“Sometimes I feel as though we can’t help but be pioneers,” says Diane Lane, hands on knees, pitched forward into the conversation, on the heady topic of women in film. “Because there is so much more interest in the female point of view, the female offering, the female experience.”
Lane is in New York for her duties as a jury member of the Tribeca Film Festival and her latest film that explores female experience, “Paris Can Wait,” out Friday. The seemingly straightforward, charming little movie carries a larger plotline of self-discovery and ownership, for both its lead actress and its director.
The project pairs Lane — the Oscar-nominated (for 2002’s “Unfaithful”) veteran with a range stretching from romantic comedies to superhero franchises (recurring as Martha Kent in the “Superman” films, the third of which is due this fall) — with Eleanor Coppola, documentarian wife of Francis Ford, who set out to make her first narrative feature film at age 80.
“It’s nice to be seen with fresh eyes, and see oneself with fresh eyes,” Lane says, dressed in a peasant blouse and wide-leg cotton trousers by a fireplace in the lobby of her agent’s office in Manhattan. “However that happens.”
A star for decades, she doesn’t expand on why it’s nice for that to happen. Lane differs starkly from many tell-it-all actresses who reveal their innermost thoughts to relative strangers within minutes of meeting them. Instead, she remains professionally friendly and sticks to the subject at hand: The film.
The movie follows Lane as Anne, wife to a big-shot producer (played by Alec Baldwin) who finds herself accepting an offer to be driven from Cannes to Paris by a charming French friend of her rather absent husband’s, as he is swept away on business. As the title suggests, the destination is delayed by a leisurely, spontaneous road trip, a journey that leads Anne to reflection.
“I thought she was the perfect person to play the everywoman — the woman you can identify with,” says Coppola of casting Lane in the film, which is semiautobiographical from her marriage to Francis Ford. “Some actresses are kind of quirky and have other things, but she’s the kind of person we can all read onto.”
“Don’t they always say that to you?” Lane says, with an ever-present twinkle in her eye. “I know that she felt very safe and comfortable with me because of our history — she knew me since I was 17.”
Lane made four films with Francis Ford Coppola over the course of the Eighties and Nineties, from “The Outsiders” in 1983 and “The Cotton Club” in 1984 to “Jack” in 1996; an eight-year-old Sofia even played Lane’s sister in 1993’s “Rumble Fish.”
“To be on the Coppola estate and to be editing films there winds end up being a very food-centric experience,” Lane says. “Francis would cook in his trailer for everybody — so I knew [Eleanor] as the wife of Francis, the mother of Sofia and Gio and Roman.”
“Paris Can Wait” then is doubly a narrative film rich with wanderlust and indulgence (sweeping French countryside shots, picnics of cheese and bread beside the water), but also a reflection of the story of Mrs. Coppola. Her younger self, seen through Lane’s embodiment of Anne, is a story of a woman feeling ownership for the first time in a while, just as her triumph in pulling off her filmmaking debut at 80 is its own story of a woman coming into her own.
“You have to understand — Eleanor is 80,” Lane says. “Her generation is definitely that of my mother’s. So I think it’s edifying in a way to see her…it’s sort of like when you get your just desserts. When you’ve earned the right to be invited up to the table. I don’t think it’s difficult for her to visualize what she wants, I don’t think it’s difficult for her to express that. But I do think that the concept of helmsmanship — helmswomanship — is daunting for a lot of people. Certainly when you’ve had many years of standing back, away, out of that white-hot spotlight of that role.”
“Paris Can Wait” came to life at the hands of a mostly all-women team, a reality Coppola suggested occurred rather organically, but was altogether reflective of the story the film sets out to tell.
“It’s the female experience,” Lane says. “It’s like telling a joke; you have to think it’s funny yourself. If you don’t get the joke, how in the hell are you ever going to say it in the manner in which it’s going to be funniest? The female experience is like that. So with that in mind, we just felt very comfortable without questioning ourselves or appeasing another agenda of ‘Does this please you?’”
Anne might not jump off the screen as a feminist trailblazer, but the scope of discovery within her own life is a point of interest enough for Lane.
“I like her sense of innocence and exuberance about her experience,” she says of the character. “Because we need to be optimistic in this life, or what’ve we got? Even though she is rolling her eyes, because she’s a modern woman and we’re used to things being very [scheduled]…there’s no room for spontaneity in our life.”
The trope is not dissimilar from Lane’s “Italian film” — 2003’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” — where again she was an American woman finding a sense of self through the lens of European adventure.
“I like the contrast of foreigner abroad. And I’m the foreigner,” she says of the similarities “Paris” holds to “Tuscan Sun,” which was notably also directed and written by a woman (Audrey Wells, now a close friend of Lane’s). “Because there’s a sense of voyager, of going forward. And voyager without a man…well, in [‘Paris Can Wait’], with a man, but one who is imposed upon her by happenstance. And he’s doing her a favor. I always say, ‘Free is too expensive.’ I would rather pay my own way, thank you! I don’t want to owe anybody anything.”
Makeup by Tim Quinn for Giorgio Armani Beauty; styling by Diana Melencio for Quinn; hair by Ric Pipino.