‘I’m not trying to escape the Huston name ... I’ve great stories about dad and I love telling them as it brings him back to life’
After a stellar film career Danny Huston is preparing to make his West End stage debut. Here, the actor talks about being part of a Hollywood dynasty and why American politics are ‘hallucinogenic’
Danny Huston - son of John, brother of Anjelica, uncle of Jack, grandson of Walter - member of the acting "clan", as he terms his sprawling, talented family, is unenthusiastic about Meryl Streep's grandstanding speech against Donald Trump at the Golden Globes. This is not because he supports Trump. He finds Streep problematic "because she is preaching to the converted. There's a room full of people, all of whom agree with her."
The disenfranchised, he argues, will hear Streep and think: "'Why is it that you Hollywood people think you can decide or dictate what's important to me?' And that is the terrible problem." He's almost stricken by the thought of being out of touch, by the thought that he didn't see either Brexit or Trump coming. "I try to observe myself and ask: 'Am I part of this, this liberal elite that lives in a bubble and believes certain people are right and everyone else is wrong?'"
Huston (54) is wearing black, which make his devil eyebrows stand out. One is a pronounced inverted "V" and it shoots up when he's intense or amused. He has a rolling, earthy drawl and his Hollywood tan jars with the bitter cold of Haggerston, where we've met in a brick-and-glass community centre, huddled next to a ticking fan heater. It's about as far from the glamour of Mulholland Drive as Grange Hill.
But this is where rehearsals for The Kid Stays in the Picture are taking place, a stage production of the life of Robert Evans, a seven-times-married, cocaine-inflamed studio executive about whom many stories of excess are told. (Not least by the writer Joe Eszterhas, who claims Evans once sent him a congratulatory note for a script hidden in a woman's vagina.)
It's Huston's debut on stage and he's nervous, saying, "I'm film! I'm film! I come from a film culture and film family. I'm not your normal thespian, you know." (Although the effect is ruined slightly when he answers the phone, "Daaaarling".)
He was in his late 30s when he switched from directing to acting, taking the starring role in the searing Ivans Xtc. Beyond that, his career has boasted rich and varied parts: with Sean Penn in 21 Grams, opposite Nicole Kidman in Birth, with Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener and in The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese.
But now he's getting down and dirty for the Royal Court, happy to take the pay cut, "Yes, I'm getting the full 12-and-a-half pence going rate - absolutely," he jokes. He was drawn into the project by the twin pincers of Simon McBurney, the play's director, and producer Barbara Broccoli (of the James Bond films). "So I couldn't say no. And the material," he adds, "meant it was impossible not to do it."
Evans produced some of Hollywood's best films, including The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story and Chinatown (in which Huston's father starred as Noah Cross, "one of the greatest villains of all time").
Indeed his starry background means that "I know most of the people in the Evans story, and I know them well. I'm being visited by ghosts: some are still alive but a lot are not."
Although his mother, the actress Zoe Sallis, was English and London-based, much of Huston's early childhood was spent in Ireland, where his "sometimes remote" father went to live after renouncing his American citizenship in protest against McCarthyism (he later moved to Mexico).
Regular guests at their grand home - St Clerans in Co Galway - included Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall, Peter O'Toole, Marlon Brando and John Steinbeck. It was a hard-drinking and decadent time, "at once local, gentry and Hollywood. People would come to stay and stay for weeks." There was also a revolving cast of beautiful mistresses.
The children (Huston had five - three of his own, one adopted, and one fathered by the historian John Julius Norwich and his then wife Enrica Soma, who Huston brought up as his own ) lived in a separate block by the stables and the studio where his father would paint. Danny made up stories, rode, lived "in a fairy tale". Huston's best friend was Jerry Lynch, son of Paddy the groom, and they hunted with the Galway Blazers. "Believe it or not I'm actually a vegetarian now, but I did hunt, and I loved it. The meet on those beautiful winter mornings, a few shots of whisky, feeling tipsy - I was only a teenager - those dangerous stone walls. You'd jump from a field onto the tiny wet roads and the horses legs would spread and people would fall. It was terrifying but exhilarating."
Ireland gave him a love of story-telling. "Sometimes I have a problem telling the difference between fiction and reality because so many stories were told and you build on them. I get confused. Was it my imagination?"
Nonetheless his memoirs, if he writes them, will be a compilation of stories. "I have wonderful stories, especially about my father. And I love telling them because it brings him back to life."
Will he tell me one? He shakes his head and instead compares me to the owner of the B&B in New Zealand who found out he was an actor and demanded he act. "I thought: 'Oh God, what should I pull out of the hat?' And I said: 'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…' and he was very disappointed. He thought I was rubbish."
Does he feel Irish? "I have American and English passports, I was born in Rome, spent a lot of time in Italy and Ireland growing up. But I don't know where I'm from. I'm not terribly patriotic in the sense of nationalism. I'm proud of who I am and I believe in equality."
He says he's from a generation of Hollywood hippies, and the rise of nationalism in Europe and America with Le Pen and Trump makes him worry that his 14-year-old daughter Stella will grow up in a world "that's lacking a lot of humanity".
The distinction he makes between himself and Streep is this: "It's more important for people who have felt so long that they don't have a voice to feel like they have been given a voice rather than been marginalised, than for us to assume that we know what it is they want for their future. Even if I oppose philosophically, politically what they are voting for, in a sense I believe that it's a sort of rebellion. And I'd rather have change than no change at all."
He believes that there is "a misunderstanding" of Hollywood people. "Everyone wants a better life, everyone wants food on the table, everybody wants healthcare, but it seems to many that politics stagnated, so people want to shake things up. And their voice should be heard. Everybody's voice should be heard. It seems that now is the time for us to pay attention."
Even so, he admits American politics are currently "hallucinogenic" and that the climate right now "feels worse" than McCarthyism. "It feels like a bad trip. It really does."
Huston is living around the corner from the rehearsal studio in a serviced flat in Shoreditch. But he has a house in Berkshire (which he pronounces with an exaggerated mocking accent as if he were Prince Charles). On the windowsill he keeps a little iron horse with a broken hoof. "I see it when I wake up in the morning and it's one of my first memories of an object. It's my Rosebud," he jokes.
Stella is at boarding school nearby and he smiles fully at the mention of her name. She is the child of Huston with his second wife Katie Evans, an English model who died aged 35.
I ask whether his background was a weight or an advantage in Hollywood. "Well, I always felt like I could get my foot in the door," he says.
"Whether I could keep it open was something else. The first film I directed, Mr North, got reviews saying, 'Danny's father John Huston passed the baton and Danny not only dropped it but tripped and fell'."
But he adds that it's a family business. "Anjelica is always there for me and we talk and give each other advice. Same with Jack, my nephew - who was on stage here in Strangers on the Train. I watched it twice."
He says there's a certain amount of nepotism. "We like helping each other and none of us is ashamed of who were are. We're not trying to escape the name."
- The Kid Stays in the Picture opens at the Royal Court today