For an actor whose own voice was removed and later dubbed by another star in her debut film 35 years ago, things have managed to turn out all right for Andie MacDowell. And now, just as the South Carolina native is about to hit a milestone birthday in three weeks she has one of her most intense and complex performances ready for its close up when the new indie drama Love After Love opens Friday in New York followed by a national rollout including LA on April 6.
Playing a woman struggling with grief over the death of her husband and embarking on a new life , MacDowell is probably about as raw and revealing as she has ever been in a screen career that includes a number of high profile films including Sex, Lies And Videotape, Groundhog Day, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Short Cuts, Unstrung Heroes, Magic Mike XXL and numerous others.
Ever since its debut a year ago at the Tribeca Film Festival where IFC picked it up, MacDowell has won some of the best reviews of her career for the movie which co-stars Chris O’Dowd as her conflicted son. It comes from first time feature director Robert Harbaugh and stands at 100% fresh so far on Rotten Tomatoes. That makes her happy about a film that asks the question “What makes you happy?”
In one of the few improvised scenes, she answers that for her character but credits something other than any kind of acting training in order to make it work. “I’ve done a lot of therapy,” she told me over lunch this week at Culina in Beverly Hills. “And a couple of nuggets I got from therapists really stuck with me, that was one of them. He told me you can’t always be happy, and it was a big revelation for me. It’s like sometimes you’re just struggling through the shit, right, and it’s not going to go away. There’s no magic pill that’s going to make you feel happy. Sometimes you just need to feel unhappy. It’s true. It’s the truth.”
She thinks constant therapy has been great training for her acting and believes the only other profession she would have enjoyed would be as a therapist – because she is fascinated by the human mind and behavior and what makes us conscious and self aware. “I’ve worked on that really hard. That’s a big part of me, and that’s what you do as an actress,” she said. MacDowell, on the precipice of 60 but looking vibrant and, remarkably, almost the same as she did when she started modeling some four decades ago, also offered up the fact that she finally does her first nude scene in Love After Love. She thinks the attention over it is all kind of silly.
“Everyone’s made a big deal out of it. I guess it is a catchy title, ‘Andie MacDowell does first nude scene’. I think maybe it makes people read the article, but for me it means more as a kind of revealing of the soul. It’s not gratuitous by any means,” she said. Harbaugh gave the cast DVDs of films by Ingmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat and other maverick directors in order to give them the idea of the intimate kind of film he was going for.
As for the title she says it is open for interpretation, with some thinking that after her husband dies she’s going to find love and live happily ever after. “It’s nothing like that. For me it’s that I think I loved him so much that it’s about maybe even loving ourselves.”
MacDowell has another film in the can for Netflix, a comedy called The Last Laugh opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Chevy Chase, and she is heading off to England to do a seven episode arc in Cuckoo. The latter is a BAFTA winning BBC half hour comedy, a format she has never done, so she’s excited. She had done the hour drama series, Cedar Cove, for a few seasons and said the schedule was murder. Though she often works, and even moved to Los Angeles three years ago, she says her career has changed, as it often does for women in the business. “When I was in my 30s I was choosing roles. I’m not really choosing roles anymore, I’m waiting for them but sometimes I try not to take crap. I have taken crap before. I have been bought. I’ve daydreamed that maybe it will work out when they offered me a lot of money. It never does, but you know I wish I was still choosing roles,” she said. “That would be a really nice position to be in. I know what it feels like to be in that position but that’s not happening anymore. I’m waiting for roles but I’m still working, so I’m really fortunate.”
As for the #MeToo movement, she ‘s hopeful but personally unaffected by it. “It’s not going to change fast enough for me, but I’m just thankful that this year happened. More important to me is the #TimesUp. I don’t want to diminish #MeToo in any way but it’s more than that. It’s also all these social issues. It’s also the fact that we still have not had a woman president in this country. You’ve got to stop and think how insane that is. We’re supposed to be progressive. We are not,” she said before veering into – and out of – her negative feelings on the current President and the Republican party.
Navigating back to the opening line of this piece I have always been curious about what happened on her very first film, 1984’s British Greystoke The Legend Of Tarzan: Lord Of The Apes where she played Jane opposite Christopher Lambert’s Tarzan. After the film finished shooting the studio had her voice dubbed by Glenn Close. I told MacDowell, who was discovered after a successful and highly visible modeling career, that something like that might be enough for me to quit the movie business right out of the box. She agreed.
“It would be. It’s astounding that I overcame it. It’s not that unusual that it happened. I don’t think that’s so remarkable, but I think what’s truly remarkable is that I overcame it. That is the big surprise,” she says now looking back and explaining that she worked really hard but had no foundation, no true preparation, for that film.
“I should not have done it, but I didn’t know, and I don’t think that I really did a bad job. I am sure I just sounded too Southern. Had Jane been from the South it probably would have been fine. I don’t think I was a poor actress. You know Pauline Kael gave me a great review and that saved me. It really did. She gave me the confidence that I had something, that there was something there when most people were cruel and horrible to me. I regret not being able to tell her truly what she did for me. It was very powerful and you know, I kept working. I kept getting better, and then I got a good role, a role that suited me.”
That role was Ann in Steven Soderbergh’s landmark 1989 award winner Sex, Lies And Videotape. She still talks about Ann with great attention to detail of who that character was and how she understood her. It won her the Indie Spirit and LA Film Critics Best Actress awards as well as a Golden Globe nomination, the first of four. “I think that one was a really special character to me,” she notes but switches the conversation back to playing Suzanne in Love After Love. “But honestly I think this character is more interesting because there’s something about a mature woman that I find fascinating, that you will never get from a young woman. I think that there is more depth. I think we’re overlooked. I think the beauty of a mature woman is quite often lost on a culture that glorifies youth. I think that I am more interesting now than I ever was when I was 30.”