CHANGE: Wild child Lindsay Lohan tells Gaby Wood she's working hard to put previous misconceptions behind her
The bar was so dark I could hardly see Lindsay Lohan's face, but her bee-stung lips were the centre of attention, and her eyes expressive despite the shadows. It was her idea to meet in the bar of London's Connaught Hotel and when I was summoned, she was already sitting with two men in a booth. She got up to greet me with a distracted, tobacco-scented air kiss.
She was in towering black leather wedge boots - Givenchy, she told me as she adjusted one of the gold buckles, and these were the second pair she'd bought. When she sat, she slouched, so that she was all hair and heels, her shaded face conspiratorially close. Among the many bracelets on her wrists was a bangle given to her by Elizabeth Taylor's nurse - Lohan played Taylor two years ago in a TV movie - and her fingers were decorated with tiny written tattoos, one of which read: "Shhhhhh!"
If that was intended as a note to self, Lohan showed no signs of heeding it. She had talked all day, she said, in rehearsals for her first ever play - David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow - and even though her voice was husky and cracked, she went on for another hour: fast, as if speech were a form of transport, and she needed to get somewhere in a hurry.
"You know, when you think about it, I was doing other things before this, and I'm looking at this thing and I'm like: 'Oh f***.' The whole of Act Two, I just speak throughout the whole thing. And it's very precise, and he has meaning behind each word, and I'm figuring that out now. Today was my first day that I started to understand it."
I asked her how it felt.
"It feels really cool. It feels really good. It does. It's…terrifying, at times. Because in the beginning I, like, panicked."
She's hilariously honest about the process and the pressures. When I asked if she was worried about memorising the lines, she gave me an "are-you-crazy?" look, and guffawed for emphasis. "YE-ah!" she said.
In Speed-the-Plow, Lohan plays Karen, a temporary secretary taken on by a Hollywood producer. She doesn't appear until some way into the play, but before she does we are given to understand that she is unable to work the phone or make the coffee - also, that she's "cute".
She will go on to seduce the producer, and to champion a strange book, driven by ambiguous motives. "I've been depraved, too, I've been frightened," she tells her boss. "I know what it is to be bad… I know what it is to be lost."
Lindsay Posner, who is directing this West End production, says he wanted Lohan for the part because "she has a mixture of vulnerability and confidence and ambition."
When the play premiered on Broadway in 1988, Karen was played by Madonna.
Lohan's chaotic reputation precedes her, and she hasn't made things easy for herself. When you're known for being unreliable - for not turning up on set and not turning up at community service even when that breaks the terms of your probation for drink driving - a 10-week run in the West End seems a lot to ask.
Lohan knows what she's up against.
"I'm there. I'm there early. And the next day I'm up at 7am. And I'm 10 minutes late - 10 minutes late - and I'm like apologising. I was crying yesterday. I was like, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm 10 minutes late.' I felt bad, I felt bad. I'm sounding like my character now, I keep repeating myself, oh my god."
They are halfway through their rehearsal period, and Posner says he's been surprised by how quickly Lohan has taken to it - more so than other Hollywood actors he's worked with, such as Julia Stiles or Aaron Eckhart or Juliette Lewis.
It's easy to say this could be a turning point for her - almost anything can be seen as a turning point. But genuinely, this play could make all the difference.
Last year, after her sixth stint in rehab, Lohan decided to star in a reality TV series made by Oprah Winfrey. The premise: Winfrey would keep her on the straight and narrow, and Lohan would make a comeback. The result: Winfrey harangued and patronised Lohan, quizzed her parents, planted people who were supposed to help her but who then gave up on her ostentatiously. In short, Lohan fell off the wagon and was exposed.
She had moved to New York to get away from LA, and now she has moved to London to get away from New York.
"After the Oprah show it was kind of hard for me to be in New York," she said. "There started to be paparazzi and I didn't have that in the beginning. People have had this misconception of me, that I love that attention. And that's what they've made me out to be. But I never wanted that. I accepted it - I didn't have a choice. Every time I left my house they were at the corner. Every time I went down a side street they were at the corner. If I tried to lose them they'd chase me and I'd get in an accident. That's what happens."
There are some grey areas in all of this. As Lohan admits, when she was young, and saw Britney Spears in magazines, she thought she wanted to be like that.
"And then once I started to have it, I was like: Oh, f***. I can't do anything."
Lohan started acting when she was three years old. She was, it was said, the first redhead the Ford agency had ever taken on. When she was 11 she pretended to be ill so she could skip school and go to her first movie audition. She got the part - or parts, since she had to play twins who are separated as babies and end up at the same summer camp, one of them with a posh English accent.
Lohan still remembers how long the shoot for The Parent Trap was: "eight months, three weeks and two days". It changed her life and she excelled herself with the remake of Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, still a cult classic of teen behaviour.
Together, these films made Lohan a star of proportions that would put any 17-year-old at risk.
She became famous for being famous, then famous for being drunk, she was easy prey. In 2008, she posed naked as Marilyn Monroe for the cover of New York magazine, allowing the photographer Bert Stern to replicate his famous "last sitting" shots of Monroe. Who decided that wasn't tempting fate?
"Living a life in the public eye - that, I could have taken more responsibility for," she said. "But I didn't know how. Honestly, I didn't know how. I didn't realise it - I've never Googled myself, I don't understand it."
Lohan was saying all this outside the Connaught bar. She had wanted to smoke a cigarette, and asked me to come with her so we could keep talking.
"Yes, I've made mistakes. But who doesn't in life? I've learnt enough the hard way, and I don't ever want to have to learn that way again."
I asked her where she saw herself in 20 years' time, and she laughed. "I can go with five," she said. "That's as far as I can go."
Then she went on: "I'm glad that I'm finding my way. I want to work for this next year, and then take some time, and hopefully fall in love, and hopefully have a family. Now I see all these kids that are living so fast. I think: I've been there. I want to hold them, and say: it's not worth it."