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This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It’s Friday, Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — and Tatum O’Neal is at the London Hotel in West Hollywood talking about her plans for the evening.
No, they aren’t with a beau, but with a Hollywood veteran — and fellow Oscar winner. “I’m having dinner with my friend Anjelica Huston in Venice,” says the actress nonchalantly. “I can’t wait to catch up with her!”
Like Huston, O’Neal was both born into a showbiz family and is among a select few venerable screen performers to have claimed Oscar gold in their careers. Unlike Huston, however, O’Neal’s moment of Oscar glory came when she was just 10 years old: In 1974, she became the youngest-ever winner when she took home the best supporting actress trophy for her stirring debut performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon opposite her father, Ryan O’Neal.
On this sunny afternoon just two weeks before the 2014 Academy Awards, and on the eve of the 40th anniversary of her historic win, O’Neal, now 50, chatted with THR about her record-setting milestone and its lingering impact on her life and career.
How did you end up being cast in 1973’s Paper Moon?
My dad [Ryan O’Neal] must have said to Peter Bogdanovich, “Look, why don’t you meet my daughter?” I remember I took a walk on the beach with my dad and Peter in Malibu, and my dad was wearing an ascot and these funny shoes. I asked him: “Why are you dressed like that? You look so awkward on the beach.” I used a lot of these big words I copied from adults. And Peter said, “She’s got the part.” I had whatever he was looking for.
Do you remember having acting aspirations at that age?
Absolutely not. I just didn’t want to go to school! I’d had bad experiences in school. I’d been paddled, had been at boarding school. Then I broke my arm before filming and remember crying: “But I want to do the movie, Daddy. Please let me do the movie!”
You were only 8 when filming started. What do you remember about the shoot?
Most people on the set hated me, especially the actors! We all stayed at the Holiday Inn, and I adopted a cat in the middle of filming, and it made a big mess in my room. This lovely lady — my dad’s boxing coach’s wife — became my guardian, and I was also always making a mess of her stuff. I once put her contacts in my eyes and had to go to the hospital. I remember having six-page dialogue scenes. We did take after take. Madeline Kahn got so annoyed in one scene because when I got the lines wrong, she had to keep walking up and down this hill. But I think they knew they were getting something good. I remember in one scene, my dad said something and I said, “Are you mad at me?” And he said (in a low tone): “No, Tatum. I am just doing the lines!” I was like, “Oopsie daisy!”
What inspired you to wear a little tuxedo on Oscar night?
I was a big fan of fashion. I was obsessed with clothes. Bianca Jagger was my dad’s girlfriend at the time, and she wore these suits with little flowers, boots, a cane and these beautiful Tiffany flat diamonds and no bra. I thought, “That’s what I want!” If I could have used a cane, too, I would have. I did have little platform shoes on. My dad got them. He did stuff like that for me.
You sounded in the speech as if you had a British accent. Why?
My dad had been filming [the Stanley Kubrick film] Barry Lyndon in London, and I was actually living with the Kubricks at the time. I just loved the way [Kubrick’s daughter] Vivian spoke my name (in an English accent) — “Tay-tum.” I wanted to pick up the accent.
Did you have a strategy for your post-Oscars life? Did your father want you to have an acting career?
I tried to do a normal life, but it was really chaotic in the 1970s. My father’s life was in a chaotic place, too, and it was really hard for him to know how to direct me. I think he thought I’d just kind of “figure it out” on my own. When I turned 20, I met a tennis player [John McEnroe] and decided to leave Hollywood, have kids [Kevin, now 27, Sean, 26, and Emily, 22] and find my own way of rooting myself.
You had your share of ups and downs personally and professionally. Any advice for young winners today, like maybe Jennifer Lawrence?
Really, it all depends on the family. If your family is solid, you’re going to be fine. I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket — that can jam you up. You can think, “I have this Oscar, I should get this or that.” But sometimes it doesn’t happen.
Where is your Oscar now?
It has moved around a lot. My dad had it for a long time until I took it off his TV: “Dad, this is mine.” But I’m very shy about it, unless my kids want to play pretend with it or something. I have a Golden Globe and a NATO award, and it’s next to those, way up high. Only the cat can get to it. One day, I’d like to deliver a performance worthy of another nomination. If Jessica Tandy can do it, so can I.
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