Podcast as therapy for Tatum O'Neal

Tatum O’Neal and her daughter Emily McEnroe, who is her sidekick on her podcast, Tatum, Verbatim.
Tatum O’Neal and her daughter Emily McEnroe, who is her sidekick on her podcast, Tatum, Verbatim.PHOTO: NYTIMES

The former child actress also wants the series to reflect her curiosity about life and to explore other people's stories

BEVERLY HILLS (California) • Actress Tatum O'Neal was taping her new podcast, Tatum, Verbatim, at a studio the other day and arguing with her producer, Brian Howie.

Howie wanted O'Neal to project the logo of her podcast - a black and white photo of herself with the words Tatum, Verbatim imposed over it - on a large flat-screen television sandwiched between black leather sofas where she and her daughter, Emily McEnroe (her father is tennis player John McEnroe), were sitting.

"Why would I want a big picture of myself next to me?" O'Neal said.

Howie pressed on, as producers are apt to do. "No," she told him.

Why is it, he wondered, that the first thing out of a woman's mouth is the word "no"?

If Howie, who runs a relationship podcast called The Great Love Debate, was joking, the joke fell flat.

O'Neal stuck to her instinct. "No," she said. "It's tacky."

At 54, she 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."

She was born to actors Joanna Moore and Ryan O'Neal, who split up when she was four.

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 and co-star.

When she was 16, her father left her in charge of her younger brother at their home in Malibu when he moved in with actress Farrah Fawcett in Bel Air, as she wrote about in her 2004 book, A Paper Life.

In 1986, when she was 21, she married 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".

After her children were born, 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.

Years after the youthful success she enjoyed in movies including The Bad News Bears (1976), there were also new acting roles: as Denis Leary's belligerent, alcoholic sister Maggie Gavin on television series Rescue Me (2004 to 2011); as Kyra the shoe shamer on an episode of Sex And The City in 2003. Last month, she filmed God's Not Dead: A Light In The Darkness with John Corbett.

Some have observed that it is harder for female stars in Hollywood to come back from scandals than it is for male stars, such as Mel Gibson. It was 15 years between Winona Ryder shoplifting in 2001, for example, and starring in the Netflix series Stranger Things.

"It's easy to become embittered," 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."

O'Neal, for the record, was not dying to say "yes" to a podcast. She barely knew what a podcast was. But it is a growth industry, with 46 million monthly podcast listeners in 2015 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, but their voices are growing. In 2015, Werk It, a women's podcast festival began. There is 2 Dope Queens, Anna Faris Is Unqualified, Invisibilia and Another Round.

O'Neal did not want to just talk about old Hollywood. She wanted the podcast to reflect her curiosity about life in the present and explore other people's stories. Which is why she brought her daughter in.

Emily McEnroe, 26, has a deep, gravelly voice and is a fitting sidekick.

She talks about being harassed as a door girl at a bar in Los Angeles. She discusses her voice-over and acting auditions.

O'Neal would like to host John Frusciante, a former member of the rock band 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 talked about how her father dropped her off to stay with director Stanley Kubrick's family for a year while he was making Barry Lyndon (1975).

O'Neal and Vivian Kubrick (Stanley Kubrick's daughter) were nine and 12. One night, the two girls were playing in the bathtub and Vivian cut O'Neal's hair off. It is why O'Neal wore that on-trend pixie cut to the Oscars.

At lunch, there were more stories. O'Neal 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 she wrote about the experience in A Paper Life, she did not mention him by name and struggled with this decision.

Years later, it remains painful. Like many victims, she blamed herself. She said she had put on tight pants to seduce him. She had not 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 with little parental supervision, she said.

She said that a few years later, she ran into the crew member and it was shameful and embarrassing for her.

Many therapists will say that one has to go backward to go forward. At the opening of her podcast, 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 O'Neal explained that she wanted to find a sense of empathy for the people who have hurt her and release all of the damage.

"I'm nowhere near any kind of enlightenment," she said. "So I just want to preface that."

But McEnroe disagreed. "I think you are," she said.

"You do?" O'Neal said, her voice rising an octave.

"Yeah," McEnroe said. "You're on the road. That's all you can be."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Podcast as therapy for Tatum O'Neal'. Print Edition | Subscribe