08/15/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
Diane Lane is frazzled—baggy jeans, rumpled shirt—just as you'd expect her to look after taking a three-day road trip with husband Josh Brolin to drop off their daughters (hers, Eleanor, is 11; his, Eden, is 12) for two weeks of camp. "They're doing all those kid things like waterskiing and sleeping in bunk beds with 14 other kids in the room," she says. Then the actress—who began working at age 6 and has made 35-plus films since—lets out a sigh. "I never got to go to summer camp," she says. "They are living my childhood dream."
Fortunately for Lane, 40, her grown-up dreams are shaping up nicely—including, while the kids are in camp, road-tripping-through Italy and France with the man she calls "my kindred spirit." On Aug. 15 she and Brolin, 37, will celebrate their first anniversary in, well, Lane has no idea. "We just get in the car and go," she says. "It makes me feel more alive, rather than all that planning." That kind of spontaneity; is, she believes, "hard to do as a woman alone....I feel much better having a strong man with me who makes me feel embraced and secure. It's wonderful."
And exactly the wrong kind of feeling to prepare for her role as a middle-aged divorcee finding dates on the Internet in her new romantic comedy Must Love Dogs
, costarring John Cusack. But Lane didn't have to delve too deeply into her emotional reservoir for the part. Lane is herself a child of divorce; her late father, acting coach Burt Lane, and her mom, singer Colleen Farrington, 69, split in 1965. And after her own five-year marriage to actor Christopher Lambert (Eleanor's dad) ended in 1994, she eschewed dating for hanging with single mom pals such as Elizabeth Perkins, who costars in Dogs. As Perkins says, "It was easier for us to get together with the girls and go to the park." Says Lane: "I wasn't going to go relationship shopping with my young daughter. I didn't want her to get attached to something that wasn't going to last."
Her attitude changed when she bumped into Brolin in a restaurant about four years ago. He courted her with hundreds of e-mails, he says. And three years later they were married and living in L.A. with Eleanor and Brolin's kids, Eden and Trevor, 17 (from an earlier marriage). But their life has not been without bumps. In December 2004 Lane called L.A. police after she and Brolin had an argument. He was arrested on suspicion of spousal battery—though "they both regretted calling the police," says her rep. "Once it was confirmed that Josh had not done what the police first thought, the case was dropped."
Lane won't talk about the incident, but those close to her trust her judgment. "There's nothing fly-by-night about Diane," says longtime family friend, actress Gena Rowlands. "[She] is steady and serious." And hardworking. Lane has filmed two dramas due next year: In Fierce People
she plays a drug-addicted mother, and in Truth, Justice and the American Way, about the mysterious death of'50s Superman star George Reeves (Ben Affleck
), she plays a tough studio exec's wife. "She radiates something that people really identify with," says Fierce People director Griffin Dunne. "She's very smart and centered on her family. That's what keeps her so honest as an actress."
She's also determined to enjoy "the simple, normal things that make life lovely," she says: travel with Brolin, dispensing guy advice to their daughters ("It's never too early," she says) and aging gracefully ("I'd rather be comfortable in my skin [than have plastic surgery]"). Most pressing now is how to get the kids to take care of Milo, their new puppy. "Who's going to end up training that dog?" asks Lane. "Mom!" At last, a childhood dream come true.
Karen S. Schneider; Natasha Stoynoff in Manhattan; Julie Jordan; Nicholas White in Los Angeles