The Flint Beneath the Shimmer
Andie MacDowell survived a lot before she became an actress. When she made the transition from a career as a model, the result was a very public embarrassment that would have sent a weaker woman running back home. Instead, MacDowell persevered. Her persistence eventually paid off as she became one of Hollywood’s go-to actresses in the mid-nineties. In the July 1996 issue of Movieline magazine, Stephen Rebello found surprising depths beneath the actresses magazine-cover good looks.
As Andie MacDowell strides toward me through one of the snazziest restaurants in Austin, Texas, my first thought is: This woman’s best work is dead ahead. OK, laugh. For years it’s been hip to dis or devalue MacDowell, I know that. It started back in 1984, when she twirled off the fashion runways of Rome and Paris into a plum lead in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, only to have her South Carolina drawl expunged and replaced with Glenn Close’s faux British drawing room tones. A mortifying blow, Hollywood and the media that follow it wrote MacDowell off as a ventriloquist’s dummy, albeit one with a Modigliani-esque face, abundant charm and one fabulous head of hair. For the next four years, The Model Who Had to Be Dubbed snagged only lucrative TV commercials, an Italian miniseries and a role in the Brat Pack soap opera, St. Elmo’s Fire. Critic John Simon labeled her “that horse-faced pseudosultry jeans model… who cannot act and cannot even read lines.”
Then, all of a sudden, MacDowell showed up in the small, brilliant, out-of-the-blue sex, lies, and videotape. As the sexually bottled-up married woman who falls for her husband’s weird friend, she turned in a sly, triumphant performance that would have cinched stardom for nearly anyone else. She placed a close second behind Meryl Streep as Best Actress at Cannes and The New York Times called it “incomprehensible” when she failed to win an Oscar nomination. But the Hollywood establishment, still sniggering over Greystoke and her modeling past, showed her only a grudging respect, falling over themselves to predict stardom instead for her costar Laura San Giacomo. Since then, MacDowell has nibbled around the edges of major stardom, being all too easy to underestimate in hits (Groundhog Day), almost hits (Green Card), out-right flops (Hudson Hawk, Bad Girls) and ambitious off-the-menu items (The Object of Beauty, Short Cuts, Unstrung Heroes). Even in a box-office and critical grand slam, Four Weddings and a Funeral, critics overlooked her gracious playing to genuflect instead at the altar of Hugh Grant’s formidable charm.
While MacDowell’s perseverance may remain an enigma to some, to an ever-growing group of others she is that close to becoming the real thing. It’s been a long haul, but mainstream Hollywood finally appears to be catching on to what filmmakers like Peter Weir (who praised her for having “a sense of mystery that is rare among modern women”) figured out years ago: Andie MacDowell makes what she does look lots easier than it is. About to be seen opposite Michael Keaton in Multiplicity, a farcical fable riding into theaters on a promising buzz, MacDowell is pronounced by that film’s director, Harold Ramis, “a traditional movie star, in the sense that she plays herself extremely well.” And she’s already at work here in Texas on another highly touted picture, Nora Ephron’s comedic Michael, in which she stars with John Travolta.
So, that’s why, when MacDowell shows up looking feral, sleek and absolutely present in a black leather jacket and matching slacks, I know there’s flint to be struck beneath this woman’s shimmer.
As soon as MacDowell sits down across from me, it’s clear that movies have largely missed out on her sparkly energy, bristling wit and up-tempo smarts. At 37, married for 10 years to former model and major babe Paul Qualley and a mother of three ridiculously gorgeous children, with whom she shares a 3,000-acre Montana ranch, she looks supremely comfortable in her translucent skin.
All well and good. But can this nervy, sexy energy translate into playfulness? I decide to find out by mentioning that Marisa Tomei once merrily told me how she had turned down Four Weddings and a Funeral.
MacDowell responds to this bit of information in butter-wouldn’t-melt-in -her-mouth tones, brow slightly arched. “They saw a lot of other people for the role,” she tells me. “I was quite impressed that I was the one who was, in fact, doing the movie. Not only did Marisa Tomei lose out as an artist for not taking the opportunity to work with wonderful people on this amazing movie, she lost a lot of money.”
MacDowell delivers this last pronouncement with such unalloyed, lady-like glee that we both crack up. ”And the money just keeps coming.” she adds, grinning. “See, I didn’t get money for it up front, but I had points. I had a huge mortgage and I didn’t plan the last baby, but Four Weddings and a Funeral paid for me to sit back and take a year off, pay my mortgage, have plenty of money and even invest some, too.”
Take that, Marisa!
