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Diane Lane plays bruised star of first reality series

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Diane Lane arrives at the premiere of the feature film 'Cinema Verite' Monday in Los Angeles. The HBO movie is scheduled to debut on April 23.

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“The 1970s were fantastic,” Diane Lane says. “There was a level of freedom and naivete, a trust and kindness.”

Patricia Loud, who was then a mother of five, had a very different experience of the decade. A star of America’s first reality series, An American Family (1973), she watched her marriage disintegrate in front of the cameras and was criticized because of her support of her openly gay son, Lance.

Lane brings Loud’s experiences to the small screen in Cinema Verite, an HBO movie scheduled to debut on April 23. A fictionalized recounting of how the groundbreaking, 12-part PBS documentary series came to be made, the film also features Tim Robbins as Bill Loud and James Gandolfini as series producer Craig Gilbert.

The 46-year-old Lane read Loud’s 1974 memoir, Pat Loud: A Woman’s Story, but decided not to meet the real Loud before playing her.

“I didn’t talk to Pat out of respect,” Lane says. “I felt we were raising the Titanic for her and her husband. I’m sure that they’ve defined their lives beyond this many times over. I understand how a stigma of fame can be an invasion and a judgment. I didn’t want her to have to be defensive any more.”

The response to An American Family was immediate and sharply divided. “It really struck a chord,” Lane says, “and people reacted to it in ways that today would seem very immature and revealing of bias.”

Lane was familiar with the time period through her research for A Walk on the Moon (1999), a drama which was set in the summer of 1969. She played a wife and mother who impulsively begins an affair with a stranger during her vacation.

“If you were a mom at that time, you could see how the rules changed completely with the advent of the birth-control pill,” the actress says. “Women were able to control their own sexuality and what that meant.”

The changes blowing through society at that time affected Lane in a different way. Born in 1965 in New York, she never led a conventional childhood. Her parents split when she was only a few weeks old, and until she was 6 she lived with her mother, singer and one-time Playboy centerfold Colleen Farrington. Then Lane moved back to New York to live in residential hotels with her father, Burt Lane, an acting coach and taxi driver. Through him she became interested in acting.

By the time Lane made her first film — A Little Romance (1979) with the legendary Laurence Olivier — she had appeared in nearly 3,000 stage performances. When she was 14, Time put her on its cover as one of “Hollywood’s Whiz Kids.”

Through the years Lane’s spotlight has grown brighter and dimmer several times. The Outsiders (1983) and Rumble Fish (1983) made her a teen idol, but Streets of Fire (1984) and The Cotton Club (1984) were high-profile flops. The miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989) scored big and led to her being cast as Paulette Goddard in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992), but Indian Summer (1993) and Judge Dredd (1995) were expensive misfires.

At an age when most actresses start seeing their opportunities decline, however, Lane hit a hot streak. She was 35 when A Walk on the Moon and The Perfect Storm (2000) reopened Hollywood’s doors for her, and a subsequent series of hits — Unfaithful, Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), Hollywoodland (2006), Nights in Rodanthe (2008), and Secretariat (2010) — has left her one of the industry’s busiest actresses. This summer she will begin filming Superman: Man of Steel, playing Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive mother. After that, Lane has nothing definitely planned — which doesn’t bother her at all.

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