At an age when other actresses are scheduling their next facelift and resigning themselves to bit parts in the random television movie, Debra Winger is carving out the next act in her niche-defying career as she’s always done—on her own terms. Now 53, the famously outspoken Academy Award nominee who walked away from Hollywood in the early ’90s after achieving superstardom in now-iconic films like An Officer and A Gentleman and Terms of Endearment is back with a new book, Undiscovered, and a role in the fall release Rachel Getting Married. The Westchester resident—who has never been at a loss for words—weighs in on why she decided to pen a memoir (“not a tell-all,” she’s quick to correct), about making movies, motherhood, and aging in a youth-obsessed culture.
You have maintained such a low profile for so long. What made you want to write Undiscovered at this time?
I guess I don’t look at it as maintaining a low profile. Whose profile? I am living a life, and this was the next thing for me to do.
How long did it take you to write it? Did you follow any writing “rituals,” or just work when the mood struck?
The pieces were written at different times over the last decade and assembled with care by my editor, David Outerbridge, and me. We sometimes were very methodical and sometimes like sushi chefs. I usually write in my head first while doing some sort of manual labor.
How did (legendary tight-rope walker) Philippe Petit wind up doing the illustrations?
We were celebrating on New Year’s Eve and I started to talk about my obsession with doors and portals, gates and entrances, and he took out his leather journal that had sketches of some places similar to where I had visited. We sort of collaborated on our ideas and combined some locations. The drawings are all fiercely original and totally Philippe.
It’s a very different media climate today from the days when you were doing publicity for your films. What’s it been like for you to step back into the limelight?
The idea of limelight upsets me. I don’t look good in green.
Now that you’ve been out on the press tour for Undiscovered and been subjected to talking about the films you made and your performances in them, does anything about those experiences look different to you now than it did then?
In Undiscovered, you offer some fascinating anecdotes about what it was like working with big stars like John Travolta and Jack Nicholson. What’s the best advice you could offer to young actresses starting out today on handling stardom?
I figure if someone would be asking, it probably isn’t happening for them.
You’ve always been very clear about loving your work but not the business side of Hollywood. What does it take to get you to sign on to do a feature film today?
It only takes two things: a good script and a good director. That’s where I am at now.
When you appeared on The View recently, you said you didn’t want to wind up like Bette Davis did “in a button hat on The Tonight Show” in her later years. Do you see yourself growing old gracefully?
The word “gracefully,” I think, is a bit misleading. Fierce is a fine way to age. Molten steel and patina are good, too.
You write in your book that you are “always searching for the next door, the next change.” What’s next after promoting this book ?
Even if I were to say what is cooking, I never really know until it’s fully baked.