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WATCHING THE LANE CHANGES : FROM HOLLYWOOD `WHIZ KID' TO ROLE IN `MURDER AT 1600'.

Byline: Barry Koltnow Orange County Register

Diane Lane is all grown up, but you probably already knew that.

She grew up before our eyes, in front of movie and television cameras, making the always difficult, and sometimes impossible, transition from child star to adult actress. Her latest role is that of a no-nonsense Secret Service agent who teams with a Washington, D.C., homicide detective (Wesley Snipes) to solve a crime and unearth a conspiracy in ``Murder at 1600,'' which opened Friday.

This role, coming on the heels of playing Robin Williams' mother in the film ``Jack'' and Stella in the 1995 TV production of the classic Tennessee Williams play ``A Streetcar Named Desire,'' proves that Lane has made the transition.

Still, sitting across a lunch table from the stunning actress with the deep, sexy voice at the chic Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, it is difficult to erase the memory of all those teen roles in films such as ``The Outsiders,'' ``Cattle Annie and Little Britches'' and ``Streets of Fire.''

It is even more difficult to forget that Time magazine cover.

Lane, fresh off her debut movie role opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in ``A Little Romance,'' appeared, at the tender age of 14, on the Aug. 9, 1979 cover of the magazine, hailed as one of Hollywood's ``Whiz Kids.''

Most people have to wait until they're 15 or 16 before they get on the cover of Time.

``I certainly don't think it was a matter of worthiness,'' Lane said, dismissing the entire Time magazine incident as an amusing fluke. ``Henry Kissinger was up in a corner of the cover, so what does that tell you?

``And I wasn't even the biggest of the young actresses around at the time. Why wasn't Jodie Foster on that cover instead of me? Believe me, it didn't mean anything. It brought Time down to my level, not the other way around.''

Lane was 13 when she made her first film after seven years of work on the New York stage, including starring roles in Joseph Papp's production of ``The Cherry Orchard'' at Lincoln Center in 1977.

Starting a film career acting with Olivier and being directed by George Roy Hill can be a terrific boost to that career for obvious reasons. It also can have the opposite effect, because there is no way to go but down. The Time cover only made matters worse.

``Making `A Little Romance' was absolutely the most wonderful experience for me, because I went into it in a state of innocence and bliss,'' she said. ``I had the greatest time and learned so much.

``But it also marked the end of my innocence. For some reason, between the ages of 13 and 14, I suddenly got very savvy about the business. I knew that making movies was never again going to be that pure of an experience, and I knew that I had to be careful about which direction my career was going to take.''

Lane said she was immediately swamped with offers, but the strongest pressure was being applied by the director and producer of ``The Blue Lagoon,'' a role that eventually went to Brooke Shields.

``Even though I was only 14, I remember telling my dad (drama coach Burt Lane; her mother is singer Colleen Farrington) that I knew exactly how they were going to market this movie. I knew that somehow outtakes would end up in Playboy and I would have to live with those (nude) photos the rest of my life.

``Don't ask me how I got that savvy at 14. I know how scary that sounds coming from a kid. But I've never thought this was rocket science. I've always understood how this business worked.''

Understanding the business, and making the right business decisions, are different matters entirely, and Lane is the first to admit that she did not always make the right choices in movie roles.

But she has chosen well on television - besides ``Streetcar,'' she was nominated for an Emmy for the miniseries ``Lonesome Dove'' - and her movie choices are getting better. She will play Diane Keaton's daughter in the coming ``The Only Thrill.''

Her movie characters, even in the bad films, usually have an intelligence to them that plays off her natural beauty. Although Secret Service Agent Nina Chance in ``Murder at 1600'' is smart and beautiful, the actress sees the role as a departure.

``I think she was an opportunity to do something very different for my resume,'' she explained. ``She's modern, she's heroic and she doesn't compromise her professionalism because she's a female in a normally male job. I liked the integrity of the character.

``Being an action picture from a major studio, it also was a chance to make the industry aware that I am still present, that I'm still looking great, and that I'm still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Sometimes you have to let people know you're still around.''

Although she has worked steadily in recent years, Lane said she thinks she has to remind industry movers and shakers of her presence because she has been deeply involved in family matters and has not had time to play the Hollywood game.

Her six-year marriage to French action star Christopher Lambert ended less than three years ago, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Eleanor.

The couple remain on friendly terms and even vacationed with their daughter in Aspen. Lane said she is trying to avoid a situation she had to live through with her own parents, who separated when she was very young and pulled her emotionally in opposite directions.

``It has to be this way because we have a kid in common, and raising a child is a long road to travel,'' she said. ``I much prefer to be on good terms than the alternative.''

Yes, Diane Lane is all grown up.

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Photo: ``She's modern, she's heroic and she doesn't compromise her professionalism because she's a female in a normally male job,'' says Diane Lane of her role in ``Murder at 1600.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 21, 1997
Words:1015
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