Kelly McGillis takes 'vacation' with 'The Babe'

April 26, 1992|By Judy Gerstel | Judy Gerstel,Knight-Ridder News Service

Making "The Babe" was "like being on vacation," says Kelly McGillis, who talked to reporters in New York after the press preview of the movie. "I'm not responsible for it. If it fails, nobody's going to say, 'Kelly McGillis made that movie fail.' "

She had high praise for John Goodman, who plays Babe Ruth in the film that opened April 17. "He's a really wonderful actor, very giving, very selfless. He works in a very sane way. It's not about ego."

Ms. McGillis said that Mr. Goodman, who's always skittish around the press, never seemed awkward or uncomfortable with her on the set. Well, almost never.

"When he had to take off his clothes he was, obviously. I mean, anybody is. I was very nervous. I don't like doing that stuff. I'm not Ellen Barkin who has this fabulous body. I kind of bite the bullet and do it."

Ms. McGillis plays a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who becomes Babe Ruth's second wife. She prepared for the role by reading Billie Burke's autobiography about her career with the Follies, "With a Feather on My Nose."

"Actually, my favorite part of working is doing the research," says Ms. McGillis, who trained at Juilliard. "The actual execution of it isn't as much fun for me."

The actress says the woman she plays in the movie is a highly fictionalized version of the real Mrs. Babe Ruth. "I had to create a different character: They didn't meet the way they do in the movie. She had brown hair, I have blond hair in the movie; she was from Georgia, I didn't have an accent."

Her biggest complaint about Hollywood? "I do feel that I have been stereotyped to a certain extent."

She says that in the theater she often plays characters who are innocent and frail, or emotionally on the edge, but can't seem to get those parts in Hollywood. "The industry doesn't perceive me that way," she says. And she continues rather wistfully, "I do have the capabilities of being funny in film."

She may end up producing a comedy for herself. "I have a script now that somebody's given me $10 million to do, but I don't know when I'm going to do it. I suppose I should just get off my lazy bum and do it."

Advised one of the reporters present, "Do it now while you have the money."

But Ms. McGillis is busy with other things. She and her husband, a yacht broker, live with their preschool daughter in Key West, Fla.

In June, she'll start filming a TV movie with Treat Williams, "Bonds of Love," about "a mentally retarded man and a fairly normal woman who fall in love and want to get married."

Another superficial social issue of the week? Surprisingly, Ms. McGillis, whose first love is Shakespeare and the classics, defends TV movies of the week.

"In television, because it doesn't cost so much, people are willing to take many more risks in dealing with social issues. It's a wonderful forum to educate people about issues, whether it's superficially or not."

But right now, she's back with her first love, performing at the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. "We don't use language that way anymore," she says. "We don't read, we don't write letters. People are no longer equipped to describe what they feel with the written word -- nor do they understand a great deal of the written word -- and it's a shame, really.

"Language is something I find fascinating, and I think it's incredible, the different colors and shades and emotions that you can portray with words."

The challenge with film acting, she says, is being able to portray emotions with all the technical stuff going on, "being able to dance with that camera."

Each film she's done has presented a different kind of hurdle, and Ms. McGillis is proud of every one.

"Witness," "a brilliant film, but Peter Weir is a brilliant director. I'm proud of that just because it was my first film."

"Winter People," even though it didn't do well. "But for me as an actress, I set a certain standard of being able to do those emotions and being able to do them real, not having people spray menthol in your eyes to make you cry. That was a hurdle for me in terms of my acting. I didn't know if I could do that in a movie. I didn't know if I could hit those emotional peaks and valleys with a lot of people hanging on you and touching you and frou-frouing you before a shot."

"The Accused," "because of what I confronted within myself and the fact that it brought a subject matter that was very important to me to a lot of people."

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