Elle fleshes out a movie role

March 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

NEW YORK — She walks in beauty, but like the day, not the night. For Elle Macpherson, the Australian supermodel and novice actress, is nothing if not sunny.

She's a regular supernova, a blinding specimen of hardy, tawny womanhood that sort of takes breaths away, makes hearts skip a beat and turns literate men dyslexic. One look and yo can't spel.

You think of Australia as home of the great white shark? Think now, my friends, of the great white teeth.

You think of Australia as the land of 'roos and koala bears?

Well, with a triple-canopy rain forest of sheer brown-blond hair and cheekbones that seem sculpted from the legendary Ayers Rock to offset her "Howdy, mate" accent, Macpherson will drive images of hopping rats and weird bear things from your brain forever.

In New York to promote her film "Sirens," which opened Friday, Macpherson keeps the famous skin -- which she rents out to Sports Illustrated for its annual swimsuit issue, and to fashion magazines the world over -- well hidden in a properly modest pinstripe business suit. In fact, the vertical lines running up the slacks and jacket emphasize not so much her beauty, which is staggering, but her angularity, which is also staggering.

She looks like a shadow of the Elle-creature on screen in John Duigan's amusing "Sirens," which boasts her zaftig form in a variety of displays. But in person there's so much less of her: Her face is a lean sliver above the mannish jacket. And her body, orwhat can be inferred from the swaddling of expensive worsted, whip thin and sinewy.

Like, where's the rest of you?

Macpherson, 30, explains she had to gain 20 pounds for the film. Does this mean she went to the local Mickey Dee's for two weeks and bought six Big Macs and a dozen shakes each day?

"Oh, no," says Macpherson, "no, it was all done with trainers and nutritionists and that sort of thing."

And did she then have to work hard to get it off?

Are you kidding? Macpherson laughs.

"No, it just sort of came off. This is how I am naturally. Good genes, I guess."

The world agrees, or at least the editors of Sports Illustrated do, for they've put her, usually in a bikini, on the cover of their magazine the last three years in a row. As far back as 1986, she was the subject of a story in Time, which, purely for journalistic reasons, also put her on the cover. That Time! Those boys are such pros.

Thus her debut in films seems somewhat belated.

"I've had offers all through the years," she says, "but I was determined to do an Australian film and not to be just a presence, but to try and act, too."

The script came to her agent and languished for months before her agent finally insisted that she read it. The producers were demanding an answer.

"So I sat down and read it, and of course fell completely in love with it," she says. "It was very funny, it was very naughty, it was very Australian and it gave me a character to play."

All right, so the character takes her clothes off now and again. But she really is a character.

It helped that she was a fan of director Duigan, who did one of her favorite movies, "Flirting." In fact, despite her heavy schedule (besides modeling, Macpherson also runs her own lingerie company), she committed to the picture to the degree that she added the weight and spent three grueling months shooting it in the outback.

"I didn't think I'd done a very good job, but they were patient with me and after a while I got with it. In the end, I think my performance turned out all right."

She said she had no problem with the reality that, as a world-famous model she is always the center of attention on a photo shoot, but on the set she was one of the lesser characters. "I adapted to that right away."

She adapted to the camera quickly, too. "In a funny way, I always hate the still camera. It's such a cold thing. My best work comes when I'm fluent and alive and moving. So I had the skill to move for the camera."

She bristles when a reporter wonders how she keeps from getting bored as a model.

"I've always tried to treat it professionally, to be completely involved, not just a passive object of photography. I see myself as a collaborator in the shoots."

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