Anjelica Huston walks like a queen through the Carlyle Hotel's restaurant. She's clearly comfortable in the old-world elegance of this Manhattan gem. Once she slides into a banquette, she laughs about having spent considerable time at the bar.
Huston orders eggs Benedict and cappuccino, then describes Eileen Rand, her character on NBC's Monday hit "Smash," as a "cross section of my favorite producers. The best of them, 75 percent of them, what they do is cover the bad news and tell you everything is great."
Savvy and cultured, Eileen is going through a divorce and keeps running into her annoying estranged husband. He's so condescending that this otherwise controlled woman often winds up flinging a drink on him.
"I'm the idiot savant of drink throwing," she says. "I would have started years ago if I knew how good I'd be. Somebody told me I did it in the '70s. Obviously somebody said something I didn't like. You generally don't have a drink at hand. You have to be very circumspect about what kinds of drinks you throw."
As much fun as she's having in this critically acclaimed show, which is already renewed, Huston acknowledges she wavered about taking the job.
"My life changed very radically a few years ago with my husband's death," she says. Sculptor Robert Graham, her husband of 16 years, died in 2008.
"I had been in New York a couple of months earlier, and I met [director] Michael Mayer, and he said, 'I'd love to work with you.' We say these kinds of things in show business, and it often doesn't come to anything."
When it did, Huston recalls "feeling a bit of trepidation because it's a big commitment, a long commitment." She loves the compound she shared with Graham and their pets in Venice Beach, Calif., but was so grief-stricken.
"I went to see my dear friend, (the late talent agent) Sue Mengers," she says. "I was a bit worried, still feeling very displaced. I don't know what I would do with my future. She said, 'It's a f***ing miracle!' The last time she had done this was when I was offered ' The Grifters.' "
Despite tremendous work in the movies and on TV, Huston avoids theater. "This is the best of both worlds," she says. "I get to be back in New York, and I do not have to act onstage. I have stage fright."
Her characters seem constitutionally incapable of fear. Perhaps it's that royal bearing, which comes by way of Hollywood. Her father was larger-than-life director and actor John Huston ( "The African Queen"), who directed her in "Prizzi's Honor," for which she won an Oscar. Her grandfather was Walter Huston, who won an acting Oscar for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," which John Huston directed. She is the first third-generation Oscar winner. And her mother was ballerina and model Ricki Soma.
Huston, not a name-dropper, was nurtured by legends. As a girl in Ireland, where her father had a castle, she knew Marlon Brando and John Steinbeck. Her longtime relationship with Jack Nicholson made them one of Hollywood's golden couples from 1973 to 1989. She speaks of him fondly.
"I learned a big lesson from Jack when I was first with him," Huston says about fame. "I watched him move seamlessly through it and see these other guys with eight bodyguards. He just had grace. He would stop and take pictures [with fans]. It's a nice compliment.
"Broadway is happy with what we are doing," she continues. "And New York is cheerful about 'Smash,' and that makes me feel great. I love that kind of approval. Half of what I do is for approval."
Photo/Video credit: NBC