Now, can MacDowell be as candid about her own career missteps as she is about her good fortune? I’ve always wondered, for instance, what kept her going after Greystoke, a debacle that would have sent other models running for cover to the comforts of prescription drugs and more Vogue covers. How did she get through one of the more career-crippling blows in screen history? “When I heard the news, I was in my hotel room alone,” she recalls, after a moment’s hesitation. “At the time of Greystoke, I was not even in a good relationship, so I had no one to share it with. I didn’t deceive myself for one minute about what the media was going to do with it or what people in the business were going to think. I said to myself, ‘Either I jump out that window out of humiliation and embarrassment or I fight.’ The choice was there: die or fight. It was set up so perfectly for people to think that I had no capabilities whatsoever. So, I decided to go to class, to evolve. Until sex, lies, and videotape, I was untouchable. My manager was fighting for me with people who would not even see me. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud of my achievements.”
And so she should be, since she has shown unusual dexterity in that minefield-strewn genre, the romantic comedy, a form in which Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts have distinguished themselves, while others like Geena Davis and Debra Winger have gotten rudely tarnished. Is MacDowell comfortable sparkling in a niche market once cornered by the magnificent likes of Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur and Claudette Colbert?
“I told my agent the other day that I want desperately to play a woman who is sexy and strong and powerful,” she asserts. ‘To play someone like that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go back to the great roles women had in the ’40s and ’50s. For an actress to be sexy and strong, the project doesn’t have to be–shouldn’t have to be–a period piece. So far, though, I’m not finding scripts. Either nobody’s writing them or somebody else is getting all the pleasure. So, to answer your question, I feel I have so much more to offer.”
I mention some of the movie assignments I’ve heard MacDowell was up for; Flashdance, Ghost, The Silence of the Lambs, Fatal Attraction, The Last of the Mohicans, Indecent Proposal. What did she think of some of those decidedly non-romantic -comedy roles? MacDowell doesn’t want to offend anybody by directly confirming or denying involvement with these projects, but she will hint at her own sensibilities by commenting on the roles. “I had a hard time with The Silence of the Lambs,” she admits. “Because of the subject matter. Those kinds of movies disturb me. I get lost in them, they terrify me, and I don’t want those images in my head. Jodie Foster did a beautiful job and won the Academy Award for it. It was a very challenging role and to miss the opportunity to have someone as talented as Jonathan Demme directing you is a great loss for an actress.” A loss MacDowell is willing to incur, obviously. What movie can MacDowell point to as something that’s akin to her sensibility?
“I thought Meryl in The Bridges of Madison County was really something,” she answers, beaming. “I never really liked that book and I had some problems with the story, but I loved things in the movie, like when they pulled back the camera and the two of them were just in the kitchen with their bodies in such close proximity. You felt that you were witnessing something complex and multilayered, I’ll tell you something else. One great, great recent loss was [the death of director] Krzysztof Kieslowski. The way he saw women in Red, White and Blue was just amazing. He could have done the kind of movie I want to do. When I was making The Object of Beauty in London, he came over and spoke to me in a restaurant. He saw potential in me to do work. I felt a wonderful connection.”
I’m wondering whether it is true, as I’ve heard, that MacDowell has refused certain roles out of deference to her family, particularly husband Paul Qualley, who, since retiring from modeling for such clients as the Gap, has become a builder and gentleman rancher. “Her family life is what drives her,” MacDowell’s Multiplicity director Harold Ramis told me. “She’s like one of those Greek fishermen who go away for six months to earn enough money to keep their families. Being the big bread winner, she knows she can build a certain security for her family if she piles up enough money doing these lead roles while she’s still young and beautiful enough. But she’s specific about what she’ll do and what she’s right for.”
No kidding. MacDowell confides to me that a friend advised against her doing Four Weddings because it contained so many repetitions of the “f” word–a word Mac-Dowell calls her “least favorite in the world, because it’s so overused in this business and shows such a lack of intelligence from the person who uses it.” Indeed, out of respect for her spouse, she even declines to dish with me about the great kissers with whom she’s worked. Will her standards limit her movie menu to strictly vanilla? “As long as a role has intelligence and integrity to it and Paul knows that it’s something that will challenge me as an actress, I don’t think he would keep me from doing it,” she says. “But we’ve had some tensions. I met with Adrian Lyne on a couple of things, because he and I shot a commercial together even before he did Flashdance. I kept deliberating whether I wanted to go in to read for 9½ Weeks because it was just this side of sleazy. Now, after seeing Thelma & Louise, I said to my husband, ‘Damn, I would have loved to have done Geena Davis’s role.” He got very upset because it was also very sexual, but I loved that. The roles that I would like to have done that are very sexual give him the willies. He used to be bugged by the fact that I’m enamored of things Jessica Lange has done. It kind of intimidates him. But I think we’re actually in a better place now than we have been in a long time.”
Posted on July 28, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged Andie MacDowell, Bad Girls, four weddings and a funeral, Greystoke, Groundhog Day, lies and videotape, sex, st elmo's fire. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.