“No,” she said. “It’s tacky.”
At 54, Ms. O’Neal is used to putting her foot down, she said later that day over lunch at Spago. “My entire life, I’ve been saying no to everything. No, no, no,” she said. “I want to be a yes person.”
Credit Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Ms. O’Neal was born to the actress Joanna Moore and the actor Ryan O’Neal, who split up when she was 4. In 1974, at 10, she was the youngest person to win an Oscar, for her role in “Paper Moon,” a movie she stole from her father, who was her co-star. Soon, she became his accessory in Hollywood, befriending adults like Cher, Bianca Jagger and Angelica Houston. When Ms. O’Neal was 16, her father left her in charge of her younger brother at their home in Malibu when he moved in with Farrah Fawcett in Bel Air, as she wrote about in her 2004 book, “A Paper Life.”
In 1986, when she was 21, she married the tennis star John McEnroe, then at the height of his career. They had three children and six years later they separated, with People magazine screaming: “End of the Love Match.” Their relationship was immortalized in an Andy Warhol painting, which sold in 2008 for over $300,000.
After her children were born, Ms. O’Neal became addicted to heroin. She spent years trying to get clean. She had her children taken from her. She had a public relapse and arrest in 2008. In 2011, she tried unsuccessfully to reconcile with her estranged father through a reality show called “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals,” which aired on OWN.
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Years after the youthful success she enjoyed in movies including “The Bad News Bears” and “Little Darlings,” there were also new acting roles: as Denis Leary’s belligerent, alcoholic sister Maggie Gavin on “Rescue Me”; as a vacant trophy wife in “Basquiat”; as Kyra the shoe shamer on “Sex in the City.” Last month, she filmed “God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness” with John Corbett in Arkansas.
A friend set Ms. O’Neal up with a manager recently. They were at a breakfast meeting, discussing how well Ms. O’Neal was doing. Things are good, they’ve been good for a long time, Ms. O’Neal said.
“But your arrest,” the manager said.
Some have observed that it is harder for female stars in Hollywood to come back from scandals than it is for male stars, like Mel Gibson; it was 15 years between Winona Ryder shoplifting in 2001, for example, and “Stranger Things.”
“Its easy to become embittered,” Ms. O’Neal said. “It’s easy to cover up the embitterment with a ton of alcohol and a ton of drugs. But I choose to do what I feel comfortable with. And for me, I know what I’m the best at. And it’s acting. So I’m going to keep trying to do that even if it’s way harder for me than it is for a guy in the same position.”
Ms. O’Neal, for the record, wasn’t dying to say “yes” to a podcast. She barely knew what a podcast was. But it’s a growth industry, with 46 million monthly podcast listeners in 2017 expanding to 67 million this year, according to Edison Research, a data company.
Women host only about 10 of the top 100 podcasts on iTunes (one is Oprah’s “Super Soul Conversations,” which isn’t new material), but their voices are growing. In 2015, Werk It, a women’s podcast festival began. There’s “2 Dope Queens,” “Anna Faris Is Unqualified,” “Invisibilia” and “Another Round.”
Sheri Salata, who was co-president of OWN until 2016, and who is now a host of a podcast, “This Is Fifty With Sheri and Nancy,” believes Ms. O’Neal is a modern-day truth teller. “She has nothing to hide,” Ms. Salata said. “She doesn’t have to put pink paint on anything because throughout her life, when she had the opportunity to tell her story, she’s been incredibly honest.”
Ms. O’Neal’s son Kevin McEnroe, an author, said that people had approached them to do reality shows for years, which he felt was the worst possible thing to do. “You’ll just end up with an edited version of yourself versus what she has, which is that kind of natural charisma. And she’s funny,” Mr. McEnroe said. “With this new medium, you can see what it’s done for people in recovery like Marc Maron. You can speak openly about things, when maybe you didn’t have a chance to otherwise.”
Ms. O’Neal can’t not speak openly, but she was concerned about sounding too self-involved. She didn’t want to just talk about old Hollywood. She wanted the podcast to reflect her curiosity about life in the present. When you stop being curious, you’re in trouble, she said. She didn’t just want to rehash her stories, either — she wanted to explore other people’s stories. Which is why she brought her daughter in.
Ms. McEnroe, 26, has a deep, gravelly voice — a combination of her father’s Queens-influenced stony delivery and her mother’s rasp — and is a fitting sidekick. She talks about being harassed as a door girl at a bar in Los Angeles. (A guy grabbed her recently and said, “Time to go to the strip club!”) She discusses her voice-over and acting auditions.
