Madeleine Stowe: Mad About the Girl

She's the brave beauty Daniel Day-Lewis was willing to die for in The Last of the Mohicans. In real life, though, Madeleine Stowe is a little more timid. And much more mysterious.

__________________________

"Who?" everyone keeps asking. "Madeleine Stowe," I tell them. "You know, she was in The Last of the Mohicans." The light dawns in their eyes. "Oh, the beautiful one with the dark hair? She was great." Talk about understatements: Stowe is probably the most exquisite woman in the movies these days. She's like a '40s actress come to life in the '90s. A woman with grace and style. A woman who, even when she's the lead, lets you care about everyone else in the film. A woman who seems equally at home in the Wild West or in the wildest pool hall in the big city. A woman who could probably uncross her legs on-screen, and you'd still be staring at her face!

This is how great Madeleine Stowe is: In Stakeout, she made Richard Dreyfuss seem sexy. Really sexy. It was nothing short of a miracle.

This is how great Madeleine Stowe is: In the mess that was The Two Jakes, she possessed such an uncanny charm that even the most irate critics didn't take shots at her.

This is how great Madeleine Stowe is: In The Last of the Mohicans, she held her own with Daniel Day-Lewis. Held her own? Hell, she nearly stole the film.

This is how great Madeleine Stowe is: She wants to do this interview while we're hiking or horseback riding. But I want to do it by the pool at the Mondrian (I'll buy lunch). So we compromise--she invites me to take a ride to her ranch outside Santa Barbara so she can check on the horses. And she'll even do the driving. I love her already.

When I get to Stowe's house, her husband meets me at the door. (You know him--he's Brian Benben, the star of HBO's "Dream On.") "Come on in," he says, so I do. The house looks like he and Madeleine just got there--boxes on the dining room table, sheets thrown over the couches, nothing on the walls. Before I can ask about this state of disarray, Madeleine is standing in front of us...with that long hair cascading down her back, no makeup, wearing a hat, a denim shirt, jeans and hiking boots, and looking drop-dead gorgeous. We shake hands, and then she sort of pushes me out the door, even though what I really want to do is look around in there. Brian walks us to the car, he and Madeleine get the two dogs settled in the back, and then he pulls her to him, puts one hand deep into her hair, massages her neck, and kisses her good-bye. I could watch this for hours.

"Did you just move in?" I ask as we start the drive.

Madeleine turns red. "Please don't be appalled by our home," she says. "It's just the way we live."

"What? I wasn't appalled. I just meant that you don't seem to have unpacked..."

"Well, that's it exactly. We've lived there for years now, but we don't really have things. And the ranch, we've had that for about a year and a half and, you'll see, it still has the same awful carpet and three pieces of furniture that don't even belong there. It's just a wreck. There's this Wild West poster that Brian insisted on putting there...it looks ridiculous on the wall, but I guess he just wanted something to hang up."

"Is it because you're both busy?" I ask.

"Oh, it's that and more. I think I could be happy living in hotels for the rest of my life. It's partially that I don't like to invite people into my life. Should I talk about this?"

"Definitely," I say, in that voice your psychiatrist uses when you have asked that question.

"It has something to do with from when I was a kid," she continues. "My dad was sick from the time I was six, he had MS, and it was uncomfortable for me to bring other kids into the house because of what was going on. And now, if Brian wants to have things on the wall, he has to do it himself, because I won't."

"Hmmm," I say, "it's an odd way to live, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's a very strange way. I want to get more settled, though. I dream about it, about how the house would be, about how we'd have people over..."

"You'd freak out if you saw my house," I say, thinking of the friends who come in and out, the moat of books around the bed, the collections of crap that line every available space.

"Oh," she says, "your house would be perfect."

"How do you know?"

"Because that's the way it's supposed to be. I can tell that you're very grounded. And what I do is deliberately to keep people away. It's a really horrible thing. I mean, it's like I figure that one of these days, I'll have time to sit back and enjoy it. In my fantasies, I'm having friends and people over. But I truly feel like something is squeezing right here in my chest at the idea of somebody coming over to my house. This is the only big hurdle I feel I've got in my life right now to get over. I'm embarrassed about it. And I can't believe I'm telling you..."

"Don't worry," I say, holding up the tape recorder, "it's just a little secret we'll share with all of Movieline's readers. They're a very sympathetic bunch."

Madeleine lets out a raucous laugh. "I'm going to sound like a total nut job."

"That's why they sent me. I always sound crazier than the people I interview."

"I want to have a baby soon," she continues, being an interviewer's dream. "And I wonder about if I want the baby because I think that will make my life more normal."

"Uh, I haven't noticed that having babies makes your life anything like normal," I tell her.

"Well, that's what I mean. Having a baby will mean that I'm gonna have to move into our house finally. Really move into it, and make it settled. Aside from our musical instruments, and our animals, we're really not tied to anything that we own too much."

"I know you play the piano," I say, trying to move us to safe ground.

"The violin, too. I just learned to play for Blink." she says, referring to the thriller she recently made with Aidan Quinn and director Michael Apted. "When I was in Chicago I bought two old Italian violins from the 1700s. I went crazy."

"Your house is a shithole and you bought two violins from the 1700s?" I ask.

We both dissolve into hysterics.

"I told you it sounds crazy," she says.

"No, no, not at all," I tell her, and roll my eyes. Again I try to get us back on level ground.

"When you worked with Jack Nicholson on The Two Jakes --"

"I love Jack," she shrieks. "I loved working with him. He was so generous, and he let me explore all the options in that character. I didn't know what she was going to be like and I was so nervous, but Jack would try anything, he was fearless, and that made me feel so much better. What were you going to ask?"

"Who the hell knows? How about Richard Dreyfuss?"

"Oh, that was a hoot. Stakeout was my first Hollywood movie, and he was a real pro. We had fun." (Stowe appeared uncredited in the sequel Another Stakeout as a favor to director John Badham, who'd given her first role.)

"How about Kevin Costner?"

"Is this on the record or off?" she asks.

"On," I say, hoping it won't make a difference to her.

"Kevin was okay. He was very aware of his power. Revenge was not a good experience for me, because it was not the picture I envisioned it to be. Or what Tony [Scott, the director] thought it would be. The woman in that story was very strong, but because she does this thing, and gets punished for it, they had to make her weak and whiny. Which was not the way she was written, and not the way she ought to have been. But..."

"Okay," I say, "it's off the record." She starts to laugh. So excuse us while we have a little chat here about Kevin.

It's about a half an hour later now. Time to talk about Madeleine's part in Robert Altman's new film Short Cuts. Or better, time to find out how Madeleine ever got to the point of being in hits like Stakeout and The Last of the Mohicans, and bombs like The Two Jakes and Revenge.

"My notes say you got started in theater..." I begin.

"I was seen in a theater," Madeleine says.

"Right. And then..."

"No," she says, "listen to what I'm saying. I was in the theater, but I wasn't acting. That was bullshit. I lied. I got approached by an agent when I was at the theater--painting sets and stuff. When I wanted to get acting work, I had to lie about my credits, and for some reason, that lie has stayed with me. Every story they print talks about those theater experiences."

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