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Hartley works to tame the 'Lion'

The actress reflects on her life and the challenge of returning to an iconic role.

April 29, 2014|By Laura Tate
  • Ian Buchanan and Mariette Hartley star in "The Lion in Winter."
Ian Buchanan and Mariette Hartley star in "The Lion… (Photo by Michael…)

Preparing for the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the embattled wife of King Henry II — fierce protector of her children and sly survivalist in James Goldman's play "The Lion in Winter" — has been a challenge for actor Mariette Hartley. It has also has been a "rich and wonderful experience."

The actress spoke by telephone recently about the play, which opened Saturday at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, and about working with her daughter, Justine Hartley, who plays King Henry's mistress, and actor Ian Buchanan, who plays Henry. She also spoke of her long career of more than 60 years and about the personal challenges she faced with her family's — and her own — struggles with alcoholism and depression, and the ways they impacted her career and life.

"The Lion in Winter," which first debuted on Broadway in 1966 and was later adapted into a film starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, is a fictional story about the battle between King Henry II and his imprisoned wife Eleanor over which of their three sons will succeed him. Eleanor, the three sons, and Henry's mistress Alais, with whom the king at one point plots to marry and produce new heirs, take part in devious, complicated plotting and planning to achieve their own ends. Ultimately, no heir is chosen, and Eleanor is sent back to prison.


"I've always done challenging pieces," Hartley said. "For me, that is what my mission seems to be in my life on earth. To be awake, to stay awake, and to bring a certain kind of consciousness to the world, and to myself."

This is not the first time she's played Eleanor, nor the first time she acted with her daughter on stage. The two played the same respective roles nearly 15 years ago at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

"It's an intriguing experience to revisit her [Eleanor] at my age," said Hartley, 73. "There's a lot of water under the dam. Eleanor is a very, very strong and intriguing character. Fighting for her sons' lives, and her own even, and having this love for a husband who keeps her locked up."

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