Interview with Mariel Hemingway

Wayne Catan

Mariel Hemingway (MH) is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, and daughter of Jack Hemingway, Ernest’s oldest son.  On behalf of the Hemingway Review and the Newsletter, Wayne Catan conducted an interview with Mariel in which she discusses her acting career, her work with Woody Allen, the famous actor’s depiction of her grandfather in Midnight in Paris, the first Hemingway book she read (and wrote about), her work with suicide prevention, her newest book Out Came the Sun, and much more. Contributor Wayne Catan (WC) conducts the interview.


WC:  You are a successful actress. You have been nominated for a Golden Globe, New Star of the Year for Lipstick and an Academy Award, Best Supporting Actress for Manhattan.  Tell us about your roles in these movies. 

MH: Regarding Lipstick:  I was 13 years old and my sister Margaux was asked to play the lead in a film about a supermodel, which she was (one of the biggest at that time), and she asked if I wanted to play her little sister. It was curious because my sister and I had a strained relationship. I was 7 years younger than her and I believe she felt that I had taken her place as the baby in the family. She was not a novelty to my parents like my oldest sister, Muffet/Joan, nor the cute, tiny baby that I had become in the family. And my being the youngest meant she saw me as getting things easily whereas she struggled with family rules. So when I was asked to make the film with her I was in shock. I wanted her to be successful because our personal dynamic was so strained and I knew my success would be difficult for her.

I instantly loved making movies; it was a break from the difficulties of my mother’s cancer and the entire family’s relationship with alcohol. Being so young I never thought that it would become the thing that I would want to do with my life. I just thought it was fun. When I was given such positive accolades when Lipstick was released, it was a surprise and actually a bit worrisome for me. That said, it was exciting to be such a young girl being looked at as having such a promising career ahead.


WC: Do you have a favorite acting experience?  

MH: Manhattan: That was the project that made me realize that acting was what I would pursue in my life. Woody had actually seen Lipstick and written the role with me in mind, (or so I’ve been told). I had no idea, prior to meeting him, who he was or that the film would have such a huge impact. I loved the process … being in NYC and making a movie was great. Breaking for lunch and eating in street cafes and in between set ups strolling the park or into galleries, or looking at some of the world’s up and coming new artists. No other film has ever held the same kind of magic as making Manhattan did for me, but still I love all filmmaking. I began the process of understanding the benefit of listening and watching rather than worrying about lines. In order to achieve an authentic response to what another actor says to you … you have to hear them. It reminded me of something my grandfather quoted years before “When people talk listen. Most people never listen.” I loved making the movie and the aftermath was an amazing and unexpected surprise. To this day I am grateful for that experience.


WC:  You worked with Woody Allen in Manhattan. What do you think about Mr. Allen’s depiction of your grandfather in Midnight in Paris?

MH: Woody Allen’s depiction of my grandfather in Midnight in Paris was over-the-top and fantastic. It was taken strictly from the pages of some of his books and because of that, it was hilarious. I loved the long draws of wine from the boda bag and the quotes taken directly from his writings, which as prose is brilliant but as dialogue in a movie is ridiculous. It was a caricature and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


WC:  Your grandfather’s books are taught in schools worldwide. What was the first Hemingway book that you read (or studied) in school?

MH: The first book I read in school was The Old Man and the Sea. I was 12 or 13, and I was mesmerized by the book, thinking that I had a deep understanding of my grandfather, more than anyone in my class or possibly the world. I am pretty sure I was delusional, but it was fun thinking I had a real connection with Papa.


WC:  Do you remember the first essay that you wrote about one of your grandfather’s books?

MH: The first essay I wrote about Ernest was after I read A Moveable Feast, which was and continues to be one of my favorite books. It takes place in Paris and depicts the time he was with my grandmother Hadley (my middle name) and when my father John Hadley was born. I wrote about how powerful it was that my grandfather wrote about his memories of so many years before with such clarity and passion. I believed his recollection was a love letter to my grandmother, to Paris, and to the power of youth and drive.


WC:  The natural world is featured in many of his works such as The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea. Is the natural world important to you?  Is there a particular book that your grandfather wrote that connects you to the natural world?

MH: I think all of Ernest’s books have a connection to nature. Each one has moments where the natural world is the backdrop for relationship, courage or lack of courage, and how Nature never judges but always holds a strong foundation. It seems his connection with Nature was the ultimate metaphor for living and how to survive it courageously.


WC:  Speaking of the natural world, what was it like growing up in Ketchum, Idaho?

