June 15th, 2024

Griffin Dunne finds balance between madcap Hollywood adventures and family tragedy in new memoir

By Brooke Lefferts, The Associated Press on June 10, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Griffin Dunne says he’s grateful his parents raised him with what he affectionately calls “benign neglect” in 1970s and ’80s Los Angeles because it encouraged creativity and risk-taking that led to some wild experiences he chronicles in his new memoir.

“The Friday Afternoon Club, A Family Memoir,” out Tuesday from Penguin Press, is filled with raucous tales of growing up in Hollywood – from sneaking into his parents’ dinner parties with guests like Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra, to Sean Connery saving him from drowning in a pool (see, neglect!), to acting class with Linda Lovelace, and smoking weed with Dennis Hopper.

The actor, producer and director infuses the book with humor, but also covers the tragic aspects of his life: his mother’s early MS diagnosis, his father’s (writer Dominick Dunne) addictions, his brother’s mental health challenges and his sister’s murder. Dominique Dunne was 22 and starting a promising acting career (she debuted in “Poltergeist”) when her ex-boyfriend strangled her at her West Hollywood home in 1982. Beyond the impressive name-dropping and pedigree – his aunt and uncle are writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne – Dunne, 69, has a gift for storytelling.

He recently sat down with The Associated Press to discuss fame, his friendship with Carrie Fisher and his complex past. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.

AP: You have a complicated relationship with fame and success – why were you afraid of it?

DUNNE: That came, actually, as I was writing the book. I was taking my career – which I’m now very proud of with the diversity of being able to act and produce and direct – but at the time, it was so scattered. And I was rather hard on myself for missing opportunities to become a movie star. But now I’m rather pleased with how my career turned out and where it’s all going. But I think I arrived at that by writing about it. I went, “˜Wow, look at all that stuff I did!’

AP: You have a lot of compassion for your family. How did you come to appreciate your parents’ unconventional parenting style?

DUNNE: Before I wrote this book, I needed the blessing of my brother, who’s the only (living) member of my immediate family. He said, “˜You can write whatever you want about me. Just have it come from a place of love.’ I realize that that’s the note that carries me through the whole book. I’m writing about some pretty questionable behavior, but I know that I love them, and I know that’s going to come through. I was raised with what I would call benign neglect, which I am really grateful for. They didn’t know or even notice that I was hitchhiking in Los Angeles at 13, sneaking out of the house, disappearing overnight, taking drugs way too soon, having sex way too soon. It was all so important that we shed our childhood and try to be grownups. I’m glad I didn’t have them hovering.

AP: Was it difficult to write the chapters on your sister’s murder and trial?

DUNNE: It was so much fun to write about my sister as a child and have her grow up and then have her career take off. Then it was like, “˜Oh God, here we go.’ It was hard, but not in a writer’s block way. It was surprising how easy it was to relive it, to feel what I felt, and how my parents – just their bravery and their strength and how much I drew from that. It was very emotional to write about because – beside for the obvious reasons – what was particularly emotional was remembering how extraordinary my mother and father were, actually, all of us.

AP: You and Carrie Fisher were best friends from your teen years through her death in 2016. Was it fun to revisit your friendship?

DUNNE: It was really like channeling her. She just came roaring back. She was born with the quickest wit ever known. And the laughs that we would have and the silly musicals we’d make up when we were together. That was really fun to write. And that period in New York for both of us, it was the ’70s in New York, in this filthy city. She was on Broadway in the chorus. I was at Radio City Music Hall as a popcorn concessionaire and I’d go backstage during (her) show, and we were like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

AP: Is it true she thought “Star Wars” was going to be a flop?

DUNNE: One day she says, “˜I got this job, and it shoots in London. They hired some guy, about my age, Mark somebody, and then Harrison Ford, you’ll never know who he is.’ I said, ‘Actually, I do.’ When he was a carpenter, he built my aunt and uncle’s deck, and I idolized him. He smoked Marlboros, and he ripped off the filter. So I ripped off the filter, and I couldn’t handle his pot. So she goes to London and would call me just to complain. “˜You’re not going to believe my hair. I have two bagels on the side of my head. We shoot ray guns; they don’t have triggers! And this big ape is running behind us all the time. It’s a disaster!’ At the premiere, people in the science fiction community, they almost descended from other planets. I’ve never, ever heard an audience like that in my life.

AP: Many now recognize you from your role on “This is Us” – how did that happen?

DUNNE: I’d taken a break from acting, and then I heard about this guy from the Moscow Arts Institute, a Russian, was coming to teach Chekhov, so I took this class, and I did “˜Uncle Vanya’ and “˜Ivanov.’ And I realized that actually, I’m a kind of a perfect Chekhov character. I’m funny and sad. I thought, “˜Oh, wow, now I’m excited about acting again.’ Around that time, I got sent this script. He’s a Vietnam War veteran, and this guy, Uncle Nicky, was funny and tragic. How more Chekhov can you get? I’m so glad I took that course and sort of fell into playing this character.

AP: What do you think your father would think of the book?

DUNNE: He was an inspiration for me while I was writing. He was a big proponent of being honest about yourself. I would like to think he thought I was doing the same.

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