Credit Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times
In the first few episodes, Ms. O’Neal and Ms. McEnroe tackled heavy topics: What is it like to have famous parents? What was it like to have a mother who is a drug addict?
Ms. O’Neal has done rehab and 12-step programs, though not currently. “In this town, if you’re not in the program, people think you must be out on the street with a needle hanging out of your arm,” she said. “I think that’s a fallacy.”
Ms. McEnroe has tried E.M.D.R. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which encourages the person to briefly focus on the traumatic memory) and other “trauma work.” She also dabbles in alternative practices, most recently, baking in a 150-degree infrared sauna. “It was awful,” she said.
On and off the air, her mother is noticeably sensitive to the wounds inflicted by addiction.
“We’d talk about it, and I would be triggered by something,” Ms. McEnroe said. “My mom would check in with me. ‘Are you O.K. with this? Is it bringing up feelings for you?’ Because for a long time, I got inward as a teen and stopped talking.” But, “I really want to have this conversation brought up more and not be taboo and not be strange. I don’t think it’s something that should be filled with shame.”
Learning to Listen
Ms. O’Neal would like to host John Frusciante, the musician and former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who also had a very public battle with heroin addiction. She is working on her interviewing skills. “I don’t necessarily listen as well as I’d like to listen,” she said. “But I’m learning to do that.”
For a recent episode, she spoke with Jennifer Sklias-Gahan, an actress who is married to Dave Gahan, the lead singer of Depeche Mode. The two women met in Manhattan in the 1990s.
“She’s been through it,” Ms. Sklias-Gahan said. “But she’s very intuitive and insightful and still vulnerable, which is almost impossible to keep that with the world that she’s navigated. And going through some of the things that she’s gone through. I know how hard it is as a woman.”
Credit Associated Press
During the podcast taping that day, Ms. O’Neal talked about how her father dropped her off to stay with Stanley Kubrick’s family for a year while he was making “Barry Lyndon.” (“So a play date forever,” Ms. McEnroe deadpanned.) Ms. O’Neal and Vivian Kubrick (Mr. Kubrick’s daughter) were 9 and 12. One night the two girls were playing in the bathtub, and Ms. Kubrick cut Ms. O’Neal’s hair off. It’s why Ms. O’Neal wore that on-trend pixie cut to the Oscars.
There was the time she was staying at the Stanhope Hotel when she was 20 and someone broke into her room and scrawled on the wall, in her red lipstick, “Who do you think you are, Shirley Temple?” A profanity was added for good measure.
At lunch, there were more stories. The time she was in her early teens and she and Melanie Griffith, also in her teens, went to Roman Polanski’s apartment in Paris and he showed them the X-rated, sexually violent Japanese film “Realm of the Senses,” an experience Ms. O’Neal describes in her book. “He didn’t touch me or do anything at all, but that was a lot to see,” at that age, Ms. O’Neal said. “I shouldn’t have been there.”
Ms. O’Neal also said she lost her virginity at 14, on the set of “International Velvet” in 1977 to a member of the crew who was in his 30s.
Though Ms. O’Neal wrote about the experience in “A Paper Life,” she did not mention the crew member by name, and struggled with this decision. Years later, it remains painful. Like many victims, she blamed herself. She said she put on tight pants to seduce him. In old footage of “International Velvet,” Ms. O’Neal was a beautiful, fresh-faced teenager, but she was scrawny, just starting puberty. She hadn’t yet gotten her period. “I didn’t understand the difference in our ages,” she said. “I thought something along the lines of, ‘This is what people do.’”
This was part of the damage of being a child star, one with little parental supervision, she said. Ms. O’Neal said that a few years later she ran into the crew member and it was shameful and embarrassing for her.
Credit Associated Press
Many therapists will tell you that you have to go backward to go forward. At the opening of her podcast, Ms. O’Neal declared, “I was going to start with something super-highfalutin’,” then added as an afterthought, “I’m bumbling my way towards enlightenment.”
Her daughter quizzed her a little about this and Ms. O’Neal explained that for her, it was about distancing herself from her past so that she didn’t always live in the pain of what happened to her. That she wanted to find a sense of empathy for the people who have hurt her. She wants to release all of the damage that happened in her life.
“I’m nowhere near any kind of enlightenment,” Ms. O’Neal said, in her typical self-depreciating delivery. “So I just want to preface that.”
But Ms. McEnroe disagreed. “I think you are,” she said.
“You do?” Ms. O’Neal said, her voice rising an octave.
“Yeah,” Ms. McEnroe said. “You’re on the road. That’s all you can be.”