However much Halloween weekend departed from the norms, one thing remained true: Anjelica Huston continued to hold the collective imagination. In the campy 1993 movie The Addams Family, Huston plays the delicious Morticia—a marvel of chiseled cheekbones and fishtail silhouettes, who gives the Gothic backdrop a jolt of warm-blooded vitality. The recent reboot of The Witches has also put the 1990 version back in focus, with its simmering political undertones. “The Witches is quite a subversive movie, in that I understood quite early on that it’s about Hitler, basically,” Huston said of the original, speaking by phone recently from her ranch near California’s Sequoia National Forest. Her character, Eva Ernst, peels off her darkly glamorous face to reveal a grotesque Grand High Witch plotting to rid England of its children. “Something about being that foul and mean and nasty is extremely liberating—even though I was encased in rubber in a seven-hour makeup process,” she recalled. “There is nothing more fun than being totally flat-out horrible.”
Lately for Huston, though, life has been pleasantly pastoral. “I am literally riding out these months of quarantine,” the actor said of her equine companions. “I’ve been training, in particular, one very small, very charming little Shetland pony. I’ve been lunging her and teaching her how to go through her steps.” Piglets arrived over the summer; so did 14 kittens, including a black one with white feet that Huston is “completely in love with.” The menagerie includes ducks, geese, chickens, dogs. “All manner of animals—those are the domesticated ones,” she clarified. “They’re very good distractions for COVID.”
Huston has always seemed to exist on the edge of domestication—an otherworldly beauty who got her start in her father John Huston’s 1969 movie, A Walk with Love and Death. (Her mother, Enrica Soma, was a Balanchine-trained ballerina, who appeared on the cover of Life magazine at 18.) As a model in the early 1970s, Huston spent days on set with photographers like Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin; by night, she slinked out in Halston designs. It’s a familiar scenario, then, that the 69-year-old has turned up as a face of Gucci’s latest fragrance—muse once again to a fashion giant at the center of artistic circles. Given creative director Alessandro Michele’s taste for grandeur and the macabre (witness Jared Leto, in Gucci regalia, carrying around his own simulacrum head at last year’s Met Gala), Huston seems utterly at home in the coven-like campaign. There she is, majestic in neo-Baroque splendor, with the air of an oracle watching over our stranger-than-fiction year.
If there’s a lesson in Morticia Addams, it’s in her sense of topsy-turvy. “I love that whole element of Morticia: how they live in this gloomy place that she absolutely adores, and she cuts the heads off roses. Everything is contradictory,” said Huston. Here, she discusses the surreal and all-too-real of our own time, including an ill-fated experiment growing out her bangs, her mother’s transporting perfume, and her amateur potter’s quest to craft the perfect bowl.
Vanity Fair: You’ve written about your mother’s bureau topped with perfume bottles, and how your father smelled of cologne and tobacco. What does perfume confer to you?
Anjelica Huston: My mother wore Shalimar, and whenever I smell Shalimar, I’m immediately in contact with her. I think memory is top of the list. The olfactory sense is the last to leave you when you pass; it’s very, very significant in that it’s attached to memory most of all. All I have to do is smell talcum powder or Nivea face cream, and I’m transported back to five years old. It’s very kind of mysterious.
I love not having to look in the mirror so much and to just be in the country, pull my hair back in a ponytail, and go out there. Serums pretty much do it for me. I love those vitamin C ones, and I love layering them. I love mascara—I like how I look much better with mascara on—but it sure feels great not to have to put on a bunch of makeup every day, which for some reason always feels incumbent when I’m in town. I automatically put on makeup when I’m there, but here in the country, not so much.
Do you wear perfume in the country, just for yourself?
No, because it attracts bugs! I stay away from it when I’m here, but I like lavender oil and stuff that smells bad to bugs.
This year has upended at-home beauty norms. Have you taken on any new routines?
I took advantage of the moment to grow out my bangs—and you know what, it’s a big mistake. I need bangs! I need to get somebody to trim them, though, because whenever I trim them, I hack off way too much. So I’m waiting to get together with my hairdresser in town. She’s called Victoria, and the salon is in Santa Monica—Alchemy. She’ll also be coloring my hair, which is no reflection on the talent of my housekeeper, but it wasn’t my housekeeper’s main attraction. The at-home pedicure—I’m not that bad at it, actually! That one’s the best of all three.
You spent much of your early career as a model. Almost a half-century later, how was the experience with this campaign, given that the industry has changed?
I was a bit of an anomaly when I was modeling. I kind of wanted to look like the Clairol girl, but that was never to be my destiny. But I enjoyed a good career as a model, and I worked with great people and I learned a lot from them. I don’t think there’s anything now that compares with the sort of elation of working for somebody like Richard Avedon or Bob Richardson or Helmut Newton or Guy Bourdin or Irving Penn—half of the people that I had the privilege of working with, who taught me so much and recognized me. And also the designers: Halston and Giorgio Sant’Angelo and Zandra Rhodes, wonderful people. I think that culture has changed radically. The shows that we did for Halston were fantastic, and there’s nothing really now to compare with that in my book. But it’s a different era, and I’m sure it’s also wonderful for them now. What has changed for me very much, in the campaigns that I do now, is the style of photography and how everyone’s clustered around the computer, as opposed to you’re on the no-seam paper with a photographer and it’s a conversation. It doesn’t happen that way anymore. It’s more of a free-for-all, and nobody really takes direction from one person. I don’t know if it’s better or worse. Then was my top period, so I think I have a lot of nostalgia for those days and for those fantastic artists and designers I worked for, many of whom died in the AIDS crisis. On the other hand, doing a campaign like Gucci’s was very pleasurable—an extremely nice group to work with. And I think Alessandro’s extremely talented. I’ve always loved Gucci. My first proper handbag—I’m serious!—was Gucci.