Diane Sawyer Interviews Annabel Davis-Goff

ByABC News via logo

June 11, 2002 -- The one woman who once made Diane Sawyer's knees knock together reveals a story of spirit and courage — one fictional, and one very real.

Annabel Davis-Goff, the author of This Cold Country, is also the ex-wife of Mike Nichols — Diane Sawyer's husband of 14 years. As Sawyer interviewed Davis-Goff about her latest novel, they both looked back at their own story of love, family and fear.

The following is an unedited, uncorrected transcript of the interview as it aired on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

ANNABEL DAVIS-GOFF: The Anglo Irish were kind of left behind … people who had large very beautiful houses and no money. It was sort of a gradual slide towards the edge. There was no future. And I tell you something else that was strange about it — it defeated the men and it made the women stronger. And that's a theme that's throughout all the fiction that I try to write.

DIANE SAWYER: The big houses, were they fun to grow up in or …

DAVIS-GOFF: They were cold.


DAVIS-GOFF: They were cold.

DIANE SAWYER: (Voice Over Tape) This Cold Country is the story of Daisy — a practical, spirited British girl who became what was known as a "land- girl" during World War II. They were young women, sent to help out on Anglo-Irish farms so that the men could go to war. Brave young girls like the author's mother who was a land girl too.

DAVIS-GOFF: She was extraordinarily beautiful. Although not vain. She had a very, very good mind. She's not, She's not daisy. But that kind of spirit and courage is real. That's my Mother.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): When the young girl in the novel marries into one of those big houses she discovers it is filled with secrets and something threatening her like a suffocating vine.

DAVIS-GOFF (Reading her book, This Cold Country): Ready to subsume her, freeze her, bind her, deaden her and render her passive. No, she said aloud. I'm too young, too healthy, too English, too much in love. The first two at least sounded convincing.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): "So how do I know this lyrical writer? This woman who had a love story of her own after she arrived in a foreign land …

DAVIS-GOFF: And after I'd been in America for a while and when I met Mike, it was the beginning of all sorts of things that I didn't know about.

SAWYER: So you mentioned Mike. Who's Mike?

DAVIS-GOFF: Your husband as you very well know. I was wondering how you were going to weave this in.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): That's right, this is the woman who was married to my husband, Mike, just before I was. Fourteen years ago we began one of those hazardous dances of modern culture: The dance of the wives.

SAWYER: Do you remember when I came to see you.


SAWYER: Then you knew my knees were knocking.


SAWYER: You didn't?

DAVIS-GOFF: I was amused that somebody had offered me a thousand dollars in cash to wear a wire. And the main thing that I remember is that you came and I offered you a cup of coffee and the milk was sour.

SAWYER: It's true. So what did you really think of me?

DAVIS-GOFF: What did I think of you.

SAWYER: Really.

DAVIS-GOFF: Let me not quite answer that question. I was predisposed to you.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): "She reminded me that I began to recite to her all the people Mike could have married who were far worse than me. it was a gamble.

DAVIS-GOFF: You came right out and gave me a list of all the people I might be worried about. And I thought that was pretty impressive.

SAWYER: Do you think it would have been different if he had left with some 16-year-old bunny?

DAVIS-GOFF: Some 16 year version of you …

SAWYER: A bunny from the Playboy Club, I was going to say … but I must have seemed very show biz and sort of.

DAVIS-GOFF: You didn't have any kind of sentimental ideas of there's been this terrible marriage. But now that I'm on board, now I'll be this wonderful mother they never had.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): They, being Jenny, Max and both our stepdaughter, Daisy. We can laugh now at the day when I was coming and Annabel stood at the door in … was it armor?

ANNABEL: I was wearing an apron. And it had been a present for Mother's day. And it has Mom written across the border at the bottom. And I think God, was that completely inadvertent or was it some kind of …

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): Don't get me wrong, Annabel, Mike and I all tried to do the right thing — writing notes, being considerate.

DAVIS-GOFF: He and I had the most civilized divorce possibly in history of the world.

SAWYER: But it shows how hard it is. I still had my moments of petty jealousy, rivalry, fear of the unknown.

SAWYER: Through the course of all these years right, you haven't been without spasms of anger at me.

DAVIS-GOFF: A good deal less than you think. You cast yourself in this very good sport.

SAWYER: Of course the main thing for me was, all I heard about was, your healing presence for everything.

DAVIS-GOFF: No kidding.

SAWYER: No kidding. The food, the home, the family. That you were the one who was there. I remember Max walking in at Thanksgiving, he doesn't remember this — the first Thanksgiving, walking up to me and said, if my mother were here, everything would be finished on time and it would taste good.

SAWYER: (Voice Over Tape) So it's hard to believe that here we are, 14 years later, a lot of laughter and so many chapters later. Friends? No, that doesn't seem quite right. Successors? That doesn't sound quite right either. We really became something else — which is family.

SAWYER: So we don't have principles we could extract. Although I do think a great principle is don't do anything, whatever you're feeling.

DAVIS-GOFF: Well your principal is behave properly.

SAWYER (Voice Over Tape): Which takes us back to those big houses and a frightening encounter with strangers, a murder, fire, forbidden love. And in the end, she emerges with her own secrets and a family somehow her own.

SAWYER: Is Daisy a heroine?

DAVIS-GOFF: Yes. She's strong. She changes herself and she changes the family that she's married into.

SAWYER: (Reading from This Cold Country): They were both decent people, of goodwill, and they loved each other once. The war, far from over, was drawing a thick, black line through their lives, through the century, through history. After it, nothing would be the same.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events