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Born in the Bronx and educated at New York’s prestigious High School of Performing Arts, the actress has forged a critically-lauded career playing steely, hard-luck heroines in such hits as Diner (1982), Sea of Love (1989), and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). She’s also enjoyed considerable success on Broadway, most recently in The Normal Heart (2011) for which she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Her latest film, The Cobbler, co-starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, and Steve Buscemi, premieres at the Toronto Film Festival next month.
Offscreen, Barkin lives up to her shoot-from-the-hip persona. In the below interview she chats candidly with good friend, journalist and author Carole Radziwill, about such hot button issues as aging, cosmetic surgery, and dating younger men (she has two adult children with ex-husband, Gabriel Byrne). She also opens up about her decision to have longtime stylist, Serge Normant, chop her chin-length bob into a Jean Seberg-esque pixie cut on the set of the VIOLET GREY shoot.
Unabashedly imperfect, Barkin is, in her own words, “owning it”.
ELLEN BARKIN: It was a direct response to watching the Oscars alone in my bed and saying, “You know what? I’m done.” As women age, they start hiding their faces more with their hair. So the bangs get longer and you see like this much of their face. I am taking everything off of my face, and I am going to say, this is what it looks like, nothing is hidden, you can see my forehead, my jawline, my neck, this is it. And ladies, it’s not so bad.
EB: I am not a beautiful woman by [classical] standards. I have never felt that way nor have I ever felt that it was important for me to feel that way. What makes me an attractive woman comes from in here. [places hand on chest]
EB: Right. I [was] a very fragile teenager with squinty eyes — at the time I had two knocked out broken front teeth — and a lopsided grin. And I thought, you know what, as an actor, I know I’m not going to get certain jobs. I’m never going to be the Bond girl. But I still thought that there was a place for me, a career, that wasn’t heavily influenced by what I look like. I went to a performing arts high school and…they would call my parents and tell them that they really should take me out of the school because I was never going to become an actress, I was extremely unattractive and I had no “spark”, an adjective that will live with me into my grave.
EB: My nickname for a while was “Sparky Barky”.
EB: I feel strongly about retouching. I looked at those pictures and I knew they expected like seven x’s to come back on the bags under my eyes or the lines around my mouth or my neck but I thought we could do something special here. Those pictures with the dark circles under my eyes are exactly what I look like.
EB: Just like when people say, “You look great for your age. I can’t believe you’re 60!” I’m like, what about just, “You look great.”
EB: Except when I am working, I never wear makeup. Like right now I have nothing on my face but eyebrow pencil, because as a young girl I tweezed all my eyebrows off. Given that, I take unbelievably good care of my skin. I never go to bed without washing my face and I never wake up without washing my face. And I sleep in a mask every night I sleep alone.
EB: No. Even if I never left my house ever and no one ever saw me, I’d still want to look like the best version of myself.
EB: I have not been under the knife. I laser. And I’ve tried every type of laser out there. Now I’m into the Ulthera Laser. I do it once a year. It’s extremely painful. You don’t have any downtime at all. And I am religious about my Fraxels. It gets rid of discoloration and smooths out the surface of your skin. I still have hardly any pores on my face.
EB: 100 percent.
EB: Maybe they don’t get smarter as they get older. Maybe they kind of stop. After they’ve done their collective time, they figure they know it all. I’ve passed the point where I was fearful about being myself. I used to hold it back a little. Now I’m getting very aggressive about what my opinions are. And now I have no hair, how about that? I probably would not have done that at 50. So that is more radical.
EB: I’m not a good look-to-the-future person. I never planned my life. I certainly am spending more time thinking about my third act than I thought about my first act or my second act. I loved turning fifty. That was my favorite birthday. At thirty-five I felt I had found my voice. At forty, I felt like I could use it and at fifty I felt like, “Oh I’m f*cking using it”.
EB: I’m owning it. This is my seat. When I was pregnant both times, I gained an enormous amount of weight and I was really happy. It was the first time in my life that I took up room in the world. I realized, “Wow this feels great.” It was really a physical version of what I was feeling inside. And now I feel like, not only have I earned it but, as you said, I am going to own it and no one is shutting me up.
I have not been under the
VIOLET GREY has a file on everything from
the genius of Pat McGrath to
the best eyelash curler in the world.