Innocence is a Virtue—The Fix Q&A with Ione Skye

By John Lavitt 12/11/15

Actress Ione Skye on the 12 steps, the dark side of Hollywood, and her quiet moment of clarity.

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Ione Skye is a British-American actress who became a teen idol after starring in popular movies like River’s Edge (1986), The Rachel Papers (1989) and Say Anything (1989). In 2006, VH1 placed her at number 84 on its "100 Greatest Teen Stars" list. Born Ione Skye Leitch in Hampstead, London, England, she’s the daughter of the Scottish folk singer/songwriter Donovan and the Jewish-American model Enid Karl. Her surname comes from the Isle of Skye. The younger sister of Camp Freddy singer, Donovan Leitch, Skye was brought up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Connecticut. 

Skye has a noted history of relationships with famous musicians. In her late teens, she dated Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Her first marriage was to Adam Horovitz, a member of the Beastie Boys, and she is presently married to musician Ben Lee. In 2009, Sky gave birth to a daughter, Goldie Priya Lee. Inspired by her daughter and her own childhood experiences, Skye wrote a children's book called My Yiddish Vacation that was published by Henry Holt and Co. in May 2014.

The Fix spoke with Ione Skye to discuss ego and how drugs and alcohol affected her career.

When people explain how they got sober, they often talk about a moment of clarity when they realized enough was enough. Can you describe what your moment of clarity was like and what happened?

My moment of clarity was quiet and sudden. It was in the car driving down La Cienega after a wrap party for a film I was in. I couldn't get drunk that night despite all the drinks I had had, and I felt spiritually stuck. I didn't know it because the seduction of the drinking had worked for years.

In the car, I simply heard my being say I had to go to a meeting and stop what I was doing. A moment had opened up where I could hear this truth. I ended up at a friend’s house that night, where I said to her very soberly, “I am drunk and I need to go to go to AA.” The mystery of why on that night I made that choice, and not on the handful of other nights where I had been in far more dramatic and destructive moments, I do not know. The following morning, I called another friend who was in AA and he met me at the first meeting, where I identified.

In your youth, you experienced the dark side of Hollywood, where film and music implode in a carousel of drugs and partying. Can you describe to us what that was like and how you survived? Does celebrity fuel the desire to escape with drugs and alcohol?

Celebrity does cause more problems, in that the ego of being special reinforces the idea that you can get away with things, delaying clarity and growth. Alcoholics already feel a constant sense of “I need this.” Being famous can boost that ego of separateness. I felt I could hide out in being an actress or somewhat famous. Part of what helps us, when we seek a spiritual solution, is being connected to our fellows and a God as we understand God. 

I wasn’t offered drugs on film sets, but there were always people around who drank and smoked pot my whole life. Eventually, my drinking and use of other drugs affected my career in many ways. I don’t think drinking ever worked well with any type of work I did. For one, I was much less confident when I was running away from myself. When I was on tour with the musicians as a girlfriend or wife, drinking seemed to work because I didn’t have to show up and perform. I could hang around the outside of their life and not go inside my own life. My inner life suffered, and my relationships as well.

At the beginning of your career, you were seen as the classical pure and innocent young girl. You have said in an interview how you "felt sort of insulted" because your hard partying co-stars wouldn’t include you in their bouts of drugs and drinking. In retrospect, do you still feel insulted? Did that rejected feeling partially drive you into your own experience with drugs and drinking?

I think that the innocence they perceived was a real side of me, and that it is part of everyone’s true natures. It is said that to be innocent is a virtue. I try today to remember my true nature, which includes such innocence—meaning for me, a not knowing and an openness to the light. I must admit that I did feel rejected or left out when I wasn't included in the party. The bigger issue is this feeling of being left out that I still face and must oppose even today. That feeling is not something to entertain because it only separates me from my true nature.

In an interview with Harper Simon, you mention how your mother was a “pot dealer” when you were growing up, and your childhood was a strange balance between chaos and grounding. Did this early exposure to drugs open the door to some of the challenges you faced later in life?

I grew up in the 1970s in Los Angeles. It was not uncommon to have pot around. This exposure normalized pot as cool, something to do in moderation. It’s my belief that plant drugs might have once been useful for spiritual connection as a way to see and learn about our defects of character, and the study of our egos as well as receiving truths. The problem is using drugs as an escape, as opposed to focusing on self-examination and connection to spirit, and that is running away from the truth.

In his autobiography, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers described his heroin addiction, "It's like being possessed. There are periods you give up all of yourself and sacrifice everything to pursue using, even to the gates of insanity." When you were dating Anthony Kiedis, you were very young and exposed to the beginning of this period of his life when the drug abuse began to spiral out of control. What was it like, and how did it affect you?

My first big relationship was with Anthony Kiedis. I was intrigued by his lifestyle and let myself get distracted by taking care of him. I first went to an AA meeting with him and learned about Al-Anon, which still helps me today—the idea of everyone having their own God and being able to see the being or essence of everyone, and not engaging in the ego of people. We can love everyone and not get attached to the defects we all have, but love each other’s being. That is so profound and joyful. Although that time with Anthony was hard, I did learn how I was drawn to illness. It was such a strong lesson and I could see it clearly, which was helpful. I was able to see my pull towards that life and oppose it, and learn from others how to connect to the concept of God. I had to start to listen quietly to the guidance from my inner being. 

