In 1987, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jonathan Cott sat down with Elizabeth Taylor in her suite at New York’s Hôtel Plaza Athénée, when the actress was 55.
“There was no standing on ceremony, no pretense, no pulling punches,” recalls Cott. “She was so forthright, witty and fearless.” Portions of the previously unpublished interview are presented here for the first time.
You started making films in Hollywood during the 1940s. How has the movie business changed since then?
It used to be a sin to be considered a Hollywood actor. Even worse to be a star – God forbid, a superstar. Stage actors would accuse people of selling out when they’d go to Hollywood. Actually, the whole thing is a bunch of bullshit. An actor is an actor, whether it’s in Hollywood or in Africa. Acting has to be generated from within.
How does that happen for you?
I have never had an acting lesson in my life. But I’ve learned, I hope, from watching Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Jimmy Dean – all people who were finely tuned and educated in the art of acting. They were my education. I wasn’t a distinctive actress as actresses go, because I’m certainly not a polished technician.
Someone once said that the old Hollywood studio was a kind of extended family.
It was like a big extended factory, I’m sorry to say. I was nine when I made my first films. I was used from the day I was a child and I was utilized by the studio. I was promoted for their pockets. I never felt they were a haven.
You’re currently putting together a self-help book based on the tough times you’ve been through. What was that period like for you?
Everything was just totally out of whack. It was just more than fatness and obesity, more than just not caring how I looked. It was in every line of my face.
Weight loss and weight gain all have something to do with yourself. It’s deep loneliness, depression, lack of self-esteem that is the cause for overeating, drinking, taking pills. I used to think that drinking would help my shyness, but all it did was exaggerate all the negative qualities.
The drinking and the pills just sort of dulled my natural enthusiasm. All you have to do is look at a picture of me to know – though I don’t actually have a very good photographic record of myself from that period.
The paparazzi all over the world could put together a few volumes on you.
They’re not photographers! They’re not people! [Laughs]
What species are they?
These are cockroaches. But actually, they do take some very revealing photographs.
So how did you pull back from the brink?
Something always made me save myself. I mean, I was pronounced dead, for God’s sake, about 20 years ago. I stopped breathing for five minutes and had a kind of near-death experience. During it, I even had a chance to read my obits, and they were the best reviews I ever had. [Laughs]
Why couldn’t someone like Marilyn Monroe save herself?
I don’t think Marilyn committed suicide. I don’t think Marilyn was murdered. I think it was an accident. But she was playing with fire. I don’t think she was as acutely aware of it as some of my other self-destructive friends.
Somebody asked me once what quality it was in me that made me a survivor. I think it’s my passion – for life, for people, for everything. I’ve always been very aware of the inner me, that has nothing to do with the physical me. It has to do with a connection with nature, God, your inner being – whatever you want to call it. It’s about being in contact with yourself and allowing God to mold you.
Because I’m not afraid. Life is just such an adventure to me.
Read the full interview here: www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/elizabeth-taylor-the-lost-interview-20110329