What the Hell Happened to Kelly McGillis?
Later that year, McGillis starred opposite Peter Weller in Abel Ferrara’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Cat Chaser.
Weller played a veteran of the Dominican Republic Intervention who has settled into Miami where he runs a beachfront motel. He begins a relationship with a woman played by McGillis who happens to be the wife of a former Dominican general. Eventually, Weller becomes involved in a plan to steal from the general.
According to McGillis, Cat Chaser was a miserable experience which drove her out of Hollywood:
It was the most hateful experience of my life and I said: ‘If this is what acting is going to be, I will not do it.’ On the last day of shooting, I said: ‘Are you done with me?’ He said: ‘Yeah’. I walked in my trailer and shaved my head. I said: ‘Screw you, I never want to act again’. I got on a boat in the Caribbean and stayed for six months, in limbo. Then I got pregnant and things changed. It took me six months of soul-searching, nine months of pregnancy and a couple of plays, to say: ‘I do love acting. I just don’t want to work with assholes any more’.
Others involved in the production admit that it was troubled. Weller and McGillis didn’t get along. According to Weller, McGillis told him upfront at their first meeting that she was the star of the movie. McGillis surprised Ferrara by getting breast augmentation surgery before filming started. The movie’s editor, Anthony Redman, said McGillis really wanted to look good during her nude scene.
The movie also included a graphic rape scene. By any standard, this scene was designed to push the limits. Ferrara felt that the scene was too physical, so he wanted to have a body double shoot it. According to Ferrara, McGillis was very upset when she learned she wouldn’t be shooting the scene. He said that McGillis accused him of replacing her because he didn’t think she was beautiful enough:
I said, ‘What, are you kidding me? I’d never even think of replacing an actress with a double for that reason.’ I just thought maybe she’d want somebody, [at least] for the rehearsals. But she took it as, ‘Oh, I don’t think she’s beautiful enough and we’ve gotta have another girl,’ which is ridiculous, because she’s a beautiful woman.
Eventually, McGillis and Ferrara worked out the scene in a way that she could film it herself. Ferrara claims that the actress essentially wrote the scene herself.
The movie faced additional obstacles not related to McGillis. There were script problems. Leonard was paid $20,000 to rewrite the first 20 pages but ended up rewriting the whole thing only to have Ferrara reject the author’s adapted screenplay. There were issues with shooting in the Dominican Republic, so scenes that were supposed to be shot there were relocated to Puerto Rico.
When Cat Chaser was finally released, the studio objected to Ferrara’s three-hour cut of the movie. They chopped the runtime in half to a scant 90 minutes. In order to give the movie a sense of continuity, the studio wanted Weller to record voice over narration which the actor refused to do. So instead, they hired another actor to do it instead. After all that, Cat Chaser ended up being released straight to video.
After a three-year absence, McGillis returned to acting. But in Hollywood, three years is an eternity for an actress. When McGillis returned, she was no longer getting lead roles in mainstream movies. Instead, she had a small supporting role in Arthur Hiller’s baseball biopic, The Babe.
John Goodman starred as the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. Trini Alvarado portrayed Ruth’s first wife, Helen Woodford and McGillis played Claire Hodgson, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who became the baseball legend’s second wife.
Reviews for The Babe were mixed, but Roger Ebert disliked it strongly enough to name it as one of the ten worst movies of the year. It opened in fifth place at the box office behind the horror flop, Sleepwalkers, which debuted the previous weekend. It ended up grossing just a little over its modest budget.
Later that year, McGillis starred in the made-for cable movie, Grand Isle, based on Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening. McGillis played an unhappily married woman in Louisiana in the 1890’s. She meets and falls for a young, Creole arist played by Adrian Pasdar. Julian Sands, Ellen Burstyn and Glenne Headly costarred.
Regular readers of the WTHH series know that once a movie star sets down the made-for-cable path, it’s hard to deviate from it. That would hold true for McGillis. In 1993, she starred opposite Treat Williams in the feel-good TV movie, The Bonds of Love. Williams played a mentally disabled man who forges a friendship with a divorcee played by McGillis. Their friendship turns to romantic love, but Williams’ family objects to their wedding.
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