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Profile : The ‘Widow’ Lane : WHAT GOT THE 29-YEAR-OLD ACTRESS THROUGH THE TOUGHEST SHOOT IN HER LIFE?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Diane Lane loves playing the role of mother.

Not only does the former child actress star as the mother of six in CBS’ two-part “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” Lane recently became a mom herself.

In fact, she reported to work last fall on “Confederate Widow” just one month after she gave birth to daughter Eleanor, now 8 months old. Lane’s husband of six years is French actor Christopher Lambert, who starred in “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.”

Her daughter, Lane says, was not named after Eleanor Roosevelt. “But she will be the Eleanor Roosevelt of her generation,” she quips while drinking a wine spritzer at a swank Beverly Hills hotel. “My grandmother was actually named Eleanor. But we chose it because it had to sound good in French and English. It’s a little tricky. Some of the American names don’t really click.”

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Neither did some of the French. “He wanted to name her Bebe for a while,” Lane says, laughing. “It seemed like a pinup name.”

Lane, 29, who made her film debut in 1979’s “A Little Romance” when she was 13, had no concept how difficult it would be to work so soon after giving birth.

“I wouldn’t do that again for a million years,” she says, lighting up a cigarette. “I had no idea. There is no rehearsal (for motherhood). Everybody tries to warn you. You don’t believe them. It’s all true and you should have listened to them. Sleep is something from my youth.”

Baby Eleanor accompanied Lane to Georgia where “Confederate” filmed. But since the shooting schedule was so grueling--Lane worked six-day weeks for six weeks--Eleanor could only visit her mother on the set about once a week.

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“It was so heartbreaking for me just to be away from her at that time,” Lane says with regret. “I don’t know how working moms do it.”

Because she wasn’t able to breast-feed during production, Lane says, “I lost her to the breast. She went on the bottle. I got so mad I cut all of my hair off after we wrapped. Nursing is so rewarding emotionally. You are so indispensable in the most primal way.”

Lane’s contribution to “Oldest Living Confederate Widow,” based on the best-selling novel by Alan Gurganus, could also be called indispensable. She plays the title character: feisty, outspoken Lucy Marsden, who, at age 14, marries Capt. William Marsden (Donald Sutherland), a 50-year-old Confederate veteran of the Civil War. The drama chronicles their turbulent life together, Lucy’s relationship with her six children and her friendship with Castalia (Cicely Tyson), the captain’s housekeeper and former slave. Lane plays Lucy from ages 14 to 58. Anne Bancroft narrates the film and is the 100-year-old Lucy.

Executive producers Frank Konigsberg and Larry Sanitsky had long wanted to work with Lane. “I think when you are looking at actresses, we needed someone who could go from 14 to about 50,” Sanitsky says. “I think the biggest challenge is the 14-year-old part. I think Diane has wonderful range and a wonderful look at this point in her life. She could get down convincingly to close to 14. It wasn’t that hard to take her up. She is really the right age for the middle section.”

The producers didn’t know when they cast her that she was about to become a first-time mom. But being a mother, Konigsberg says, enriched Lane’s performance. “I think that experience, a lot of that experience, came to bear on this show. I think a lot of her performance ended up getting shaded by that.”

Lane agrees. “I was so glad I had those emotional feelings, that love,” she explains. “I wouldn’t have had the confidence to have that stance as a mother--those tigress feelings you have for your kids.”

The actress acknowledges she never worked so hard “for her money” in her life as she did on “Confederate Widow.”

In one day’s shooting alone, Lane says, “I lost one of my children. Then I had to run around after my blinded son with his seeing-eye dog and then I had to put on a puppet show for the children. I would go home and I wouldn’t remember what I shot, and I’ve been on my share of hard shoots, especially TV.”

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Lane has no time for those who put down television. “People say, ‘It’s TV.’ They think lightweight thoughts in their mind. Hardly . It’s harder work than features. You are, like, cranking it out there and if you don’t get it, it’s gone.”

Still, Lane says, every scene was easy for her to play. “Every true emotion was right there in that scene. There are many different kinds of scripts. This one was a right-in-your-face kind of script. Every scene had its own believability factor, if you will. Stay true to that and you can’t go wrong. The characters were so rich. My agent said it was a tour-de-force opportunity. So much happens to this woman. It fell in my lap--straight from the gods. I said, ‘I have to be thankful and walk through the open door here and play this woman.’ ”

After production was completed, Lane finally got quality time with Eleanor. “I just wanted to curl up in a fetal position with my baby, just smile at her and absorb her,” Lane says, beaming. “She is pure sunshine.”

‘Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” airs Sunday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.


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