MH:  Ketchum, Idaho is my favorite place in the world (and I have done my share of traveling). I grew up there and I continue to be amazed by its beauty. Growing up there was my solace. Whenever the dysfunction of my family was too much I climbed a mountain or jumped into a cold stream and it made my world right again.


WC: How much of your youth was spent in Los Angeles and New York?  What was that like?

MH: The majority of my childhood I spent in Ketchum, but after making Manhattan I did move there and spent quite a few years building my career. Manhattan along with Ketchum has been a place to call home for very different reasons. NYC is where I learned to be resourceful and independent. I learned to act there, I tried theatre, I started doing yoga and I walked a LOT. Walking and watching people is how I learned about behaviors, how loneliness feels, and how excitement can disappoint—basically the nuances of acting. I spent less time in LA when I was a kid except to make Personal Best, which did take a tremendously long time. I was 19 when the journey began and 21 when it was finally released. So LA was a part of growing up for me as well. But it wasn’t until recently that I have actually called LA home. With my incredible life partner Bobby Williams, who introduced me to a new relationship with the natural part of LA, I have discovered its natural mysteries. There is such beauty in the mountains, on the beach, and in the canyons there.


WC: Do you still travel to Ketchum to see your sister, Muffet?

MH: I spend a great deal of every summer in Ketchum still, and when I do I see Muffet where she lives 90 miles away in Twin Falls, Idaho, and it is always a treat to spend time with her now. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the visits because I used to fear her mental illness.


WC: What inspired you to write Out Came the Sun?

MH: I wrote Out Came the Sun after completing a documentary on my family called Running From Crazy, which was my exploration of my sister’s battle with addiction and the tragic suicides of my grandfather and Margaux. I am proud of the work I did in the film (co-produced with Oprah Winfrey) but didn’t feel I had truly told the whole story. I wanted to explore my own childhood to make sense of why I had made the choices I had made in my life.


WC: What are you working on now?

MH: I am currently working on producing a book of my grandfather’s, A Moveable Feast, into a film. I am developing a TV series, and I am working with Bobby Williams on 2 film projects and one incredible fitness/wellness machine that I think may change the world.


WC: You are open to speaking about suicide prevention and depression.  What are some keys to preventing suicidal thoughts and living a full life with depression?   Can you also mention any resources (organizations, websites) where people who suffer from depression can secure assistance?

MH: One of the reasons I work hard on suicide prevention is because it has become an epidemic. It is not a cut and dry situation to understand why people commit suicide or the exact signs of warning. But anyone who even mentions it needs to be taken seriously. As far as things to be done for anyone who suffers from or is impacted by it needs to find someone to tell their story to (a friend, sibling, parent, doctor, or therapist) as a way to begin the process of understanding what it is that they need for recovery. All mental illness needs to be understood at a personal level, but anyone who suffers from it needs to pay attention to their lifestyle as well as their history. How are they living their everyday life? How do they eat? Do they drink water? Do they spend time in nature? Do they exercise? And do they take time for stillness, silence, or meditation? These simple life practices have the ability to help balance the brain and lower or even eliminate (in some cases only) the need for medication. Maybe it is not a cure, but healthy choices will always be beneficial. People in the middle of a deeply depressed state are hard to reach and telling them to eat better is usually met by deaf ears because they can’t see out of their own darkness. But being a support for them so they know they are loved and not alone is crucial. People who suffer from mental illness, especially young people have to realize they are not isolated and that there are others out there who understand them and may have felt the same way. Feeling separated and isolated is one of the biggest misunderstandings that people who suffer from mental illness are plagued by.


NAMI: National Association for Mental Illness. There are local chapters in almost every city.

AFSP: American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide. Also many local chapters.

Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation.  Based out of Chicago but branching out throughout the states.

HOPE: Hope For Depression.  Located in NYC but doing impactful work around the world.

Nearly every community in the US has a local foundation with a focus on mental health. Look for support groups and foundations in your area.


WC:  Do you think depression is present in any of your grandfather’s characters like Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises or Lieutenant Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms … or Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea?

MH: In my opinion, Jake likely suffered from depression and likely PTSD as did Frederic in A Farewell to Arms. In The Old Man and The Sea I think it is less apparent as to the man’s depression but certainly he was deeply melancholic. Honestly, it is hard to think of a great character in fiction that doesn’t struggle with some sort of mental battle of some kind. We now call it a mental illness and that is true, but it is all also the human drama. We all have to deal with pain and suffering in life to transform; it is part of being alive. I think great creatives in all forms of art deal with mental challenges. Not all become consumed by it, but I think artists understand all the aspects of life good and bad, light and dark. I think that is where all art is conceived.

Wayne Catan 06/13/2016

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