Meg Tilly: Meg o'the Wild

With roles in Milos Forman's opulent Valmont and the upcoming Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, Meg Tilly has a rare second chance at major stardom. Anybody else would be fanning the career fires at Spago, Meg's off in the Canadian Woods raising her kids in a big log cabin.

Meg Tilly's publicist forwarded the following cryptic instructions once Movieline had agreed to send someone up to Vancouver, British Columbia, to interview the actress:

"Meg wants you to meet her at 2 pm at the Town Square by the Community Center. Take a cab, the driver will know where it is off Highway 7."

Sounded a bit like North by Northwest, I thought at the time: better remember to keep an eye out for the cropdusters. "She'll walk to a restaurant with you from there," the communiqué continued. "She says she doesn't know the names of any of them and cannot pick a place that way. This will be the easiest way." Yes, well, it wasn't all that easy. When I gave the concierge at a Vancouver hotel the name of the area where the "Town Square" was supposed to be, she pulled out a map, began plotting a course eastward, and was well off the printed page and onto her blotter when she announced, "Uhmmmm, I'm afraid it's not really in Vancouver..."Then she kind of laughed. "I don't know what your plane flight up here cost, but the cab might be more."

Somewhat later I boarded a local Greyhound bus, and I had an hour and a half, as we proceeded out of Vancouver into a less than stunning countryside--a canoe yard here, a lawnmower repair shop there--to get the rationale behind this journey into perspective.

Meg Tilly had just finished two big films. In Milos Forman's adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, titled Valmont, she plays Madame de Tourvel, the virtuous beauty essayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in last year's version of the same story. And in Jack Nicholson's long awaited sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes, she plays the unfaithful wife of the other Jake (Harvey Keitel). The latter is a supporting role, but both parts were intensely sought after, and the combination of the two will once again throw a spotlight on Tilly, whose career over the last eight years has been both erratic and remarkable. She debuted as Matt Dillon's believable girlfriend in Tim Hunter's canny little adaptation of S.E. Hinton's Tex. She made her first big mark in The Big Chill as the lissome young enigma Chloe, who tells the grieving friends of her suicide lover what great sex they had the night before he killed himself. She won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the holy innocent/murderess Agnes in Agnes of God. And she got good reviews last year as the plain-jane-heiress-with-hidden-passion opposite Rob Lowe's conman/seducer in Bob Swaim's neo-noir Masquerade.

Tilly's done some bad pictures, too (as the recent Girl on a Swing attests). And though she tends to be good regardless of what she's in, the jury's still out on just how good that is, Oscar nomination or no. Bob Swaim says she's the most extraordinary actress he's ever worked with. Others remain unconvinced. As one casting director put it, "She's one of those actresses who obviously has something, but you don't know whether she can really act or not." Tilly's performances in Valmont (out at Thanksgiving) and The Two Jakes (due early next spring) are almost inevitably going to swing public and industry perception one way or another, because she's playing characters who, unlike Chloe and Agnes, are grounded in a discernible reality.

Before disembarking from the godforsaken Greyhound, I ask, one after the other, five local residents where the "Town Square" is. Blank stares. The bus driver urges me to leave. I step down into what I'd hoped might be a quaint country outpost, the kind of place a confused young actress might consider authentic. But this place is authentic. It's one baked shopping mall after another. Lots of big discount stores. No town square, and no community center. In the next 45 minutes I count the number of people it takes to arrive finally at what approximates, but is not called, a community center--19 friendly Canadians. And then I am standing at this big clock with the strangest thing on top of it. Along with 20 or so youngsters chanting "the beast! the beast!" I look up at a huge chrome horse. At least I think it's a horse. It looks sort of like reconstituted bathroom sink fixtures, frankly. But then, when the clock strikes two I see, for sure, it's a horse, because it starts rearing up on its hind legs. The children scream with joy and leap into the air as the big metal hoofs click and bend.

When the horse has lowered itself back to its mid-hour position, Meg Tilly shows up. Bright blue Reeboks, khaki pants, rose-colored sweater, glasses, dark reddish hair cut chin length, no makeup, she is indistinguishable from her fellow citizens. Little knowing how amazed I am just to have found her, she apologizes for being a mere three minutes late. She's disarmingly friendly. Already I've lost the urge to point out that her failure to mention the chrome horse as a landmark for our meeting place is tantamount to instructing someone to meet you at a busy Paris locale and leaving out the bit about the Eiffel Tower. So what if she doesn't really know a restaurant to go to? Keeping in the spirit of the day I suggest Richie's Restaurant in the nearest mall.

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