‘I’ll never forgive or forget’ – Griffin Dunne on the darkness that overtook his gilded Hollywood upbringing

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Griffin Dunne has conscionable written a book. He had been meaning to do truthful for ages. It was 1 of nan items connected his bucket list: study a philharmonic instrument, maestro Spanish and constitute his damn memoir. “One down, 2 to go,” he says, beaming successful via video nexus from his location successful upstate New York. The character and film-maker turns 69 this weekend. He reckons that still leaves him clip for nan euphony and Spanish.

Dunne imagined his memoir arsenic a family image successful nan style of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. He pictured thing ray connected its toes, witty and poignant, a weave of essays and anecdotes. But past nan book changed direction, arsenic though it had a will of its own. It went wherever it wanted and needed to go. He says: “On immoderate level, I knew location was this large taxable ahead. And so, arsenic I’m penning nan book, I’m thinking: oh, OK, I cognize wherever this is going now.” The communicative leads to nan segment of a 40-year-old crime. It revisits nan decease of Dunne’s younger sister, Dominique, and nan grisly execution proceedings that followed.

Dunne pinch David Naughton successful An American Werewolf successful London.
Dunne pinch David Naughton successful An American Werewolf successful London. Photograph: Polygram/Allstar

I show Dunne I really for illustration nan book, which sounds crass successful nan circumstances, but is true. While The Friday Afternoon Club is astir nan decease of a loved one, it’s afloat of light, life and colour. It’s a startling communicative of precarious American privilege, spotlighting a family that is blessed and cursed.

Dunne casts himself arsenic nan Hollywood prince astatine its centre, surrounded by celebrated faces, clamouring to beryllium noticed. He tells really Sean Connery rescued him from nan family swimming pool, really Billy Wilder critiqued his puerility pranks and really he roomed pinch Carrie Fisher earlier she went disconnected to make Star Wars (“This movie is going to beryllium a fucking disaster,” she said). Dunne was raised among storytellers (his dada and uncle were authors; Joan Didion was his aunt) and he writes pinch a loose, easy swagger. His memoir is tart, buoyant and playful correct up to nan infinitesimal it’s not.

Dominique Dunne (left) successful Diary Of a Teenage Hitchhiker.
Dominique Dunne (left) successful Diary Of a Teenage Hitchhiker. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

In nan early 1980s, erstwhile he was successful his 20s, Dunne was hitting his stride arsenic an actor. He had secured his breakout domiciled successful 1981’s An American Werewolf successful London, playing nan undead grad student Jack Goodman, doomed to haunt nan big cinemas of Soho. His 22-year-old sister was besides faring well, having co-starred successful 1982’s Poltergeist. But, connected 30 October 1982, Dominique was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, and died successful infirmary 5 days later. The trial, says Dunne, was outrageous, a farce. Implicitly, it seemed to put nan Dunnes successful nan dock, framing nan bereaved family members arsenic frivolous dandies. Sweeney was convicted of manslaughter, but acquitted of murder. He served conscionable 3 and a half years successful prison.

Four decades on, Dunne’s relationship of events burns pinch rage. He is furious pinch nan judge who intervened to artifact important evidence. He is furious pinch nan killer’s employers (the Los Angeles edifice Ma Maison), who stepped successful to salary his ineligible fees. He is furious pinch Dominique’s past co-star, David Packer, who remained wrong nan location while Dominique was being attacked outside. “All nan aged anger sewage re-stoked,” he says. “I tapped correct backmost into my vengeful side.”

During nan trial, Dunne was approached by a mobster who offered to person Sweeney killed. He discussed nan thought pinch his brother, Alex. “At that time, we would person been diagnosed arsenic crazy people,” he says. “I told my relative that we had an opportunity to person nan slayer dealt pinch successful nan region jail. We decided not to termination him, but to messiness him up, to person his hands smashed, for illustration we were ordering pizza and choosing different toppings from nan menu. And that was conscionable nan opening of our madness; it carried correct through. Even penning it down, I thought: I’ve sewage to fto this go, because you can’t unrecorded successful hate.”

Griffin Dunne from waist up pinch arms folded looking askance astatine nan camer
‘She was ever wise beyond her years’ … Dunne connected his sister, Dominique. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

In nan end, they did nothing. Dominique’s slayer changed his sanction aft being released from situation and is apt still live today. “I will neither forgive nor forget,” Dunne says. “But I’m not going to fto that beryllium nan A-story of my sister’s life.”

Dominique was a victim, but that doesn’t make her life tragic. What is clear from nan book is that group adored her. She comes crossed arsenic whip-smart and droll, grounded and private. “She was a serious, important person,” he says. “Serious astir her acting, her animals, her family. And, actually, alternatively intimidating, moreover though she was nan youngest of nan family.”

Dominique cared for their mother, Ellen, who had aggregate sclerosis. She besides cared for their father, Dominick, who was bisexual and closeted and yet confided successful her. “So she was personification we were each a spot successful awe of. She was ever wise beyond her years.”

Dunne successful Me and Him.
Dunne successful Me and Him pinch Kim Flowers. Photograph: Album/Alamy

She sounds for illustration nan family’s civilized compass. “Yeah,” he says. “But besides a spot bossy. She ever knew what she wanted. My relative and I were a small fearful of her. It was for illustration she’d been calved already built.”

Dunne, by contrast, was a activity successful progress. In his memoir, he says that his first connection was “taxi” and that he was ever successful a hurry – ever moving earlier he could walk. He was expelled from schoolhouse for smoking pot. He was “coked to nan gills” connected nan nighttime Dominique was attacked. He was bumptious and entitled. His sister’s decease changed him, he says, because really connected world could it not?

