In the four-hour TV movie "Family Pictures," you'll see Anjelica Huston as you've never seen her before.
As a wife and mother of six children."Well, one of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about doing `Family Pictures' was the opportunity to do so many things I hadn't done before," Huston said. "I think mostly I'm thought of as a bit of an exotic, or at least I find myself in those sorts of roles.
"And I longed to do something that was closer to normalcy than Morticia Addams or one of my sort of roster of witches."
But while Huston has become identified with roles like Morticia in "The Addams Family," Maerose Prizzi in "Prizzi's Honor" (for which she won an Oscar) and Lily Dillon, the far-from-normal mother in "The Grifters" (for which she was nominated for another Oscar), "Family Pictures" gives her an opportunity to prove just how fine an actress she is.
This is a performance deserving of at least an Emmy nomination, if not the actual Emmy.
"I have to say that this script came to me rather as a surprise," Huston said. "I hadn't planned to do a television movie. I hadn't thought about it in those terms. But it was simply the best thing I'd read all year. It was immediately moving to me. I found myself in tears on page 10."
Huston plays Lainey Eberlin, the wife of a psychiatrist (Sam Neill) and mother of six children (two of whom are played by Kyra Sedgwick and Dermot Mulroney).
Told largely through flashbacks, this episodic four hours begins in the early '50s and carries through to the early '80s. And this large, often troubled family revolves around a single member - Randall, the third child, who is autistic.
Lainey rejects the theory of the day - that the mother is responsible for the child's autism. But she also refuses to let go of Randall, to allow him to be institutionalized.
"This was a story about a family, how they deal with a problem, and the problems that ensue from that problem," Huston said. "It gave me the opportunity to play an American housewife . . . something that was very unusual for me. A woman who had passions, who fights with her husband, who loves her husband, who has six children. There were a lot of very strong scenes in the script, and it was really sort of inspiring and a challenge to me to do it."
The script, based on the book by Sue Miller, manages to pack an extraordinary wallop without becoming melodramatic. In addition to the troubles of trying to deal with an autistic child, there are husband-wife conflicts and the other five children experience problems associated with the '60s and '70s - drugs, Vietnam, the sexual revolution.
During the nine weeks spent shooting telefilm, "There was no day that went by that I didn't have a dramatic scene," Huston said, describing her experience as both "emotionally draining" and "satisfying" as an actress.
Huston, of course, knows all about dramatic scenes from her own family life. She grew up in Ireland with her father, director John Huston, and his fourth wife, former ballerina Enrica "Ricki" Soma Huston. And being Americans, she said that made them "unlike anyone else there." Not to mention the fact that her father's was "a rather unusual profession."
"My parents separated when I was 13. So that was unusual," Huston said. "And my parents were sort of unusual, face it."
She acknowledges some "rather sticky moments" with her father during her teenage years.
"He didn't like my love affair with makeup that started, I guess, when I was about 13 or 14. Fishnet stockings and heavy eyeliner were not his idea of how I should look. So I was under the impression he wanted me to be Tricia Nixon for a long time," Huston said. "There was a slight misunderstanding there, which eventually we smoothed out. He was simply bigger, braver, stronger, more imposing than any of the other fathers, I guess."
Adding to the strain between father and daughter was the fact that John cast 16-year-old Anjelica as the lead in "A Walk With Love and Death" - an experience the daughter describes as "horrible."
The woman who is widely acclaimed for her striking beauty was far from comfortable with her looks at 16.
"It was not an attractive stage for me," Huston said. "My nose and my legs were growing fast. As was my ill humor, I think."
Much of that ill humor was directed at her father.
"I don't think we spoke while we made the movie, which as a little problematic, being as I was starring in it and he was directing it," she said. "I was very reluctant. I didn't really care for it, to tell you the truth, and I think he wanted to make a wonderful gesture and he wanted to launch me and I was of the opinion in those days - I know a little better now - that one could have a career with absolutely no help from anyone, particularly one's father.
"And so I was very much against the idea of handouts and it took me some 25-odd years to really come around and understand the idiocy of my position."
Huston was 34 before she again appeared in a movie directed by her father - and this time she won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for "Prizzi's Honor."
And she's most grateful that before her father died in 1987, "We worked things out and I would say at the end of his life we were very close."
The passage of time has also given her a different perspective on her own life.
"When I was at school I remember being incredibly jealous of my friend Heather's way of life and her pink nylon bedspreads and the comforts of a normal family life," Huston said. "But as the years have gone on, and as I think `Family Pictures' so beautifully illustrates, normalcy is practically non-existent in even the most normal families.
"I think normalcy is a sort of illusion - and this isn't to put down the Donna Reed series - but I think under the surface of any family, American or otherwise, we're going to find things that are unusual and abnormal and I think that's what makes people people."
It's also what makes "Family Pictures" one of the best made-for-television movies of the season.
Part 1 of "Family Pictures" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC (Ch. 4 locally, and it concludes Monday at 8 p.m.