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DIFFDIFF Journal 2017Andie MacDowell talks gender, career, modelling and Hugh Grant
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Andie MacDowell talks gender, career, modelling and Hugh Grant
Mon Dec 12, 2016
By: Kerry Baggott
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Andie MacDowell is stunning. Considering she’s been a face of L’Oreal for over 30 years, one feels vindicated for making this observation. But pushing 60 years old, the ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ star really is beautiful – and from the short time spent with her during her Masterclass session at the 13th Dubai International Film Festival, she’s beautiful on the inside too.

Ironically, this is an inner beauty that has blossomed with age. “When I started out as an actress I had this whole physiological thing going on about wanting to be taken seriously – I’m over that now,” she said. “In that process I didn’t want people to think of me as a model. I had a real chip on my shoulder – and I’m completely over that too. If you want to call me a model now – I’m 58 – then please go ahead, I’m very happy with that. Nowadays I’m less focused on being taken seriously and more interested in keeping my sense of humour.”

She hasn’t always been this confident – hardly a surprise considering that in 1984, MacDowell suffered a devastating personal blow to her career when her lines in her debut movie, ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes’ were dubbed by Glenn Close because her Southern American accent was subsequently deemed too pronounced for her to play the role of an English woman. It’s a subject that used to be too painful for her to discuss, but now “it’s more interesting to talk about it”, she said.

“I was 23. I thought my life was over; it was devastating. The enormity was unbelievable - imagine having the whole world laugh at you? I was so scarred. The media had a heyday,” she said.

“I had two choices - I was either going to quit or I was going to fight. So I went to class. I just kept trying. But it was so hard to even get an audition, because no one wanted to see me. When I got the part in ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ I was terrified, but it was a step forward.”

From there MacDowell went on to land the role of Ann in the renowned independent drama film ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’, then ‘Green Card’, ‘Groundhog Day’ in 1993 and the cult ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ in 1994.

“What I think is so remarkable when I recall what I went through, is that not only did I survive, but I thrived. I went on to do remarkable things,” she said.
“’Sex, Lies and Videotape’ was not only critically successful but it made a lot of money. I tell you one thing, if you want to be successful in this business, if you can make people money then they’ll like you. All of a sudden, I no longer became someone to laugh at but to finally be taken seriously,” she said.

She sums up the experience by almost putting it down to fate. “People say that I play vulnerable characters. And I believe that my personal journey has allowed me to understand what it is to be really vulnerable. I know that feeling first hand, so I can use that as my instrument,” she said.

Fast forward to just a few months ago, when in October Andie MacDowell finds herself on the jury at the 53rd International Antalya Film Festival in Turkey sitting beside, none other than, the maker of ‘Greystoke’, director Hugh Hudson. “It was very cathartic for me,” she said. “When it all happened, I was doomed – that’s what I felt. And now, look at me - here I am, judging movies on the same jury as Hugh Hudson. I’m on his level,” she said (to rapturous applaud).

From the young girl that grew up horse riding and playing in the woods “in a dinky, Red Neck town”, she’s come a long way. But it was modelling that enticed her away from South Carolina at the age of 20 when she moved to New York and then shortly afterwards, on to Paris.

“I worked like crazy. I would have worked for nothing,” she said. “I travelled all over the place. It was my education. I went to plays; museums; read books. I was around intelligent, worldly people and I paid attention. I had a lot of catching up to do. I was exposed to so much.”

But acting was her dream, and modelling gave her the exposure to move into that realm. “I’ve always loved acting,” she said. “When I was a little girl I wanted to be an actress. It’s what I wanted to be. My favourite game was to play ‘make believe’. One day, my mother took me to a play, and I suddenly realised that there was a job where people play ‘make believe’ - and get paid for it.”

As an accomplished actress, she went on to make some interesting choices, choosing ‘Green Card’ starring Gerard Depardieu, better known to the European art houses than within America. A few years later, she turned down the script of ‘Bad Girls’ in favour of “Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to work beside, what was then, some relatively unknown actor called Hugh Grant.

“For me it was all about the script. I wasn’t thinking about Hugh, even though I was told “This is gonna be easy, Hugh’s gorgeous”. Playing with him was so much fun. We had a blast.

“It’s funny cos I just saw him recently and to me he’s just the same. It’s the same Hugh. But back then he didn’t have any money. He was a hard working actor and I already, more or less, had made it. And he used to torture me. He drove an old, beaten up car and he would tell me how the door would barely shut – it’d go chuuunk. That’s changed a bit now,” she laughed.

In Four Weddings of course, Andie MacDowell played the feisty, somewhat promiscuous, self-assured, Carrie. A strong woman. But, in the real world, behind the camera, it hasn’t always been easy as a woman in what is still a male-dominated and prejudiced film industry she said.

“What’s interesting is when you learn how female millennials have a much more powerful way of seeing themselves these days. They’ve progressed so much from a time when I was growing up when we were so repressed. I remember when I turned 40 and being asked ‘What does it feel like to be 40 and know you’re never gonna work again?’ We didn’t have the voice. Women weren’t allowed to get old. ‘Whatever I can get I’ll be happy with’ – that was my attitude. But the millennials aren’t going to accept that. They’re not going to be walked on. I want my daughters to have equal opportunities. Why do women age out and men don’t? You want to work, not ’cos you wanna make money, but because you want to be vital, you want to matter. This younger generation – of guys and gals - are really standing up for women and that’s great to see,” she said.

In America, she went on, you have the added pressure of constantly being judged by how big your last movie was. “There’s so much pressure to be in hits. It’s sad, because if everyone’s going to judge you this way, then you become fearful to even work. It takes away from the enjoyment of the journey,” she said.

This goes some way to explaining why MacDowell is such a fan of independent films. “I think you learn more from independent movies. They feed you more. The roles are more interesting, plots more complex, content more intelligent and they take more chances,” she said.

Likewise commenting on the medium of TV, MacDowell, as an executive producer herself on ‘The Beach House’, confesses to “binging” on TV series. “I love it,” she enthused. “I can watch for hours. TV has changed everything. We used to think it was more high quality to just do movies. You were either in the movies or you were a TV star. Now that is gone. TV has become so powerful and it’s causing the movie industry pain.

“I loved working on ‘Cedar Cove’. The pace is incredible. I loved working on one character for three months. I learned a lot.”

Andie MacDowell has that infectious enthusiasm and it’s clear that she’s nowhere near ready to give it all up – whether it’s on the TV or movie screen.

Her latest project ‘Love after Love’ is currently in post production and due for release in 2017. She has also been filming the movie ‘Granite Mountain’ with Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connolly.

Kerry Baggott
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