Oral History: Debra Winger, Under a Sheltering Sky

by Jack Tewksbury March 13, 2019
Actress Debra Winger, Golden Globe nominee

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items- is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

In this excerpt from our archives, Golden Globe nominee Debra Winger recalls her experience shooting Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky - and how it impacted her.

I wasn't completely alone in the desert, of course. I traveled with some Tuareg tribesmen. I went to the villages. I slept under the stars. I had whatever experience I had. I can't put it in words. It would trivialize it.

But when I came back, I felt safer in my robes so I stayed covered. Arriving in Paris, it was a wonderful experience to see how differently I was treated because I was unwilling to take off my sash and my turban.

Finally, when I got to my hotel room, I remember closing the door and looking at this big luxurious bathtub and feeling a little repulsed by all the excess. That feeling carried over for quite a while, long enough for me to give away a lot of my possessions.

What I felt in the desert was a shrinking, a natural getting down to size. Being famous you get very, very big, swollen. It's a trap. You start to involve only yourself in your world.

The desert enables you to get down to size. If you walk somewhere, there are no footsteps. You can't get much smaller than that. You start to realize you can do great things in your life, but that eventually everything turns to dust. The only real work you can do is on yourself and your consciousness. That's the true reality."