The Unsinkable Melanie Griffith

Melanie Griffith has weathered her share of storms in both her professional and personal life, but she's always managed to stay afloat. She's currently sailing calmer seas, thanks to great reviews for her last two films, a killer role in her next, Crazy in Alabama, and a bash-proof love affair with her husband, Antonio Banderas.

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Once Melanie Griffith slithers down comfortably at our patio table at Santa Monica's Ivy at the Shore, she locks those azure eyes on me and declares, "I have on way too much makeup to be comfortable." Whiplash slim, and looking like a full-on movie star in black cigarette pants and matching jersey, Griffith, 41, dabs off coats of paint that had earlier been applied for this magazine's photo shoot. When I tell her I hope she's ready to expose as much of her soul as she has her face, she purrs, "I've only gotten busted when I've tried to lie."

What could Griffith possibly lie about, anyway? After all, virtually every move she's made has been reported, analyzed and, mostly, criticized since actress Tippi Hedren, of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Marnie, gave birth to her in 1957. Griffith grew up largely on Hedren's ranch, a sanctuary for abandoned circus animals and exotic pets. At 17, she found her way into acting and was so ferociously, effortlessly sexual as Monroe-worthy teen mantraps opposite Gene Hackman in Night Moves and Paul Newman in The Drowning Pool that Hollywood dubbed her "the Lolita of the 70s." Offscreen, Griffith played Lolita, too; she'd already shacked up with serial lothario Don Johnson as a 14-year-old, and in 1976 married him, but they divorced a year later. At 24 she wed again, this time to Scarface heartthrob Steven Bauer. These were years of partying hearty, but in 1984 she made a stunning return to form as the hilariously deadpan porn diva in Body Double. Her equally showy turn as a volatile seductress in Something Wild two years later crystallized her screen appeal: vulnerable, endearing, turbulent, playful, dangerous, bursting with life.

In 1988 the Academy recognized Griffith's talent with a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in Working Girl. At the time, she had just come out of rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction and looked ready to compete alongside Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer. But then her reputation soured when she not only remarried Johnson but made luckless career choices. The Bonfire of the Vanities tanked. Two movies she made with Johnson--_Paradise_ and Born Yesterday--bombed. Just as the town looked all set to embrace her anew for her piercing, lovely, Oscar-worthy work as an aging, small-town beauty in Nobody's Fool, the focus went onto her personal life yet again when, in 1995, she left Johnson for the very married, three-years-her-junior heartthrob Antonio Banderas, whom she had met while costarring with him in the comic misfire Two Much. An international scandal erupted. The press devoured them both and took bets as to how long they would last.

Griffith and Banderas withstood the firestorm, married, settled down and gave birth to Stella, now two, who joined a blended household that includes 13-year-old Alexander (son of Steven Bauer) and 9-year-old Dakota (daughter of Don Johnson). And now, after some time off, Griffith is back--yet again--in grittier, edgier roles in less commercial films. The result? She's heated things up with a vengeance. She delivered a tastily self-satirizing turn as a big, glam movie star in Woody Allen's Celebrity and won terrific reviews for playing a scary outlaw junkie in Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise. If the prerelease buzz holds true, she may cop strong reviews for playing a husband-decapitating '60s-era Southern sexpot who hits Hollywood and lands a guest spot on Bewitched in Crazy in Alabama, which marks her husband's directorial debut.

STEPHEN REBELLO: A lot of industry people are saying Crazy in Alabama could be your comeback.

MELANIE GRIFFITH: Comeback? Jesus, did I go somewhere? I haven't been working as much as I'd like, but part of that was my choice because I told my agent I needed to take some time off to be with Antonio and our baby.

Q: But you have to admit the films you've recently starred in have done more for you than most of the movies you've made in the last decade.

A: I don't care if people say I've made some poor choices in my career. I've put my family first and that's how it should be. But I also have to say that I've changed agents three times in the past ten years. I left Nicole David right after Working Girl, which I never should have done, and I'm back with her now. After Nicole, I went to ICM but left when I learned a script I found for myself was given to another actor. Then I went to CAA with Antonio and, honestly, though I adore Rick Nicita, all the work I got was because a director like Woody Allen, who cast me in Celebrity, or Adrian Lyne, who put me in Lolita, specifically asked for me. Besides, [agents] get a bigger commission from someone like Demi Moore at her $12 million than from me at my $3 million. What can I say? Sometimes this town can be really mean and cruel. All people think of you is that you're as good as your last movie.

Q: Do you feel there's been less for you to do since you passed the 40 mark?

A: Hollywood is interested in 27, not 40. It's something I never wanted to believe was true. And I don't understand why that should be. As you get older, you get better as an actress. I have. I'm serious about my career and I want to be working until the day I die. How can anyone not admire Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, who are hanging in there? These women know that it's very tough to get good work and to continue to make a lot of money. Meg Ryan is also great in movies and I'm happy for her. Want to hear something funny? People are always coming up to me saying, "I loved you in When Harry Met Sally..." and "You were so great in City of Angels." I've signed Meg Ryan's autograph more times than I've signed my own. Anyone who comes up to me and says, "Sleepless in Seattle is my favorite," I'll just go ahead and sign Meg Ryan so I won't disappoint them.

Q: Do you ever compete for roles with close friend Sharon Stone, who's only half a year younger than you?

A: Fuck no, we don't get the same offers. I did test for Casino, though. But Sharon did something much better than me, and she was great in that film. I really love her, but she's a much bigger star than I am. She's way ahead of me.

Q: Granted, you've been held back because you wanted to raise a family, and you did the agent shuffle, but do you feel as if there's something else working against you, that perhaps you've gotten an unfair shake in Hollywood?

A: I've always had to prove myself, even today. It goes way back. They didn't want to meet me for Working Girl. I tried so hard to get that role that I had to fly to New York on my own dime to even get a meeting for that movie. Thanks to [director] Mike Nichols, who supported me, I won the role. When I didn't win the Academy Award, though, I remember feeling really horrible because I wanted to win so badly. But you really have to play the Hollywood game--schmooze, do the parties, kiss everyone's ass and all that shit. I didn't do that.

Q: Have you received any memorable career advice from people who've been in the business for the long haul?

A: After Working Girl Jane Fonda called me and said, "You were so good in that film, how did you do that?" All I could think was, fucking Jane Fonda is asking me how I did that? Somehow, the topic went to the subject of career longevity and she said something I'll never forget--she said, "You'll go up and down a million times. Don't worry about it. It's just the way the pendulum swings. You have to try and find the smartest people in town that can possibly be your friends and ask them for good advice."

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