Frances Fisher pops open a bottle of wine for a toast to her new Los Angeles home. It's her first day in the first house she can actually call her own, and she's stoked. It doesn't matter that the place is bare from its hardwood floors to its off-white ceilings--that is, except for two tot-sized chairs that belong to 2-year-old Francesca. The actress is putting down roots for her daughter. To this single mother who spent her own childhood in Italy, Turkey, England and Texas, that is significant.
It'll be a few days before the furniture is moved from the Bel-Air home of Francesca's father, Clint Eastwood. Although the six-year Fisher-Eastwood relationship ended about eight months ago, Fisher has been so busy with a television series and back-to-back movies that she's just now making the move to her new digs.
The task is being crammed into a week and also allows Francesca to spend time with her father. Fisher and Francesca are in Los Angeles while on a break from their part-time home in Vancouver, Canada, where Fisher is filming the new Fox series "Strange Luck," which premieres tonight. The show stars D.B. Sweeney as a photographer who lives above the all-night diner where Fisher's character waitresses. Today also marks the premiere of the first of Fisher's four upcoming films, "The Stars Fell on Henrietta" with Robert Duvall and Aidan Quinn.
"I don't quite understand it," Fisher says, laughing. "It is interesting that I've been working so much just in this past year. I guess God has his plan."
Fisher, 43, perhaps best known for the Eastwood film "Unforgiven" and for playing Lucille Ball in TV's "Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter," was certain the birth of Francesca Ruth Fisher-Eastwood would slow her career to a crawl. But jobs started coming her way last winter, about the same time she realized her relationship with Eastwood was over.
"With relationships, with people, you're attracted to somebody for a reason," she says in explaining her breakup. "You follow it through, and if you can't get past the honeymoon stage and get into the deeper meanings of why you're together . . . you're doomed to just stop when things start getting tough."
Partnership, fidelity and family are all important to Fisher, who is as down-to-earth as many of the characters she's played. She seems to prefer approaching life's pills philosophically: "I'm not bitter, I'm not jaded," she says. "I think we all make choices in our lives that we need to work out. We always do things for a reason. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't. I don't look back and say, 'God, I wish I'd never done that,' because everything is a learning experience."
Once on her own again, Fisher didn't rush to phone her agent for work. It was merely a matter of leaving herself open to things, she says. She shifted her focus away from trying to make her relationship work, and toward her daughter and her acting.
Maybe she became better known because of her connection to Eastwood, but it appears the changes in her life since then left her open to the recent landslide of opportunities.
"I've always pursued my own thing," Fisher says. "I had the good fortune to work in a couple of [Eastwood's] productions, but still, I did 'Pink Cadillac,' then I did a 'Roseanne.' After I did 'Unforgiven,' I did a television movie with Jane Seymour and James Keach."
It was an ensuing friendship with Keach that led to Fisher's involvement with "The Stars Fell on Henrietta," a story based on Keach's own family in Texas. Robert Duvall plays a somewhat shady but sincere oilman in a simple story set in a Texas dust bowl. Keach approached Fisher with the script to give to Eastwood, who ended up producing the film. Fisher, who was breast-feeding at the time, wasn't looking for a role, but the part of Quinn's wife was not yet cast. Not only did Fisher get a role, so did Francesca, who plays Fisher's youngest daughter in the movie. The chubby-cheeked baby was a true professional throughout filming--even though she only worked for food.
Being able to work and keep the toddler by her side has been "the best of both worlds," Fisher says.
"I always wanted to have kids," says the actress, who at 15 took care of her younger brother when their mother died. She was married briefly at age 18 to her high school sweetheart, in what she now believes was an attempt to recover a sense of family.
Fisher moved East to act, and her ascent to film and television occurred only because she was trying to support her New York theater habit. She took a role on the soap "The Edge of Night" in 1976, which she did during the day for four years, spreading her acting wings in 99-seat theaters at night. The money from the TV job enabled Fisher and her boyfriend at the time to go from a room and a shared bathroom "with a bunch of rooming-house guys," to remodeling several rooms into a suite all to themselves.
With long, silky red hair, porcelain skin and a delicately petite figure, Fisher appears fragile in person. But her strength surfaces with resolve on-screen, "Henrietta" being a perfect example. She rarely chooses acting roles for the money--or the medium. And the less makeup involved, the better.
"I don't see it as whether it's theater or film or television," she says, "it's whether the material is good and the role is something I want to play. . . . The spirit of low-budget independent is the same thing as Off Off Broadway to me, everybody's pulling together."
And so emerges the motivation behind her upcoming films, "Waiting for Guffman," a low-budget "improvisational comedy" directed by and starring Christopher Guest (with whom she worked on "The Attack of the 50-Ft. Woman"); "The Whiskey Heir," a 30-minute film, and "Female Perversions," a "journey into a woman's erotic mind from a woman's point of view," in which she plays a stripper.
Fisher says she expects one or all of the films to make the festival circuit. And between "Strange Luck" and her next film, "Striptease" with Demi Moore, there is little time contemplate a relationship. "Right now, obviously, I'm not thinking about it," she says drolly.
Asked if she will ever do a film with Eastwood again, she says: "I don't know who I'm going to work with." But she doesn't believe she will work less without their association.
"I've always wanted a partnership, that's very important to me," she says. "I'm certainly not going to get involved with someone who doesn't have time to have a relationship. It's all about partnering, traveling the world together. Otherwise, you're just surfing through life . . . and I'm more of a deep-sea diver."
* "Strange Luck" premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on Fox.