Anjelica Huston, 61, has built a career on portraying seemingly indestructible women—like Mafia daughter Maerose in Prizzi’s Honor (which earned her an Oscar), evil Miss Eva Ernst in The Witches and eccentric matriarch Etheline in The Royal Tenenbaums. Now, in the hit NBC series Smash (which returns for a second season in February), Huston plays Eileen Rand, an embattled Broadway producer with zero tolerance for B.S. and a fondness for throwing martinis at her ex-husband. But even without the gin slinging, Huston stands out in any crowd. Nearly four decades after abandoning a career as a fashion model in favor of acting, she still possesses a striking physicality with an imposing height (5′10′′), trademark bob and expressive eyebrows.
Smash is Huston’s first regular TV role. What especially appealed to her about the series, which follows the making of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, was its upbeat subject matter. “The show is not about grim forensics, hospitals or cops,” she says. “It’s about singing, dancing and human involvement. I’m excited to go to work every day.”
Huston is equally passionate about her work as an animal rights advocate. When she was a little girl on movie sets, she noticed how often show-business animals were mistreated—by being overworked and understimulated. Now she lobbies filmmakers to maintain better conditions for animals or to not employ them at all. She also works with PETA to write letters to protect chimpanzees used in TV, film and commercials, protests fur farming in Ireland and rallies against the use of carriage horses that carry tourists through Central Park.
“It’s some sort of throwback to old New York,” she says of the latter. “But I hate to see animals in pain or discomfort.” Huston also vehemently opposes the trend of keeping exotic pets. Many, she says, are abandoned or sold to zoos after their owners become overwhelmed. “People think they can control monkeys and big cats,” she says. “They can’t.”
Huston wants to encourage more people to adopt animals from shelters and rescue groups. “There’s a surplus of potbellied pigs, which were fashionable in the ’80s and ’90s,” she explains. “They start out small, but suddenly people have a grown pig on their hands—not so good if you’re in an apartment. They also live a long time. My [late] husband gave me one for Thanksgiving. Giorgio the pig had a fine life, but he had lots of room to roam on the ranch.”
Her central California ranch serves as proof of her commitment to animals, literally. Besides caring for the many animals in permanent residence there, she uses it as a rescue center of sorts, taking in homeless and sick creatures. Along with eight horses and a miniature pony saved from an outdoor carousel, she says, “I have pigs, goats, chickens and a strange woolly sheep named Gus.”
As if she weren’t busy enough, Huston is also writing a memoir. Besides covering her relationship with her director father, John Huston, her long romance with Jack Nicholson and her acting career, it will include recollections from her early days in fashion when she worked for legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. “One of the first times I met her, I was asked to go to the magazine’s offices to try on clothes for a shoot. I fainted at her door,” she laughs. “When I came to, she was barking at her editors and assistants. I was really embarrassed, but she took over and was very maternal and sweet.” (Huston is featured in the new documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, below.)
As she revisits her past, Huston has been enjoying reflecting on her storied existence. “Life just becomes more three-dimensional when you start writing about it.”