Stowe relishes 'Mohicans' role Actress enjoys playing a character who speaks her mind

September 30, 1992|By Orange County Register

Actress Madeleine Stowe has never been shy about speaking her mind when it comes to the roles she has played in films, particularly when the roles didn't turn out as expected.

In films such as "Stakeout" and the recent "Unlawful Entry," Ms. Stowe thinks her characters were turned into "Barbie dolls," despite assurances to the contrary from the directors.

"It was 'Unlawful Entry' that really disturbed me," the actress said. "It was frustrating to see the intelligence yanked out of a picture like that.

"I suppose that genre demands a certain amount of silliness and stupidity to begin with," she added, "but what happened was ridiculous. It was not what I was promised. I literally get sick when I think about it."

So, it was with no small measure of concern that Ms. Stowe listened intently as director Michael Mann outlined his plan for the actress' character in "The Last of the Mohicans," which opened last weekend.

Ms. Stowe plays the spirited daughter of a British army officer in 1757, during the French and Indian War. She visits her father in the thick of battle and falls in love with a free-spirited frontiersman (Daniel Day-Lewis) who was raised among the Mohican Indians.

"Generally, I'm not very trusting of what I see in a script or what I hear a director say, and it took awhile for me to trust what was going on in this film," Ms. Stowe said.

"I'm not given to surrendering myself over to anyone, but Michael did every single thing he said he would. He allowed the character to develop, even when it meant keeping the camera on her after the dialogue ended, just to show her inner conflict.

"She is a character with a bit of reality to her, which is unusual for me. This is one of the few times I haven't felt objectified, and that's because of Michael. He kept his word."

Ms. Stowe, 34, said she loved the part of Cora Munro in "The Last of the Mohicans," but it wasn't always easy to play an 18th century woman. Not if you are an independent, shoot-from-the-hip type of 20th century woman.

"I do love period pieces, and I think I was much happier while in character than I am right now," she said. "I've always been that way; I've always been in my own little world. My friends are always telling me to come back to reality. It's very hard for me to NTC stay in the present.

"But, as much as I felt rooted in that era, I also found it stifling at times," she added. "Cora was an early feminist in many ways, but to be a woman in those days meant that you could not always speak your mind. Having to strangle on my words gave me a very real choking sensation at times. I would get depressed for days on end when I had to play those kinds of scenes.

"On the other hand, when Cora got to speak out, I felt rejuvenated and happy. It was that kind of a movie, and I found it very satisfying."

Ms. Stowe is a Los Angeles native whose family moved to Glendale when she was 12. She said she had very few friends in high school and, in fact, insists that no boy even asked her out until she was 18.

She said she immersed herself in piano lessons and was convinced that she was going to be a concert pianist. She studied with noted piano teacher Sergei Tarnowsky.

When her instructor died, Ms. Stowe gave up the piano and enrolled at the University of Southern California. After one year, she quit and began doing volunteer work at a local theater.

Richard Dreyfuss, fresh off his "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" successes, was appearing at the theater in "The Tenth Man." One night, during a performance, Mr. Dreyfuss' agent caught a glimpse of Ms. Stowe walking down an aisle and signed her on the spot.

A lot of television work followed before she made the transition to feature films, starting with "Stakeout" and continuing with "Revenge," opposite Kevin Costner, and "The Two Jakes" with Jack Nicholson.

"I was pretty bad for many years, particularly the TV years," she said. "There are things I did on TV that still make me cringe.

"Every Christmas, they show a movie called 'The Nativity,' in which I played the Virgin Mary, and friends of mine call me up and tell me that I'm riding the donkey again. It's very embarrassing."

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