"It's lovely, that," Hayley Mills says about being asked to sign autographs on teenage photos of herself. "We're all still connected to our childhood. It's what got us to where we are."
The statement is truer for her than for most people. As Disney's biggest-ever non-'toon star, Mills was the precocious little English girl in the squeaky-clean '60s classics Pollyanna and The Parent Trap. She's made peace with the potentially stifling charms of her celluloid adolescence, and it doesn't box her in.
"The thing you're doing now is everything," she says, as lovely and composed as ever, with that same lilting voice. "So you put everything you are and have to give into it. Who knows how you're going to feel about it afterwards, how it may be judged later."
She's talking about playing D鳩r饬 a sometimes-scandalous actress looking for love, in the current 5th Avenue/ACT co-production of Stephen Sondheim's shimmering A Little Night Music, but she could just as easily be addressing her own life and career.
"There was a bit of a conflict within me, because I was growing up before the parts that I was playing did," she admits of her image struggles as a young adult. "And it sort of held my sense of who I was down, as well. And I went off to finishing school for six months, and that was supposed to turn me into a woman, but it didn't. It just turned me into a big, fat lump."
The thing that did turn her into a woman, in the public eye anyway, was a controversial turn in a film called The Family Way and an even more talked-about affair—and eventual five-year union—with its married director, a man 33 years her senior (she was in her early 20s at the time).
"Life is an extraordinary journey for us all," she says, neatly alluding to the bittersweet game of romantic musical chairs that is A Little Night Music. "You know, often we think we know what we want, or perhaps we don't know what we want—we just travel it. Things happen to us, people come into our lives, and we fall in love with them and fall out of love with them, and they fall out of love with us, and we move on."
That self-knowledge should make her shine in the Seattle show, and she senses it.
"A part like this . . . ," she says, speaking of D鳩r饠and thinking of Pollyanna and everything in between. "It's good to have had a full life, I think."