When I was 28 years old, I decided I wanted very seriously to be an actress. I'd been modeling in New York, and when I told my dad—who was a movie director, screenwriter, and actor, a great success in show business—that I wanted to act, he replied, "Don't you think you're a little old, honey?" I didn't have much confidence at that time in my life, and that comment made a big impact. It hadn't occurred to me that I might be too old. I'd resisted taking parts in movies alongside my then-boyfriend, Jack Nicholson, because I saw them as handouts. I'd let opportunities pass me by while I wasted time pondering things and feeling frustrated.
Shortly after my chat with my father, I was driving down Coldwater Canyon at dusk when a BMW came very, very fast from up ahead and clipped the bumper of the car in front of me. I watched the whole thing in slow motion. My next memory is headlights, and then I felt a tremendous impact. These were the days before we all wore seat belts, so I smashed against the steering wheel or the windshield. When I reached up to wipe the blood from my face, I had no nose.
I made it to Cedars-Sinai, where I had a long operation to remove the bone shards from my forehead and skull and reconstruct my nose. When I opened my eyes, Jack was there with flowers. But what I remember most was this incredible surge of positive energy, something that said, "You've made it through this. This is a new beginning." I sat around the hospital for a few days thinking, "I'm so strong!" This moment gave me a confidence and power I'd never felt before.
After that, my thinking turned around. I felt much more capable, receptive, and energized—for the first time, I could see myself as a conqueror. Instead of feeling defensive about my lack of experience, I sought out an acting teacher and started to deepen my knowledge. Soon I was making strides in my work and bringing in my own paychecks. I even moved out of Jack's house. Our relationship continued, but I needed to make some decisive moves on my own behalf. It was like I'd woken up. I thought, "Oh my goodness, I'd better get myself in gear, because this life isn't going to last forever."
A little over three years ago, I lost my husband, Robert, to a very intense illness. It was a painful thing to watch, and I felt terribly sad, but ultimately I was able to deal with it and to do the best I could to support him. Instead of feeling like a victim, I am for the most part able to actually address my problems now. I know what to do. I know that I can conquer anything.