A Clockwork Orange, aged nine
I was the child actor in a travelling experimental theatre company, La MaMa. We were the American entry in these summer theatre festivals across Europe and beyond: Italy, Germany, France, Scotland, Finland, Greece, Lebanon, Iran, we did them all. We also did some red countries. I remember thinking: “What is a red country?” I didn’t understand. We went to see A Clockwork Orange in Copenhagen. It was nice to find a theatre where the films hadn’t been dubbed, and it was a hot ticket, so that was probably the criteria. I don’t think that the twentysomething cinema usher realised what Kubrick had in for us when she allowed nine-year-old me in to see it. I remember the scene where they are pouring milk laced with drugs from the mannequin’s breasts. I’m still scarred. I was taken to lots of movies that I probably shouldn’t have seen. I don’t remember the names; I just remember the violence and the sex. It got my perspectives all mixed up. My first impressions into adulthood were that sex and violence were cool and hip.
My father’s yellow New York taxi
My dad was a drama coach. He had a theatre workshop with John Cassavetes. He also drove a cab. It was a good temporary gig for a single parent to make money in New York in the 70s. He’d say: “You know, I’m portraying the role of a character of a cab driver …” It meant I had a ride because my dad had a car. No one had a car in Manhattan unless it was a yellow taxi. It was just a delight for him to have me ride shotgun. The people who got in the back didn’t seem to mind that there was a seven-year-old kid sitting in the front. We shared a lot of rituals. We’d go for tea and muffins in the morning. He’d drop me off at school and he’d pick me up from the theatre late at night: 11pm was late for a second grader. This went on until I was 13 and I scored my first film [A Little Romance with Laurence Olivier] and I stopped performing at the theatre because now I was going to be making movies, apparently.
Bertha Butt Boogie by the Jimmy Castor Bunch
I was always a Top 40 radio girl. My idea of fun was to go – late at night and at my own peril – to Colony Records in Times Square to buy 10-packs of blank cassette tapes to record off the radio. My goal was to edit out the commercials. My dream was to be a DJ. Now you have 1,000 songs in your pocket and it’s all on you; you can’t blame the DJ any more. It was an exciting time in America in 1976. We were 200 years old and very proud. We’d got rid of Nixon and we had hubris and joy. As Americans we had a sense of humour about ourselves, so our music had a sense of humour that hasn’t been around since. I loved the Isley Brothers and the Spinners. I loved Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel and It Only Takes a Minute by Tavares. We’d do the hustle to Troglodyte and Bertha Butt Boogie by the Jimmy Castor Bunch. Everything had this goofy sense of humour, which was great fun for teenage girls to dance to. When I was 12, it was like the whole world was 12.
I remember seeing The Way We Were with my mother. I thought Robert Redford was the bee’s knees. I think it devastated her. Watching her cry made me cry, even though I was too young to understand all the emotions. The teenage girl in me fell in love with Mark Hamill in Star Wars. When Saturday Night Fever came out, I lost my mind. I remember wailing into a parking meter when I came out of the cinema. That’s how out of my mind I was. I was 13, hormones were a new thing for me, and I finally had a place to put them. I thought it was the coolest, truest indictment of the desperation to be cool. And the vulnerability of somebody who’s so desperate to be cool struck a chord and touched me very deeply. John Travolta so beautifully portrayed that role. It was a bullseye of casting perfection in such a decade-defining blockbuster film. I imagine it was hard to get over that, in terms of: “I’d like to play other parts, please.” I’m always happy when Travolta is afforded opportunities to play diverse roles, because he was so indelibly stamped on that film.
I was the perfect age for a lot of the cliche blockbusters, when the industry was learning that they could manipulate the market. They’d never marketed a film before like they did with Jaws. They didn’t have wide opening films before which stayed in the theatres that long. Culture was so much more shared back then. We have such diversity right now. Everything is available to everyone at any moment, so it’s hard to find that shared feeling. I grew up with an amazing love for actors and acting. It struck me as the bravest poetry possible. I didn’t realise how much goes into making a movie. I mean, who sits there and reads the thousands of names that come up on the credits after a movie? You walk out of the theatre but the names are still going. It is such a huge team sport. Robert Redford might look cool, but it took 8,000 people to make that happen. But when you’re 12, you don’t want to see the man behind the curtain. You want to believe what they’re showing you.
I saw Taxi Driver with my dad in New York, which was very disturbing. Jodie Foster’s performance is indelible. Flash-forward two years and I was auditioning for Pretty Baby, which was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life. I first heard Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) in my dad’s taxi. I also fell in love with David Bowie. I can’t quite remember the first domino of when he moved into my bloodstream. I can remember thinking that I was witnessing a phenomenon. He was like a spider, weaving a web of sounds and music and genres. As a child of the 70s, there was an explosion of talent, musical and otherwise. It was a great escape, comfort and bonding experience to enjoy these things with somebody. The music was perfectly wholesome; it got your blood up and made you want to dance. To this day, the same songs still make me want to dance around my kitchen. I committed the whole of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to memory. One of the first songs my daughter learned by heart was Grey Seal. I sing it a cappella with my girlfriend when we get together. I’ve played three singers in the movies and there’s a reason I didn’t portray them in my own singing voice. It’s not pretty!
• Let Him Go is released on 18 December