen

The following article and photograph
by William Claxton appeared in the magazine
Interview, June 1993.

Leonard Cohen

Introduction by Executive Editor: There's a witchy glitter in the eyes of Rebecca De Mornay that no amount of blondness or creamy curves can gentrify. No wonder it was her role as the psychonanny Peyton Flanders in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle that made De Mornay a star, after ten up-and-down years as an actress in Hollywood; it was the first to show the febrile co-existing with the serene in her work, the first to take her over the edge. You could say that with Peyton, De Mornay found her place--and we may never see her again as the kind of gentle spirit she played in The Trip to Bountiful. Improbable she should end up at Walt Disney, home of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and this month's Guilty As Sin.

Did I say witchy? She lets it be known in this interview--by her companion, Leonard Cohen--and others that she wants to play Joan of Arc, but how could we trust her not to turn the Maid of Orleans into a bawdy generalissimo, an army slut, or a Zen priestess? Right now, in Disney's The Three Musketeers, De Mornay's playing Milady De Winter--and you just know that, through décolletage or death, she'll make her more than just a beauty spot.


Rebecca De Mornay: Do you want to know what the best thing is about you interviewing me?

Leonard Cohen: No.

RDM: It's--

LC: I guess I do.

RDM: --that you're the only interviewer who won't ask what the exact nature of my relationship is with Leonard Cohen.

LC: I would like to know. Let's start with that question.

RDM: [laughs]

LC: I see that you have a great bouquet of roses on your table. Do you like roses?

RDM: I was very moved by what Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet, that some people give with joy and that joy is their reward, some people give with pain and that pain is their baptism, and some people give the way a flower breathes its fragrance into space. It's the essence of giving, and the rose does that so exquisitely. It gives and doesn't decide who is worthy to be given to. It just gives its pure beauty.

LC: And then do you throw them out?

RDM: Sometimes I hang them upside down to dry. I'd like to gather all the rose petals I've ever had, but you just can't, so you wind up throwing them away.

LC: Are you prepared to disclose what you get for a movie now?

RDM: No.

LC: Is it a large figure?

RDM: Compared to what the big fish get, no. To me, growing up in the Alps in a little town in the snow, it's an amazing sum.

LC: What would you say was your finest moment on the screen?

RDM: What would you say?

LC: I thought some moments in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle were as fine as anything I've seen by you or anyone else, such as the moment where you beat up the bathroom with a shovel. Or was it a plunger?

RDM: It was a plunger.

LC: I thought that was a rare moment of a woman's anger onscreen.

RDM: It's a very difficult thing for people to accept, seeing women act out anger on the screen. We're more accustomed to seeing men expressing rage and women crying.

LC: Are there actresses who have inspired you?

RDM: Vivien Leigh was a phenomenal actress, a very complicated woman, living on the edge of mental problems, haunted by demons and angels. And though I've never thought of myself like Marilyn Monroe, I was inspired by the tremendous risk she took--of being vulnerable.

LC: Both these women led very disturbed lives. Do you think that kind of disturbance is necessary to one's being artistic?

RDM: I honestly don't think that, and yet I suppose a lot of what I'm acting out comes out of various areas of distress, of something mysterious I don't understand in myself that I'm interested in finding out about.

LC: Is acting a form of healing?

RDM: I don't see it as a form of healing, because if you have wounds that are bleeding I don't think acting will ever get them to stop. But I find acting is a form of illumination.

[Cat meows. De Mornay meows back. Many meows exchanged.]

Great special effects

LC: What do you think that conversation was about?

RDM: It taps into the area of the inexplicable that's very real to me, and yet I can't explain it.

LC: You seem very confident about your intuitive capacities.

RDM: Yes, I am.

LC: Were you always?

RDM: I think when you trust your intuitive capacities, they come to trust you.

LC: What's the nature of your relationship with Don Johnson in your new movie, Guilty As Sin?

RDM: It's probably based on a line he says, which is, "We've been close, haven't we, Jennifer? Closer than most people who fuck."

LC: What kind of closeness is he referring to?

RDM: I play a criminal defense attorney whose whole life is wrapped up in defending murderers. When she meets Don's character, the two of them have a duel, or tango, that reveals her attraction to this type of criminal mind that she perhaps didn't really understand, herself. This very dangerous and ugly dynamic begins to unfold between them. It's a very perverse kind of love story.

