Diane Lane Gets Lucky

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There's nothing at all wrong with Connie Sumner's life. She's a doting mother with a loving husband and a lovely home in a leafy New York City suburb. Then one day she goes to Manhattan and quite by chance meets a sexy young Frenchman who deals in rare books. Steamy sex, guilt, retribution and manslaughter ensue. The movie: Unfaithful. The director: Adrian Lyne. Like his previous forays into adultery — Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal — this one is designed to provoke debate. Since the movie's opening on May 10, some critics have called it an exploitative morality tale; others have championed it as thoughtful adult drama. But almost everyone agrees that actress Diane Lane's rendering of an irresistibly average mom driven mad by passion is, by itself, worth the price of admission. Co-starring Richard Gere as the husband and Olivier Martinez as the lover, Unfaithful has already made Lane an early contender in this year's Oscar race.

"It's the best role I've been offered, period," says Lane, 37, as she cheerfully fields questions about acting and adultery over a bowl of soup. Asked if she came up with a motivation for Connie's bad behavior, Lane first laughs--"Have you seen Olivier Martinez?"--then bristles at the double standard for male and female fidelity. "Nobody asked why Michael Douglas cheated on Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction. There is no justification built in. That's what's honest about the movie."

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After Lane's first tryst with her lover, the camera sits quietly on her, displaying her quicksilver emotions: a pang of guilt, a flicker of pleasure, finally tears and hysterical laughter. Lane downplays this acting feat. "I was tired, and that's how I freak out," she says. "Now I know what I look like when I do it." Gere, however, is impressed. "I've never seen an actress pull off something like that," he says. "It's one of the great scenes ever filmed." We'll let the hyperbole stand.

Back in 1979 Lane graced the cover of TIME for a story on young actors. She was just 14 but had held her own with Laurence Olivier in A Little Romance, her movie debut. While she has worked steadily ever since (in nearly three dozen feature films), great roles have eluded her. Except for her rich performance as a frustrated 1960s housewife in A Walk on the Moon (1999), much of her recent work has been confined to supporting roles. Back in 1984 she tripped up her transition to better parts by turning down the comedy Splash, which became a hit. ("I was insecure about the nudity involved in playing a mermaid," she says.) Another big break, Francis Ford Coppola's 1984 epic The Cotton Club, also starring Gere, bombed. "Becoming a movie star is a question of the right part at the right time," says Coppola, who also cast Lane in his 1983 films Rumble Fish and The Outsiders. "At any time that could have happened to her, and it could yet happen to her."

Still, Lane has always been ambivalent about both stardom and her chosen profession, ever since her father, a New York City acting coach who died earlier this year, put her onstage at age 6. "I didn't want to be acting for that much of my childhood," says Lane. "So I'm conflicted. I don't know if I want to be a lifer."

She's also uncomfortable with questions about her private life, though it's clear that long before playing Connie, Lane had firsthand knowledge of complicated women. Her grandmother was a Pentecostal preacher; her mother is a former Playboy Bunny. Lane herself is a single mom. (She and her ex-husband, actor Christopher Lambert, have an 8-year-old daughter.) She has absolutely no comment on her current boyfriend, actor Josh Brolin: "Who cares who I'm dating? I'm not Madonna." She says nothing about him but blushes at the mention of his name. "Doesn't that say it all?" she asks. It also says that at the moment, there's nothing at all wrong with Diane Lane's life.