On the other hand, Hackett, 48, says acting does come naturally to her—"like sliding on butter"—and critics have seconded that confidence. During her 22-year career on Broadway (Much Ado About Nothing), on TV (Rebecca) and in movies (The Terminal Man), her excellent reviews have brought her little fame. That may have changed with her portrayal of the aging narcissist in Neil Simon's Only When I Laugh, which won her a Golden Globe this year and a Best Supporting Actress nomination. But Hackett says she was relieved to see the Oscar go to Maureen Stapleton for Reds. "I think the trick is to be wonderful as an actress and not have anybody know," Hackett explains. With back-to-back performances due next week in Paper Dolls, an ABC movie about teenage models, and The Escape Artist, an adventure feature co-starring Raul Julia, Hackett's anonymity is endangered.
Celebrated or not, she's averse to another marriage. "I can't imagine needing someone so much," says Joan, who now dates several men ("I wouldn't name one in particular because it would embarrass the others"). "My divorce didn't sour me on marriage, marriage soured me on marriage. All men are alike. If you ask any American man, 'How are you?' he'll answer 'Fine,' even if his mother just had a heart attack." An impassioned lobbyist for the Equal Rights Amendment, Joan frequently speaks on radio and TV and hosts fund raisers. Though the ERA will be defeated unless three more states ratify it by June 30, Hackett is optimistic. "There is no doom for a just idea," she says. "It will rise again."
The second of three children of immigrant parents—an Italian factory worker mother and an Irish postal employee father who drank heavily—Hackett grew up in New York City. Expelled from the Catholic St. Jean Baptiste High School—"I used to play hooky a lot"—she drifted into modeling, an experience on which she drew for her role as a mannequin's mom in Paper Dolls. "Modeling is not such a terrific thing," says Hackett. "The script alludes to the point that it's far better not to model—society punishes you even if you are beautiful." At the age of 25 she auditioned for her first off-Broadway part, got it, and has worked almost steadily since.
Still close to her siblings, Joan has helped her sister Theresa raise her three children since they were toddlers. These days she shares her Spanish colonial Beverly Hills home with her 25-year-old musician nephew, Anthony McCarthy. "He's the easiest person I've ever lived with," she says.
Although interested in psychology, Joan says she has never tried therapy ("I guess I prefer to spend the money on Italian shoes") but consults psychics in any city she visits. "My mother was born in Naples and was a great one for gypsies," says Hackett. "I think being psychic, and reading minds, is a very natural talent." In her own future, she doen't see herself striving for awards. "My fear is fame," she says. "That's when you get shot. You feel guilty. You get over the high jump and then you fall. I like being a comer."
Joan Hackett is nothing if not blunt. Take her now-defunct marriage—please. "I wanted to sleep with him and I didn't know how to do it without getting married," says Hackett of her seven-year union with actor Richard (Soap) Mulligan that ended in 1973. "I talked to everybody, my priest, my doctor, and they all said, 'Do it. Get married,' " Hackett remembers. "Now I could punch them in the nose. Richard was terrific, but I'm not really comfortable with another person in my living area. I hated being married. Every part of marriage outside of sex was unnatural to me."