Griffin Dunne finds balance between madcap Hollywood adventures and family tragedy in new memoir

Griffin Dunne poses for a portrait in New York on May 30, 2024, to promote his book "The Friday Afternoon Club." (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) 鈥 Griffin Dunne says he鈥檚 grateful his parents raised him with what he affectionately calls 鈥渂enign neglect" in 1970s and '80s Los Angeles because it encouraged creativity and risk-taking that led to some wild experiences he chronicles in his new memoir.

鈥淭he Friday Afternoon Club, A Family Memoir,鈥 out Tuesday from Penguin Press, is filled with raucous tales of growing up in Hollywood 鈥 from sneaking into his parents鈥 dinner parties with guests like Grace Kelly and to saving him from drowning in a pool (see, neglect!), to acting class with Linda Lovelace, and smoking weed with Dennis Hopper.

The actor, producer and director infuses the book with humor, but also covers the tragic aspects of his life: his mother鈥檚 early MS diagnosis, his father's (writer Dominick Dunne) addictions, his brother鈥檚 mental health challenges and his sister鈥檚 murder. Dominique Dunne was 22 and starting a promising acting career (she debuted in 鈥淧oltergeist鈥) when her ex-boyfriend strangled her at her West Hollywood home in 1982. Beyond the impressive name-dropping and pedigree 鈥 his aunt and uncle are writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne 鈥 Dunne, 69, has a gift for storytelling.

He recently sat down with The Associated Press to discuss fame, his friendship with Carrie Fisher and his complex past. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.

AP: You have a complicated relationship with fame and success 鈥 why were you afraid of it?

DUNNE: That came, actually, as I was writing the book. I was taking my career 鈥 which I鈥檓 now very proud of with the diversity of being able to act and produce and direct 鈥 but at the time, it was so scattered. And I was rather hard on myself for missing opportunities to become a movie star. But now I鈥檓 rather pleased with how my career turned out and where it鈥檚 all going. But I think I arrived at that by writing about it. I went, 鈥榃ow, look at all that stuff I did!鈥

AP: You have a lot of compassion for your family. How did you come to appreciate your parents鈥 unconventional parenting style?

DUNNE: Before I wrote this book, I needed the blessing of my brother, who鈥檚 the only (living) member of my immediate family. He said, 鈥榊ou can write whatever you want about me. Just have it come from a place of love.鈥 I realize that that鈥檚 the note that carries me through the whole book. I鈥檓 writing about some pretty questionable behavior, but I know that I love them, and I know that鈥檚 going to come through. I was raised with what I would call benign neglect, which I am really grateful for. They didn鈥檛 know or even notice that I was hitchhiking in Los Angeles at 13, sneaking out of the house, disappearing overnight, taking drugs way too soon, having sex way too soon. It was all so important that we shed our childhood and try to be grownups. I鈥檓 glad I didn鈥檛 have them hovering.

AP: Was it difficult to write the chapters on your sister鈥檚 murder and trial?

DUNNE: It was so much fun to write about my sister as a child and have her grow up and then have her career take off. Then it was like, 鈥極h God, here we go.鈥 It was hard, but not in a writer鈥檚 block way. It was surprising how easy it was to relive it, to feel what I felt, and how my parents 鈥 just their bravery and their strength and how much I drew from that. It was very emotional to write about because 鈥 beside for the obvious reasons 鈥 what was particularly emotional was remembering how extraordinary my mother and father were, actually, all of us.

AP: You and Carrie Fisher were best friends from your teen years through her death in 2016. Was it fun to revisit your friendship?

DUNNE: It was really like channeling her. She just came roaring back. She was born with the quickest wit ever known. And the laughs that we would have and the silly musicals we鈥檇 make up when we were together. That was really fun to write. And that period in New York for both of us, it was the '70s in New York, in this filthy city. She was on Broadway in the chorus. I was at Radio City Music Hall as a popcorn concessionaire and I鈥檇 go backstage during (her) show, and we were like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

AP: Is it true she thought 鈥淪tar Wars鈥 was going to be a flop?

DUNNE: One day she says, 鈥業 got this job, and it shoots in London. They hired some guy, about my age, Mark somebody, and then Harrison Ford, you鈥檒l never know who he is.' I said, 鈥橝ctually, I do.' When he was a carpenter, he built my aunt and uncle鈥檚 deck, and I idolized him. He smoked Marlboros, and he ripped off the filter. So I ripped off the filter, and I couldn鈥檛 handle his pot. So she goes to London and would call me just to complain. 鈥榊ou鈥檙e not going to believe my hair. I have two bagels on the side of my head. We shoot ray guns; they don鈥檛 have triggers! And this big ape is running behind us all the time. It鈥檚 a disaster!鈥 At the premiere, people in the science fiction community, they almost descended from other planets. I鈥檝e never, ever heard an audience like that in my life.

AP: Many now recognize you from your role on 鈥淭his is Us鈥 鈥 how did that happen?

DUNNE: I鈥檇 taken a break from acting, and then I heard about this guy from the Moscow Arts Institute, a Russian, was coming to teach Chekhov, so I took this class, and I did 鈥楿ncle Vanya鈥 and 鈥業vanov.鈥 And I realized that actually, I鈥檓 a kind of a perfect Chekhov character. I鈥檓 funny and sad. I thought, 鈥極h, wow, now I鈥檓 excited about acting again.鈥 Around that time, I got sent this script. He鈥檚 a Vietnam War veteran, and this guy, Uncle Nicky, was funny and tragic. How more Chekhov can you get? I鈥檓 so glad I took that course and sort of fell into playing this character.

AP: What do you think your father would think of the book?

DUNNE: He was an inspiration for me while I was writing. He was a big proponent of being honest about yourself. I would like to think he thought I was doing the same.

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