Time Of Her Life

With a second chance at romance and a kanck for finding roles unusual for 40ish actresses, Andie MacDowell isn't about to feel dated.

May 21, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - When Andie MacDowell's 13-year marriage crumbled in 1999, she was distressed at suddenly having to navigate the harrowing world of dating again.

But, as it turned out, her suffering wasn't for naught.

Shortly after, MacDowell read the script for Crush, a British film about Kate, a 40-something headmistress who shares an unfortunate similarity with her two best girlfriends - a knack for dating disasters. The moment MacDowell read the script, she knew she had to have the part.

"I wanted it so badly I couldn't sleep that night," said MacDowell, during a recent visit to Washington. "Then I started scheming how I was going to convince them that I was exactly the right person, that they couldn't hire anybody else.

"I was able to have a lot of compassion for [Kate], being that I understand what it's like being 40 and single," added MacDowell, who recently turned 44. "So I used that as my way to convince [the filmmakers] to hire me. I went in and started telling them about my dating experiences. It is bizarre to date in your 40s, especially for me, being that I had been married for the most vital years of my life - from 27 to 40. I had forgotten what it was like to be a single woman."

MacDowell wouldn't divulge details of any dating stories she told the filmmakers. But they must have been juicy because her ploy worked.

Crush recently opened with MacDowell playing the saucy role of the normally frumpy British headmistress who gets together with her two girlfriends every week to swig gin, smoke cigarettes and eat chocolate while they share their tales of woe. That is, until Kate starts dating - or, more truthfully, frolicking with - a former student who is 15 years younger.

MacDowell's Kate relishes activities 40-somethings rarely are seen enjoying in movies - like having sex with a much younger man on a tombstone after a funeral.

"I loved coming up with the sex scenes," said MacDowell, who first wowed moviegoers with her role as a sexually repressed housewife in the 1989 sex, lies, and videotape. "They were sexy but there was no nudity and the great thing was creating them. ... It was hysterical. It was like, we're in the back of a Volvo, shaking it and they're like, `OK, throw your foot up.' "

Kenny Doughty, who plays Kate's younger lover, Jed, shares similar memories.

"I remember laughing a lot during the whole shoot," Doughty said. "She's such a lovely woman and generous person. We had a great time filming those scenes and making them fun."

Movie audiences, alas, have not shown as much enthusiasm for Crush, which opened two Fridays ago at the Charles Theatre but lasted just a week before being pulled to make way for the burgeoning wave of summer movies.

The audience reaction to Crush underscores one of MacDowell's frustrations with Hollywood - meaty, starring roles in major movies for women over 40 tend to be few. And if films like Crush don't succeed, the trend could continue.

MacDowell, however, acknowledges that she's been lucky.

"I'm managing to play some of the best roles I've played in my life and I'm in my 40s," she said. "That says something. When the best roles in your life are happening when you're in your 40s, you can't be whining too much, but ... what's the difference between 39 and 40? It's a year. I don't get it. Forty is, like, some magical number ... what happens? You start falling apart? It hasn't happened to me. I actually feel stronger. Not just mentally but also physically, and I don't really see the big difference between me 10 years ago and me now."

MacDowell said Crush appealed to her because of its strong characters, especially Kate.

"There just aren't that many opportunities to portray a character that goes on a journey quite as powerful as this," she said. "In the opening scene, you see a woman who's very bitter, tired; she looks old, lonely. Then, halfway through the movie, she's running around the apartment being chased by a man 15 years younger, her hair's flying all over the place; she's barefoot, and she's got her skirt pulled up, she's being thrown on the backside of a couch and then he proceeds to dress up as a doctor and come back to have sex with her. It's a big jump.

"By the end of the movie, you see a woman who has decided to be comfortable with who she is and not constantly worry about people's perception of who she is."

MacDowell has gone through a somewhat similar transformation professionally.

The former model crossed over into film with a 1984 Tarzan movie that was a career disaster. When it was released, she was mortified to find out that filmmakers had had Glenn Close dub over MacDowell's lilting Southern accent. But MacDowell persevered, choosing to ignore the perception that models couldn't act - or speak. Finally, she won over critics with sex, lies, and videotape and went on pleasing audiences with films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Groundhog Day.

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