"If I were her advisor, I'd say, 'Move away. Do some method [acting] work, live in New York for five years, maybe go to college, and then come back and try your hand because you've made a mess of things,'" she said. "The smartest thing I did was leave L.A. at 21 and move to New York. You kind of have to relearn, as an adult, everything that you know about acting, about this business."
While making sure the demons of her past don't rise again, O'Neal is looking toward the future. She called being a mom to her three children -- Kevin, 26, Sean, 23, and Emily, 21 -- with ex-husband John McEnroe "the thing in my life that I'm happiest about," and she's still very much invested in Hollywood.
"I'm fighting to get a good role," she said. "I look at actors who've had to fight really hard, like Michael Shannon in 'Take Shelter,'" one of the breakout films of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, "and I tell myself that I need to continue to try, that it's not frivolous or embarrassing to do that at my age."
But given that she's spent the better part of her 48 years in the public eye, doesn't she ever yearn to ditch Hollywood and get away from it all?
"I think having a normal life, which I've never had, sounds pretty nice," she said. "Moving to Big Sur or Oregon or upstate New York. But then there's always the case of, I need to make a living. Get enough money to retire. Maybe find a mate that is nice and stable. I wish I could stop, in a way, but there's all that. But sure, maybe I will become a mountain woman and grow my hair out."