Danny DeVito on his marriage... and hair obsession
I was living in New Jersey when I was 16. I was into going to movies and hanging out with my friends. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to crack open the books a bit more, do more reading, get the history and the geography down. And I’d tell myself to relax more, not get stressed about having a girlfriend. And not to smoke. I only did it to be part of the group. In fact I’d tell myself not to worry about the group so much – they’re not such a smart crowd. I’d say, spend more time with your mother and father. Boy, would I do that.
Women were on my mind big time when I was 16. I was semi-popular but not Brad Pitt popular. I wasn’t chased down the street. I had two older sisters so I had a big advantage over some guys who didn’t understand the opposite sex. I was always in the middle of my sisters and their girlfriends and I listened to the chatter and I knew the score. I would tell my younger self to use that advantage more, actually – hang around, listen to the girls more. There are nuggets of knowledge you can pick up from an older sister.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I was a teenager. My sister Angie had a beauty parlour so she sent me to hairdressing academy so I could work for her. To this day, I’m very in tune with people’s hair. I’ll give people hair advice, even when I’m not asked for it. I’m always staring at hair. I got into trouble once doing it. I was rehearsing with this actress who was a little older than me and I noticed this little string in her hair. I said, “Hey, you got some string in your hair,” and I pulled it and her eyebrows went right back. And she was like, “Godammit Danny, that’s my face lift!” I didn’t know, I’d never seen one before.
My parents are dead now but I’m lucky, we had no baggage. I was with them both when they died. They were a lot older than most kids’ parents so I was very aware of their mortality and I never hesitated to tell them how much I loved them. And when I had my own kids, I always told them how much I loved them. Circumstances are always pulling you apart, whether it’s work or something else. And you never want to go away without having had that moment when you tell them how much you love them.
I’m very proud of my performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but my teenage self would be most impressed that I played the Penguin in a Batman movie. He has the comic book on his bed. I’d have to tell him that it would turn out a bit different from the comic though, because of this crazy thing called Tim Burton. If I told him he was going to direct and perform in all these movies, and have three kids and live the life I’ve lived, I think he’d close his eyes and smile and say, ‘Fantastic’.
Marriage is a two-way street [DeVito is regarded as having one of the most secure marriages in Hollywood, having been happily married to Cheers actress Rhea Perlman for 30 years]. You both have to want the same things. If you’re going to be compadres, friends for ever, you have to be considerate and make many concessions to be able to live together.
I’ve lived a kind of perfect life. There isn’t much I would change. The moments I’ve seriously treasured the most are when I’m together with my family. For the past 20 years we’ve been going on vacation with our three kids every year. Those are the times you really want to keep hold of.
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Danny DeVito stars in The Lorax, which is in cinemas from July 27