Combustible Celluloid

Madeleine Stowe

Handling the Truth

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Madeleine Stowe is very frank about why she chose The General's Daughter as her comeback movie. She thought Simon West's earlier movie, Con Air, was a load of fun. She also wanted to work with leading man John Travolta. And there was a more concrete reason: "I had been out of the loop for so long. And I had never thought about doing things before for business considerations or anything. But [this] was a big studio picture. After seeing this explosion, this media saturation on entertainment journalism, I realized the importance of being in a picture that had a profile."

A good deal of Stowe's scenes with Travolta were cut from the final print of the movie. "You can tell looking at it that there are gaps. And what's missing from this is that she plays this cat-and-mouse game with him, and she's pretending she's not interested, and she's chasing after him, and saying 'I'm not married anymore.' Well, she is married, and her husband calls up. And she's been lying to him. But they are separated, she just hadn't filed for divorce. It's a huge, huge absence in the movie."

"I think studios are a little nervous sometimes if their characters are a little less than pure. I think they worried about that in the script initially, although it's what I was drawn to, and John was too. Also, when they [initially] tested it, the audience was confused about which story they were supposed to follow. And I think that it was a point of integrity that they didn't want to belittle the investigation." Strangely, just before her press junket, Stowe was informed that a lot of her scenes would be restored on the DVD version.

Stowe had enjoyed "rolling her eyes" and laughing along with director West's earlier Con Air. But working with West was a little more difficult. "I really like being bossed around. Simon tends to leave you alone. He was very enigmatic to me. And John and I were always both very uncertain about what he was thinking. I don't feel like I have to be coddled by the director, but I really didn't know what was going on. And then I realized he's just a straight shooter."

James Woods also stars in the movie as a Colonel with a dark secret. Stowe had a ball sparring with Woods in the makeup trailer each morning. "He hates Bill Clinton. He makes no bones about it. I'm not telling you anything new. He went on Terry Gross' [radio] show, Fresh Air and called [Clinton] a sociopath. [This] was all during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. And we would have HUGE fights. And we would be laughing, but everybody was terrified because they can't stand to see actors going at each other's throats."

Stowe is cheerful, comfortable, and seems larger than her tiny frame can contain. Her eyes are her most startling feature--dewey and dark. She plays the Hollywood game like an expert now, taking three years off to raise her first child, May, with her husband of 19 years, Brian Benben (from HBO's Dream On series), and now getting back into the game with ease. It's been 12 years since her debut, when we watched her being watched by Emilio Estevez and Richard Dreyfuss in Stakeout (1987). She followed that by co-starring with Kevin Costner in Revenge (1990), Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes (1990), and Kurt Russell and Ray Liotta in Unlawful Entry (1992). But it was the success of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) that put her on the map.

The following year, she won a Best Supporting Actress award from the National Society of Film Critics for Robert Altman's masterful Short Cuts--chosen from among a huge cast including Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor, Lily Tomlin, and Frances McDormand. A leading role in the thriller Blink (1994) followed. But audiences didn't respond. After the wretched western, Bad Girls, rescue came again in the form of Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995), a movie that garnered critical acclaim, modest box-office, and a strong cult following on the budding Internet. At this high point, Stowe retreated to her Texas ranch for the birth of her daughter May.

"And so the whole world has exploded during this time. I did Playing By Heart [released earlier this year] to get my feet wet again, and then this came up. So I'm back now. But I'm really behind. I don't have a computer and I've never seen the internet. I've never seen a web site."

For all her talent, Stowe tends to end up playing characters that are physically abused somehow. In The General's Daughter, there is a scene where a bunch of bad guys attack her. "I remember being a kid and loving Little Women and identifying with Beth, the one that was dying and couldn't have any kind of social contact with anybody. So there is obviously some correlation there. And I think that as I got older, I resisted that. Try to push ahead. I just try to do what feels right. I hate noble shit, and I hate 'I am woman.' Go away."

"There's SO much money in Hollywood. And the money is in the action pictures. Studios are paralyzed right now. I've read three great scripts, two of which they won't green-light yet, and one that's just getting ready. And they're really really uncomfortable with it. They'll sit there and say, '[that the violence in action films] doesn't affect children at all.' Of course they're saying that because, number one: it makes them a lot of money. And number two: they're not affected by it because they're developed human beings. [But], I watch my child, and she sees something in there, and somebody hitting, and she starts acting it out. That's just how it works."

"I feel really weird about this because I've made so many movies that have violent things it [them]. And I'm being totally honest in saying that if somebody offered me ten zillion dollars to do something and it was violent... I might do it. I don't know how much integrity I actually have. I certainly haven't done a thing in the world to change that or develop my own projects. But now I'm working on something, a historical piece, Texas, 1840's. It'll take me about a year or two to develop. And if people reject that and I feel it's good, then I'll complain!"

Besides working on her own project, Stowe was asked to be in Terry Gilliam's next movie, along with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. "It's called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. [Gilliam] wrote it, and like everything else Terry does, [it] goes back and forth between current times and then flashing back to Don Quixote's time. So I play two characters: a woman who is married to his boss who's having an affair with him, and later on you see she's a Duchess."

One thing Stowe loves about acting is being on location. She says that she appreciated being in Bad Girls simply because it introduced her to Texas. "There's nothing better than being outside when you're shooting. I tend to fail miserably, I think, when I'm in a sound stage. And really, there's an enchantment that happens when you're on location. I really enjoyed being in Savannah for this movie. I enjoyed North Carolina when we did The Last of the Mohicans [and] I enjoyed Mexico in Revenge (1990). There's something about all that that makes you want a movie to go on forever, really."

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