This Distracted Globe random header image

Daryl Hannah

December 2nd, 2008 · 5 Comments

Daryl Hannah was born December 3, 1960 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father owned a barge building company and her mother was a schoolteacher. In an interview with the L.A. Times in 2006, Hannah recalled her early childhood by stating, “I had a normal city kid’s life. In the summers, which was sort of my saving grace, my father sent us to the same camp that he went to as a kid. It was in the Rockies. You lived in a covered wagon. There was no electricity. You backpacked for two months. You’d groom horses, dig latrines, pitch tents and that kind of stuff. It really taught me about nature and the value of and beauty of being connected to all things. Until that experience, I really felt like an alien in the world. Nothing made sense to me. Once I went to camp, everything made sense.”

Hannah’s parents divorced when she was seven. Her mother remarried real estate magnate Jerrold Wexler. Hannah responded by retreating into her own interior world. “It got me nowhere at school. I was a skinny kid who was picked on. I went to the library in my free time, had insomnia and watched movies on my own. I was a different kind of kid. When I began to get attention through films, everyone presumed I had been some sort of cheerleader – all blonde and long legs. I didn’t tell anyone I was a total weirdo.” Enrolled for a time at the Francis W. Parker School – where Jennifer Beals was a classmate – Hannah took gymnastics, ran track and was the only girl on the soccer team. She also studied acting with Stella Adler at the Goodman Theater.

A bit part in Brian DePalma’s sci-fi thriller The Fury brought Hannah to Los Angeles at the age of 18 to enroll at the University of Southern California. She ended up sharing a one-room apartment with Rachel Ward. In 1980, the roommates both auditioned for Blade Runner. While Ward was passed over for the part awarded to Sean Young, Hannah was one of five finalists selected to screen test for the role of a hunted Replicant named Pris. She recalls, “Everybody who was screen testing got to create their own character, you know, had days to meet with the makeup team and the wardrobe team and I remember that I had found that wig in a basket full of stuff and it looked cool and it kind of built from that. And I had seen Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and remembered the sort of puddied out eyebrows and the black circle, the black hollow eyes of Klaus Kinski and so I was inspired by that.” Hannah was the consensus choice for the part in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.

Through the 1980s, Hannah portrayed one quirky demigoddess after another. Casting her as a mermaid opposite Tom Hanks in Splash, Ron Howard discovered Hannah could dolphin kick better than the doubles he was auditioning; the actress ended up doing virtually all of her own swimming. She held her own against Mickey Rourke in The Pope of Greenwich Village and Robert Redford in Legal Eagles before taking on what could have been the role of her career: Jean Auel’s blonde haired, blue eyed, stone slinging cavewoman Ayla in The Clan of the Cave Bear. Released quietly January 1986 in the United States, the film version of the bestselling novel vanished from theaters. Hannah fared much better returning to contemporary times opposite Steve Martin (Roxanne), a thankless role in a great movie (Wall Street) and a memorable part in the ensemble of another box office hit (Steel Magnolias).

In the 1990s, Hannah appeared as Jack Lemmon’s daughter in Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, but other than a small role as an attorney for director Robert Altman in The Gingerbread Man, her film roles were forgettable. In 2000, Hannah was working in the first play of her professional career – taking Marilyn Monroe’s role in The Seven Year Itch on London’s West End – when she was visited backstage by Quentin Tarantino. Hannah recalls, “All he told me about it was that he was writing something with me in mind, and he told me her name and that I was going to be The Bride’s nemesis. It was months and months before I got the script after I first met Quentin and he told me that, and I was so excited right from the beginning.” Arriving in theaters in 2003 and 2004, Kill Bill and its second book was a reminder of Hannah’s physical prowess and delicious quirk.

In May 2006, Hannah discovered the plight of South Central Urban Garden, a 14-acre community garden in Los Angeles threatened with demolition. “I make a weekly video blog on sustainable issues for my website. I went down to the farm to shoot a segment on it and fell in love with it and the farmers and committed myself to stand in solidarity with them and on principles to save the farm.” For 23 days, Hannah and protest organizer John Quigley sat in a large walnut tree 40 feet above the ground. She was ultimately arrested and booked on suspicion of resisting a court order. Speaking in 2004 about her proclivity for being typecast, Hannah commented, “Whatever role the public becomes aware of you in, that’s you, period. I’ll always be seen as a non-verbal mermaid. My manager is constantly being told, ‘She’s good for those ethereal kinds of parts.’ As if that’s all I’m capable of.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Flickhead // Dec 3, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for remembering one of my favorites.

    If it’s 2am and the walls are closing in, Daryl’s Summer Lovers could make life seem worth living again.

    She was interviewed by Howard Stern about ten years ago. He asked about her home — a teepee with something like 3000 square feet, indoor plumbing and electricity, in the middle of hundreds of acres of unspoiled land in Wyoming.

    “So what do you do, walk around in the woods naked all day?” asked Howard.

    “Well, yeah,” she replied. “Wouldn’t you?”

  • 2 Joseph R. Valdez // Dec 4, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Spot on character and career analyses. I’ve thought Daryl Hannah could have pulled off starring in a sequel called Wall Stret II.

    In this case, the opinionated public is correct…
    Howard Stern is and always has been nothing more than a shock jock jerk.

    Take care son,

  • 3 AR // Dec 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I can’t tell you how happy I was to see her in Kill Bill after so many years of nothing. And she’s pretty good in it too. When I was a kid, she was one of my favorite actresses, and she’s still the highlight of Splash. It’s unfair how underrated and undervalued she is.

  • 4 Marilyn // Dec 13, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Joe – Another good choice. I really like this feature a lot. I’ve gotta make one correction. I think Hannah studied with Adler in NYC, where she had established her own school decades ago. I have never heard of Adler teaching at the Goodman School.

  • 5 Joe Valdez // Dec 13, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Ray: I’ll have to add that flick to my earthquake survival kit. Since my Randall Kleiser ban went into effect in 1988, I never got around to watching Summer Lovers, but I do appreciate the Howard Stern perspective on Daryl Hannah. It will have to do until Hannah is booked on Inside the Actor’s Studio. Thanks for commenting!

    Dad: You could argue that Daryl Hannah is the only cast member from Wall Street still doing interesting work. Except for James Spader. And Terrence Stamp. Oh and John C. McGinley. Oh never mind.

    Amanda: Thanks for commenting! The true craftsmen never go out of style. Daryl Hannah was priceless in Kill Bill. It takes more than an ingénue or a stuntwoman to get tobacco spit thrown at you and give a line reading. “Gross.” Somehow, I cannot see Lori Singer or Helen Slater coming out of retirement to do that.

    Marilyn: Your editorial prowess on all things Chicago is definitely appreciated. In fact, this feature is threatening to become the Chicago Actor’s Guild as that seems to be the city where all these film stars came up. It is a time consuming feature though and without comments from readers like you, I would probably not continue it. Thanks so much for commenting.

Leave a Comment