With her honey-colored hair and classical features, Beverly D’Angelo looks like she belongs behind dark glasses on a windswept pier: an alluring enigma. And that’s just where director Neil Jordan has put her in his latest film, The Miracle. She plays Renee, an American actress with a secret past, a role Jordan wrote specifically for the actress. But D’Angelo says she doesn’t see herself that way at all. ”If I created a role for myself, it would be more like some maniac charging through life than a woman of mystery.”
Still, Jordan may be on to something. D’Angelo, 37, does have an elusive quality; she’s hard to type. Audiences have seen her as a preppie-turned-hippie in Hair, an earthy Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter, even a beleaguered mom in National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, probably her best-known role.
But then, D’Angelo has always shunned a narrow focus. ”I started out studying voice,” she says, ”and I knew pretty soon I’d never be a recording artist. A singing career is predicated on having a particular style, and I had so many.” That versatility has proved a hard sell in Hollywood, too, but D’Angelo is quick to defend her eclectic role choices. ”I didn’t have a game plan for my career,” she says. ”I’m a working actress. Doing the Vacation movies gave me freedom to do independent films I couldn’t otherwise afford to do.” Small movies such as In the Mood and High Spirits, which didn’t make a dent at the box office but did earn D’Angelo kudos.
Though she acknowledges that she may have missed out on opportunities — like losing the lead role in Sweet Dreams to Jessica Lange — D’Angelo says, ”I don’t have any regrets. My priority has always been my personal life.” Indeed, the actress lived in Italy for several years to be with her now ex-husband, an Italian duke, and only recently gave up her flat in London. Though superstardom may have eluded her, D’Angelo’s not waiting around for lightning to strike. She has a comedy, The Pope Must Die, due out this fall, and she’s currently shooting Man Trouble, with Jack Nicholson and Ellen Barkin. ”I guess,” she says, ”I’m the actress who won’t go away.”