Role reversal of fortunes

February 01, 1994|By Robert Dominguez | Robert Dominguez,New York Daily News

They won't have Madeleine Stowe to kick around anymore.

After too many roles as a trophy for testosterone-soaked men fighting for her favors, Ms. Stowe is finally getting to play a take-charge woman who drinks, smokes and cusses even worse than the hard-bitten Chicago cop she gets romantically involved with.

In "Blink," which opened last week, Ms. Stowe is tough-talking Emma Brody, a blind musician who undergoes a corneal transplant early in the movie. Her restored vision suffers from a delayed reaction -- what she blurrily sees today doesn't register on her brain until much later -- so when Emma is the only person to see the face of a serial killer, the cops don't believe her.

This is no frail, Audrey Hepburn-ish turn as a terrorized blind waif waiting until dark. Emma is an angry, aggressive woman who has trouble adapting to her newfound sight. And when she finds herself attracted to the detective on the case (Aidan Quinn), there's no coquettish batting of visually impaired eyes. Emma seduces him.

"It's rare when you see a woman being able to express herself that way," says Ms. Stowe, who is soft-spoken and rather shy. "I made a choice not to play in anything unless it was female-driven, or it was a man and a woman who are very equal in a situation.

"I was sort of bored with being the reason for the man to go through what he goes through and then rescue the damsel in distress," she adds, laughing heartily.

Ms. Stowe, whose next movie role is a pistol-packin' mama in a Western called "Bad Girls," is through being manhandled. In 1992, she was the booty contested by a deranged cop (Ray Liotta) and a jealous husband (Kurt Russell) in "Unlawful Entry," and she was rescued by a nobleman (Daniel Day-Lewis) from the brink of despoilment in "The Last of the Mohicans." Going back to "Revenge" in 1990, Ms. Stowe played the young wife who cuckolds Anthony Quinn and is banished to one of his brothels as punishment.

The actress was pleased only with her part in "Mohicans." The swing from abject object to A-list newcomer came with Ms. Stowe's appearance last fall in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." Amid a large cast of Hollywood heavyweights, she stood out in her role as a wife amused by her husband's philandering. The performance won her a best supporting actress nod from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Ms. Stowe dismisses talk of her new Hollywood clout, simply calling it "an unexpected leap. A couple of successful films last year instilled a certain confidence in people, where studios turned around and said, 'We will finance a picture with Madeleine Stowe in it.' What it does is give me greater access to better scripts."

She's equally casual about her screen presence. The product of an American father and Costa Rican mother, Ms. Stowe, 35, has a beauty often described as ethereal.

"I don't know what that is," she says quietly. "I think it's more a product of my youth. I'm very aware now of having reached a certain point where I feel 'the girl' is gone."

A Los Angeles native (married to Brian Benben of HBO's "Dream On"), Ms. Stowe was "discovered out of nowhere" by an agent while doing stagehand work in a theater. She eked out a living doing bit TV parts, then her movie debut in "Stakeout" (1987) opposite Richard Dreyfuss kept her in features for good.

Ms. Stowe's public modesty may have a lot to do with her insecurity about past performances. "I'm one of the extremely fortunate because I did a lot of bad work for a lot of years on TV and some not-so-good feature work," she says. "TV was really my training ground. I was lucky enough to be paid to fall on my face. Most people had to do that in acting class."

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