09/26/2013 at 10:00 AM EDT
Daryl Hannah is puzzled.
Thirty minutes into lunch at a hip eatery in Venice, Calif., the owner drops by her table to say how thrilled he is to see her back at his restaurant. After he walks away, she stares into her bowl of vegetable soup, stunned that he even remembers her.
"I don't think I've been here in 15 years," she whispers, shaking her head.
Not so long ago Daryl Hannah was a movie star. Problem was, she hated it.
But there she was up in lights anyway, a loopy Amazonian blonde who beguiled America beginning with a turn as a lovelorn mermaid in 1984's Splash. She shared the screen with Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Harrison Ford. Her romances buoyed the tabloids. But she just wanted to disappear.
"I've never been comfortable being the center of attention," she says now. "It's always freaked me out."
So Hannah dropped herself off the A-list, focused on environmental activism and retreated to a rural spread near Los Angeles. Now the 52-year-old drives a truck that runs on French fry grease, dotes on her rescue pig Molly and, when it suits her, acts – most recently in a little ensemble comedy called The Hot Flashes.
But Hannah, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and suffered from "debilitating shyness" as a result of the disorder, says the best thing in her life now is growing comfortable in her own skin.