After an interview with Howard Stern in 1998, you were asked if you were “surprised that you revealed so much." You replied, “No, this is just what I’m like. I’m not surprised because I’m such an exhibitionist.” When you entered a 12-Step program and worked the steps, do you think this natural openness helped? If so, why?

I don't remember saying I was an exhibitionist. I feel modest in the usual sense of what that means. Yet, I have always felt comfortable talking about my personal process. I think being open did help me in doing the self-examination part of the 12 steps. I am naturally analytical and was eager to study myself. Applying what I learned about myself and actually changing is the hard part for me. I find myself trying to hold on to old ideas. Going into the unknown is scary, but I push myself to stretch, now that I have had a few defects of character (i.e. egos) diminish. I see that this new way of seeing and being that can be realized through recovery is better. There are always more egos to face, and they morph into other things as well. The work never stops. Sometimes it’s almost a fun challenge, and sometimes it’s just hard work opposing old ideas when they arise again. They tend to make such good arguments.

You are a successful painter and your style is very reminiscent of classic expressionism like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Do you feel your painting helps you maintain your sobriety by allowing you to express visually what can’t necessarily be said?

Painting is good for me. I do feel happy when I am working. It's not always easy to have discipline, but I do find that I go into different inner spaces when I paint. Although it wont keep me sober, it is a good creative outlet for me.

I personally found that a bonus of getting sober and working the 12 steps was achieving a much greater sense of my own authenticity. After you got sober, did acting become more difficult because of your own experience of authenticity? Is sobriety a positive or a negative when it comes to performance?

For sure, someone who is drunk or high at the time of their performance is never as good as a sober performer, in my opinion. At first, drinking does seem to give us that buffer to face things. But it ends up putting a damper on everything, and making us less appealing and not reliable performers. These are just a few of the things addiction can trigger.

Your first marriage was to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, and you have commented on how being on tour and spending time with the band was like being in a hip-hop fraternity. Your brother Donovan Leitch’s description of those days are detailed on a Beastie Boys fan site: “Leitch remembers 1988 as a ‘24-hour party,’ beginning with leisurely breakfasts—“You never went with less than ten people,” he says—where the band and its friends would map out the day.” Did this boys' club ignite a latent feminism within you and a desire for a greater sense of equality in a romantic relationship?

By the time I was with Adam Horovitz, they were not a boys' club. I don't think they ever were. I feel it's my responsibility to be a strong woman. I had to be then, and still now. I have to rise up and be the most powerful version of myself I can be. It’s a big challenge for women, at least for me, to remember to do this.

When it comes to dream analysis and the process of understanding what your dreams mean, you have said, “the discernment is really tricky.” Can you explain the role that dream analysis plays in your life? Have you worked with a dream guide or a Jungian analyst who has helped you with this process? 

Dreams are a great way to look at defects of character and get to know the spaces we fall into and what we believe. Sometimes in waking life, we can't help but think we know what to work on. We often do, but with dreams, we can see things that are hidden. The 'us' in the dream is usually operating in one of the many egos or false ways of seeing things. When we see what we are falling into, we can try to live differently and oppose the old behaviors. Also, there can be guidance in dreams. The understanding is tricky because we often like the way things make us feel, but that doesn’t mean they are true. When we examine the dream, we sometimes see that the things we like might not always be the real truth, or what will really help us grow. 

A great book to read about this perspective on dreaming is called Dreams: A Study of the Dreams of Jung, Descartes, Socrates, and Other Historical Figures by Marie-Louise Von Franz.

In the interview with Harper Simon, you said, “I have a dark side, but I also want to be broad and warm.” Do you think this duality is a reason why people fall into substance abuse and addiction? Do we use in order to escape from this battle between the angel and the devil within our own souls?

Sure, I think we drink to avoid the battle we all face between being asleep and awake, or reality and fantasy. Acceptance versus control is a big issue. For me, today, when I remember as it is written in the Big Book, “there is One that has all power…” I have a chance of not becoming unconscious and falling back into old patterns. When I didn't feel connected or don't to this day, when I forget to go inside, I fall into addictions of one kind or another. All the wrong thinking comes in and tries to take over. 

The short film that you directed “David Goldberg” can be seen on Vimeo. The story is an adaptation of a part of Ice Haven, an alternative 2005 graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. After watching it, I wondered what would draw you to such subject matter since the main themes of the story are alienation and criminal ideation. Is this film an example of your continued fascination with the dark side, and does it reflect your own sense of alienation?

I love the sense of humor Daniel Clowes has, and his observations. I am interested in light and profound art. It’s funny because I used to like beautiful things as a kid. Then I went into weird and cool, now I am back to “high art.” But not exclusively.

John Lavitt is the Treatment Professional News Editor at The Fix. He recently interviewed President Obama's "Recovery Czar" Michael Botticelli.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.