What the Hell Happened to Kelly McGillis?
In 1988, McGillis costarred opposite Jeff Daniels in the McCarthy-era thriller, The House on Carroll Street.
McGillis played a Life magazine editor who loses her job when she refuses to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. She takes a part-time job caring for an elder played by Jessica Tandy. After witnessing a murder, McGillis goes to the police. When they don’t believe her story, McGillis starts investigating the murder herself. Daniels portrayed an FBI agent who comes to her aid.
Reviews were mixed. Roger Ebert gave the movie a thumbs up and compared McGillis to Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. But other critics were less enamored of the old-fashioned mystery. The House on Carroll Street received a very limited theatrical release during which it grosses less than half a million dollars on a $14 million dollar budget. Just two years after Top Gun, things were not looking good for McGillis’ career.
Things turned around later that year when McGillis costarred opposite Jodie Foster in The Accused.
Foster played a girl who is gangraped in a bar. McGillis played the District Attorney who initially deals with the case by offering the defendants a plea bargain. They get jail time, but Foster’s character is outraged when she is denied her day in court. Eventually, she convinces McGillis to bring charges against the bar patrons who watched and cheered as she was assaulted.
The Accused was one of those movies that was attached to just about every actress who was working at the time. With two female leads to cast, actresses of every stripe auditioned. Most of the A-listers at the time were intimidated by the movie’s subject matter. Several well-known actresses passed on the two lead roles. McGillis was offered the role of the rape victim that eventually won Jodie Foster an Oscar. But having survived a similar experience, McGillis couldn’t bring herself to reenact a rape scene.
When the movie was released, McGillis publicly spoke about her experience for the first time. McGillis told People magazine:
Filming The Accused last year brought back a lot of the old nightmares, but I was very enthusiastic about an issue that so deeply affected my life. When the project was finished, it was like a demon had been put to rest, but still I was struggling with publicly telling my story because I was afraid. I felt so bad that I couldn’t tell the truth. Then in September I went to a fund-raising brunch at a Los Angeles rape treatment center and heard two victims talking about being raped on campus. As I listened, I thought that my not talking about my own experience was the most cowardly act of my life.
I wanted to help the people who haven’t talked about their experiences. Most rape victims don’t come forward. But that’s like saying, “Go ahead, assault me, because nothing is going to happen to you.” The only way to stop it is to talk about it. The thing I feel most passionate about is that victims talk and seek help. By not coming forward and trying to prosecute, you are making yourself a victim forever. You are allowing someone to change the rest of your life with one awful, ugly, horrifying deed.
In a cover story, McGillis talked about her harrowing experience, but she left out one detail. She admitted that the experience made it hard for her to trust men and that she was not able to be intimate for several years. She also discussed her recent divorce and her feelings of guilt. But she left out the fact that she was involved in a lesbian relationship at the time and that she felt that she was being punished for being gay. It would take the actress more than two decades before she would openly discuss that part of her life.
The Accused was a massive risk that had intimidated a lot of well-known Hollywood actresses. But the risk paid off for Foster and McGillis. Critics unanimously praised the movie and it performed surprisingly well at the box office. Foster, whose career was in a rut at the time, took home a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
McGillis followed up the personal triumph of The Accused with a movie that was unfavorably compared to one of her previous hits.
In The Winter People, McGillis played a single mother in a remote Appalachian community. Kurt Russell costarred as a widower who moves into the village with his daughter in tow. When Russell cozies up to the single mom, he gets in trouble with her baby daddy and his mountain clan.
Critics weren’t kind to the Depression-era drama. Roger Ebert wrote that “the plot is like Witness turned inside out and played as a Li’l Abner parody.” The movie opened in less than 300 theaters and grossed about $2 million dollars.
Next: Cat Chaser and The Babe