Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Andie MacDowell

'Crush' on Andie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Andie MacDowell Movies

In person, Andie MacDowell sometimes seems like a favorite aunt or a next-door neighbor who has a gift for friendly chat. Then, suddenly, she'll look right at you and smile and the room lights up with an otherworldly beauty.

Director Peter Weir, who worked with MacDowell in Green Card (1990), said that she had a "natural mystery," that you didn't know everything about her the moment she appears onscreen, which makes her all the more alluring.

That's all true. MacDowell visited San Francisco to help promote her newest movie, the half-comedy, half-weepie Crush, which opens in Bay Area theaters on Friday. Our talk began in the late afternoon, and as it wore on, she became tired and slightly giddy, her attention wandering to an odd painting in her hotel room ("what IS that?" she asks in her lovely Southern accent), or going off on how dangerous it was on the set of Harrison's Flowers. ("Guns everywhere!" she bellows.)

MacDowell says her secret is that she likes to get along with everyone. "I've always liked everyone I've worked with. I just don't let things bother me. If people are willing to get along with me, I'm willing to get along with them. If they're not willing to get along with me, I'm still willing to get along with them." She even lets her date -- currently her new husband Rhett -- choose which movie they'll see to avoid a potential fight.

Though the general perception ranks MacDowell not quite at the top of the "A" list, just a brief look at her resume proves her talent: sex, lies and videotape, Green Card, Groundhog Day, Short Cuts, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Unstrung Heroes, The End of Violence and The Muse. She excels at both comedy and drama, and in her new film Crush, written and directed by John McKay, she gets to do both.

In her first scene, we learn that MacDowell plays Kate, a headmistress at a strict girls' school in England. She scolds one student for smoking and takes away the cigarettes. She waits for the student to leave, and immediately lights one up for herself. "I like the diversity of the character," MacDowell says. "I like the fact that she's really sexy and surprises people -- that she comes across as headmistress and underneath it all she's really hot!"

Later in the film, Kate falls in love with a young church organ player played by Kenny Doughty, and has sex with him in the back seat of her car (much to the annoyance of Kate's best friends, played by Imelda Staunton and Anna Chancellor). MacDowell proudly boasts that she wore white cotton panties for the scene to fit the character's lifestyle.

"Those are the kinds of things I like to come up with, more so than messing with someone's lines, especially if it's a writer I have a lot of respect for, like John McKay or Steven Soderbergh," she says.

But tragedy strikes and the second half of the film turns into a four-hankie weepie. MacDowell says that for scenes as good as these, she can conjure up real tears, rather than using drops.

"I've done both," she says. "I prefer to really cry, because I have high expectations of being real. It's not easy. I think about pain. All of us are walking around with enormous amounts of pain, for whatever reason. And you can just go right there and feel your pain right now. You don't have to think of anything specific."

Like her character in sex, lies & videotape, MacDowell can't stand waste. She praises McKay for keeping the $6 million budget film on track, and compares the experience to working on last year's expensive flop Town and Country.

"They had this huge set, and you've got Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn and Jenna Elfman and myself and Warren Beatty and Charlton Heston -- who came in with this big rifle -- and hoards of extras. And it's like a cabaret or a musical scene, with all these people. And I looked at the producer and said, 'this is horrible! what is this?' And he said, 'well this may not even be in the movie.' I don't get it."

"You just don't do that when you've got six million dollars and no more coming in. You know what you're going to do and you do it."

As a first timer, McKay kept all his ducks in a row, according to MacDowell. "He did direct a lot. He talked. He would talk and talk and talk and talk. He would tell me millions of things. Then you work with other directors who don't say a damn thing! I like them both, though. With Robert Altman (on Short Cuts), he would ask after three takes, 'are you happy?' I said, 'I'm happy if you're happy.' And we moved on."

March 28, 2002

Partial Andie MacDowell Filmography:
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)
St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
sex, lies and videotape (1989)
Green Card (1990)
Hudson Hawk (1991)
The Object of Beauty (1991)
The Player (1992) (cameo)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Short Cuts (1993)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Bad Girls (1994)
Unstrung Heroes (1995)
Michael (1996)
Multiplicity (1996)
The End of Violence (1997)
The Muse (1999)
Muppets from Space (1999)
Harrison's Flowers (2000)
Crush (2001)
Town & Country (2001)
Beauty Shop (2005)
Barnyard (2006) (voice)
Inconceivable (2008)

Movies Unlimtied