Sela Ward: Sela Under Covers

Sex goddess emeritus Sela Ward looks and sounds too good to be true. But we're happy to take her to face value.

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Let's start with the obvious adjectives. Sultry. Sexy. Leggy. Curvacious. Radiant, Sela Ward is certainly all of those. She's also gracious beyond comprehension. When I arrive at the west-side Los Angeles supermarket where she's doing umpteen takes of a shopping scene for her TV show ''Once and Again," she knifes through a throng of production people to shake my hand, apologizes for running late, worries that I might miss dinner and suggests we start the interview right there among the fruits and vegetables. As I'm telling her I'd prefer to wait, she notices a group of guys from Southern Accents magazine who've flown in to do a piece on her. Morphing into the charming Southern belle she was for so many years, she drawls, "How y'all doin'? Do you have dinner plans? I know you had Mexican last night. How about Italian? I know just the place." And she whips out her cell phone. This is the first time I've ever seen a star make reservations for visiting journalists. Now an older man approaches. Though she doesn't seem to really know him, she gives him the same smile she must have flashed when she was named homecoming queen at the University or Alabama. "I'm Hubert Cornfield," says the man. He's suffered some taryngeal disaster and speaks in a soft, guttural monotone, so Ward leans closer to hear him. "I directed Sidney Pokier and Marlon Brando. You've heard of Pressure Point? That's my picture. Anyway, I want to tell you I think the work you're doing on this show is terrific." With that, Cornfield walks off toward the paper goods section and Ward looks like she's near tears. "What an incredible moment," she says. Ar this point, a production assistant hustles over to tell Ward she's needed on the set. He turns to me and asks, "You're from Movieline? Hey, go easy on Sela. She's one of the good ones." And then, as if scripted to provide the close to this scene, Ward's costar, Billy Campbell, happens by. "You and Sela have good chemistry," I tell him. He says, "You'd have to be a fence post not to have chemistry with her." Not many 43-year-old women have fan clubs like Sela Ward's.

When I finally get to slip off with Ward to her trailer, I ask her, "Do you know you're being interviewed for the Sex Issue?"

"Tell me what that is," she says with seemingly genuine puzzlement.

"Well, it's an issue with an emphasis on sex. How sexy do you feel in your life light now?"

"I feel sexier than I've ever felt. God gave me a good face, but I think sexuality has a lot to do with self-confidence. Susan Sarandon, who is 10 years older than I am, is incredibly sexy, and it's because she's so comfortable in her own skin."

Sela Ward is oddly late in her ascendance to full-fledged sex goddess. Bur then, she got a late start. She was 27 before she switched from the modeling she didn't care about to acting. "Because I started so late," she tells me, "I felt I was always playing catch-up. It seemed that everyone else had the secret to acting locked up in a box chat I didn't have the key to." And she messed up a few opportunities, it seems. "I was up for the role of the girlfriend in the first Batman," she recalls. "I read for Tim Burton and he loved me. Then they flew me to London for a screen test. Then the producer Jon Peters called and said he wanted to read with me. I was young and naive enough to think that if the director wants me, why do I have to go read with Jon Peters?" So she didn't. And she lost the job to Kim Basinger.

Ward was even later getting started on marriage and a family than she was on her career. She implies that her Southern upbringing may have had something to do with the failure of the relationships she had with two high-profile actors, "MacGyver" star Richard Dean Anderson and Peter Weller (Robocop). "Southern women," she says, "are bred to offer men the one thing that makes them feel sexiest, and that is the sense that they are powerful and needed." After that, she says, "I didn't ever want to be involved with another actor."

In January 1991, Ward's nutritionist fixed her up with a venture capitalist named Howard Sherman. "After three months, I knew I wanted to marry him," she says.

Right after Ward scored so well on the big screen as the wife Harrison Ford is convicted of murdering in The Fugitive, and might have gone on to a larger role in another film, she had her first child. Perhaps because of family proprieties, or maybe just timing, Ward's best opportunities have come on TV not in movies. She'd won an Emmy in 1994 for her performance as the intriguing alcoholic sister on "Sisters." Her portrayal of Jessica Savitch in the TV movie Almost Golden beat the hell out of Michelle Pfeiffer's diluted version in Up Close & Personal. With a five- and one-year-old at home, Ward was determined not to do another dramatic series, but when her manager called and said, "At least read the script so you can see what you're passing on," she did. She was hooked. And now she's a one-woman argument that teenage witches, vampire slayers and hometown teases aren't the only sexy females on television.

"Does your husband watch your nude scenes?"

"Not if he can help it. But he finds out about them from the moms at our son's school. One woman said to him, 'I love the show, but I sit there and I watch those love scenes with your wife, and I feel so bad for you.' He's a secure guy, but it must be very strange."

"Is there a downside to being sexy?"

"The hardest thing about being at this place in your lift--in your 40s--is that you feel so ripe and juicy, like a delicious piece of fruit, and you have confidence and intellect, and then you look in the mirror and see your youthful look slowly beginning to be behind you. I've got four or five more years before I see that in a big way." We'll believe it when we see it.

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Jeffrey Lantos interviewed David Lynch for the August issue of Movieline.



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