LC: What roles would you like to do?

RDM: I'd like to play Joan of Arc.

LC: Do you feel some loyalty to an occupied territory that you wish to liberate? The female psyche?

RDM: I hadn't thought of it, but I think you're right. I feel a terrifically painful disturbance in the natural law of things between men and women that must be balanced in the next few thousand years. What has been done in the name of holding up masculine energy as God and feminine energy as subservient has really wiped out everything.

LC: Do you feel a reconciliation is possible?

RDM: I do. I may be an optimist.

LC: What are your recollections of Summerhill, your school in England?

RDM: Summerhill, founded by A.S. Neill, was the beginning of many of the experimental schools in the West. You visited a friend's son there, who was there exactly the same year as I was. You have a recollection that you saw me when I was five.

LC: That's right.

RDM: Do you really remember that?

LC: Yes, I do.

RDM: You promise?

LC: There's no reason that I would want to deceive you. I remember looking through a doorway and seeing a woman, half-clad, sweeping the floor...

RDM: That was Sheila, our housemistress. It was the '60s. She had very large, tan breasts.

LC: ...and I remember a little girl running from behind her skirt, out into the campus. I thought, What a beautiful child.

RDM: How do you know that child was me?

LC: You have the same light as that child. One doesn't see this light so often. Now, it may have been another child there, but I think it's highly unlikely. I think it was you. Was your mother a major figure in your education?

RDM: She took my education very seriously, in a very unorthodox way. She never thought she would be a mother, but then she decided, "I'm going to excel at this thing I didn't want to be." She wanted to be an actress, which is interesting, because I never did.

LC: What did you want to be?

RDM: When I was very young I wanted to be a professional horseback rider. Then I wanted to be a pop singer. Then I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Then I wanted to be a movie director.

LC: Did you ever want to be a kickboxer?

RDM: Yes, I did, to tell the truth. I did Tae Kwon Do, a form of kickboxing, for a year and a half. I got a blue belt in it when I was fifteen.

LC: Do you think you could handle yourself in a rowdy bar?

RDM: I was much more into that years ago. Now I'd rather just not be in a rowdy bar.

LC: How do you maintain your pure and rosy complexion?

RDM: What's inside really reflects outside, there's no question. I'm happy to know that, having been through considerable difficulties when things were really bad--in terms of my career, in terms of experiencing the death of someone I loved very deeply, in terms of different wounds and scars inflicted on me--and suddenly feeling the seed of bitterness rolling around in my mouth and thinking, Oh my God, here it is, it's on my tongue. Don't bite into it, whatever you do. Spit it out. 'Cause if you bite into that seed, you're lost, and, incidentally, your face will show it.

LC: That's a wonderful beauty secret. I intend to use it.

RDM: You always wanted to be more beautiful, huh? You want a tip?

LC: Yes, I do.

RDM: O.K., let me tell you: to be more beautiful, Leonard, you have to be happier. Gandhi said--I have it on my bulletin board--that happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.

LC: I've heard he also chewed a root, rauwolfia, that grows by the side of Indian roads and is used to treat hypertension. That probably helped him a great deal in achieving this harmonious balance of which you speak.

RDM: [laughs] You've got to find some fly in the ointment, don't you?

LC: Are you envious of other actresses' talents or success?

RDM: I'm gratified to be able to say that I am no longer, but I was. And the fact that I am no longer doesn't have anything to do with the status of my own career but an investigation I had to undergo to understand a very real, violent phenomenon inside my own heart. I could not live with it; either it had to go or I had to go--my body wasn't big enough for the both of us.

LC: I think you are the most underestimated actress of your generation.

RDM: Oh, that's very nice of you. Everything I thought about acting and having a movie career has changed from what I thought when I started. I don't know how much of a career really lies in the hands of timing, how old you are or what the consciousness of society is at a certain moment, or what your face seems to express.

LC: What does your face express?

RDM: I think there's a knowingness in my face. And a friend of mine said, "You have this very unsettling laugh sometimes. It sounds almost like an evil laugh. Why does it sound so sinister?" I don't know, I mean, it's a laugh of ...knowingness.

LC: What do you know about?

RDM: It can't be spoken of.

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