“For 1 thing, I ne'er thought astir home violence, nan maltreatment of women. I grew up successful Los Angeles and erstwhile I was successful precocious school, pre-Roman Polanski, it was incredibly communal for 13- aliases 14-year-old girls to beryllium making love guys successful their 30s. They’d spell to these decadent parties successful nan hills and past travel backmost and show america each astir it. And that was nan culture; it felt exciting. I was unaware of what it meant. But past you person my sister, a 22-year-old girl, who finds herself successful a home unit narration pinch personification who’s doubly her weight. So everything looked different to maine afterwards.”

Dunne pinch Madonna successful Who’s That Girl.
Dunne pinch Madonna successful Who’s That Girl. Photograph: Cinematic/Alamy

Perhaps it affected his profession arsenic well. In nan mid-1980s, Dunne was connected nan period of stardom. He mixed nan charm and grace of a starring man pinch nan prickly intelligence of a awesome characteristic actor. The doorway kept swinging open, but he seemed to support shutting it. He turned down The Fly and Sex, Lies, and Videotape successful favour of making Who’s That Girl, pinch Madonna, and a reviled comedy, Me and Him, successful which he played a yuppie designer who quarrels pinch his talking penis.

Dunne’s supplier accused him of making “self-destructive choices”. He had ever craved fame, only to find that it spooked him. “Too overmuch attraction astatine that clip was a small fearsome for me,” he says. “I recovered it very stressful.” He hesitates. “And besides my father,” he adds. “That had a batch to do pinch it, too.”

Dominick is nan 3rd main subordinate successful The Friday Afternoon Club, a high-flying shaper who came to world pinch a crash. He would yet find his sound arsenic a writer. He became Vanity Fair’s prima reporter, first covering nan Sweeney case, past nan OJ Simpson and Claus von Bülow trials. But nan in-between years were difficult and humiliating. He suffered a reversal of luck that took nan full family aback.

“I saw my begetter fail,” Dunne says. “I watched existent nonaccomplishment successful action successful existent time. He was a man who had a large location and a beautiful car and a awesome occupation and entertained nan astir celebrated actors and board successful nan world. And everything was taken distant from him, partially done his ain actions, but nonetheless. People came retired of nan woodwork, kicked him erstwhile he was down.

Griffin Dunne perched connected nan separator of a achromatic box, against a achromatic backdrop
‘When I described my family it was for illustration I was surviving pinch them again.’ … Dunne. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

“They were like: ‘I ever hated you, I ever knew you were closeted, you’ll ne'er activity again, battalion your bags.’ And nan effect it had connected me, conscionable entering nan business arsenic he was being destroyed successful that business …” He draws a breath. “Well, it had a batch to do pinch nan choices I made.”

In hindsight, nan 1985 achromatic drama After Hours was his fork successful nan road. It’s besides nan image pinch which he is astir identified. Dunne developed nan movie arsenic a co-producer and convinced Martin Scorsese to direct. He besides took nan lead domiciled of repressed Paul Hackett, who embarks connected a long, acheronian nighttime of nan psyche done nan streets of Lower Manhattan.

Griffin Dunne (right) successful After Hours.
Dunne pinch Linda Fiorentino successful After Hours (1985). Photograph: © 1986 WBEI

On set, Scorsese made 1 large stipulation. He ordered Dunne not to person activity for nan long of nan shoot. I americium gobsmacked by this, but nan character was unfazed. “It made cleanable consciousness to me,” he says. “I knew what he meant. The characteristic had to beryllium boiling complete pinch this unfulfilled anxiety. You had to spot …” He pauses. “Not to beryllium crude, but you had to spot nan semen build up to wherever it’s practically coming retired of his eyes.”

One Saturday night, though, Dunne cracked and collapsed nan rule. The adjacent time of filming, Scorsese spotted nan alteration and went berserk. “You’ve fucked up nan full picture,” he shouted. “I don’t deliberation I tin decorativeness it now.”

Dunne says that he was astir apt being directed here, too. “Because now I’m afraid. I’m terrified. And it turns retired that a definite level of fearfulness is nan aforesaid arsenic not having sex. So [Scorsese’s] 2nd portion of guidance is telling maine that I’ve ruined his movie. That’s fantabulous direction. It brought each nan aged worry back.”

Martin Scorsese directing Dunne successful After Hours.
‘He told maine I’d ruined his movie. That was fantabulous guidance – it brought each nan aged worry back’ … Dunne being directed by Scorsese. Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy

It should person been a reliable prospect, sitting down to constitute his book. Emotionally, because it meant revisiting nan worst clip of his life. Practically, because nan Dunne family had already group nan barroom high. They are each dormant now: his dada successful 2009; his journalist-screenwriter uncle, John Gregory Dunne, successful 2003; Joan Didion successful 2021. But their reputations are daunting. It must person felt arsenic though he were penning successful nan protector of Mount Rushmore.

Dunne says it wasn’t that measurement astatine all. He had ever assumed that penning a book would beryllium a lonely endeavour. In fact, it felt warm, friendly and weirdly convivial. “I didn’t consciousness daunted, trying to constitute and being related to each these salient figures. Quite nan opposite. I felt their presence. When I described them, it was for illustration I was seeing them again, surviving pinch them again. It was for illustration I was backmost gathering Joan for nan first time. It was arsenic though I was spending clip pinch her and John, my begetter and my sister,” he says. “They were live to me. When I vanished nan book, that was nan sad part. It felt for illustration I missed them each complete again.”

The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir is published connected 13 June (Grove Press UK, £20). To support nan Guardian and nan Observer, bid your transcript astatine guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges whitethorn apply

Source theguardian