Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Former model Andie MacDowell left the world of fashion behind when she made her motion-picture debut in 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes, but her real breakthrough as an actress came in 1989, when she teamed with first-time feature director Steven Soderbergh for Sex, Lies, And Videotape. With numerous notable films under her belt, including career-defining roles in Four Weddings And A Funeral and Groundhog Day, MacDowell is now coming full circle—sort of—by returning to the world of fashion for the ABC Family series Jane By Design, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Jane By Design (2012)—“Gray Chandler Murray”
Andie MacDowell: How would I describe her? Dramatic. [Laughs.] Intense and difficult, but creative and talented. And very driven. To find the character… I’ve had a great experience in the fashion business. It’s nothing new to me, if you know my past history, so I know a little bit about the character. I like to think of her not as difficult but as a highly exaggerated personality. I remember early on, in my very, very early days, I had a makeup artist tell me that I needed to get an attitude. I had no idea what he was talking about. But I think it’s sort of protocol for those people. Not everybody, but there are characters like that. They’re expected to behave a little bit… over the top, let’s say. [Laughs.]
The A.V. Club: They’re obviously not identical, but were you prepared going into the show for comparisons to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada?
AM: Well, you know, we’re talking about television versus a movie, for starters. And we’re talking about ABC Family. So I don’t know that there’s really any true comparisons, though I think it’s a really easy way to describe the show. I’ve done it myself, because, you know, everybody likes to have something to say when people ask, “What is it like?” You could also say Ugly Betty. There’s a sense of that in there as well. But I think it’s an original piece, one that’s made for ABC Family, and you can just watch the show and see that.
AVC: How did you find your way into the series?
AM: I did a movie called Monte Carlo with [screenwriter] April Blair, who came up with the idea for Jane By Design, so I think that had something to do with my getting the part. She thought of me when she came up with the concept of the show.
AVC: What made you decide to take the plunge into a full-time TV gig?
AM: I like to work, mostly. [Laughs.] That’s it. Basically, the truth is that I like to work. I enjoy my job. It’s a very creative part of my experience in life. I like the camaraderie, I like the energy, and I like the creative art form, so I’m thankful for the opportunity to work. And, you know, it’s a really interesting piece. I’m enjoying it. The kids are a lot of fun to work with, and I think the writing’s really good.
Lone Star (2010)—“Alex” (episodes unaired)
AVC: You’d actually been poised for a prime-time gig in 2010, but although you filmed a few episodes of Lone Star, none of them actually aired.
AM: That’s right. I did have fun doing them, though. But I like living in Los Angeles better than living in Dallas. [Laughs.] The kids were great on Lone Star as well. They really were very talented, and I was happy and enjoying myself. But, honestly, I’m happier this time.
The Prince Of Motor City (2008)—“Gertrude Hamilton”
AVC: Over the years, you’ve also done a couple of pilots that weren’t picked up. Were you surprised in either case when they didn’t end up making it to series?
AM: Well, it’s not unusual. I’ve heard that George Clooney did something like nine pilots before ER was picked up, way back when he was doing TV. It’s just the way the business works. There are a lot of pilots that we’ve never seen. It’s protocol. People come into them expecting them not to be picked up, honestly. People who do a lot of television have no expectations that it’ll happen. Not having done a lot of television, I’d work with people during some of these other experiences, I’d see that, and I’d go, “Wow.” It’s just something they’re used to having happen every season.
Spenser: For Hire (1988)—“Maggie”
AM: Maggie on Spenser: For Hire…? My God. Do you think I can actually remember that? [Laughs.] Wasn’t she a ballet teacher? Well, what I can tell you about Maggie and Spenser: For Hire is that for the plane ride back from Boston, I paid someone a hundred dollars to let me break in line to get on the plane because I wanted to get home to my baby. [Laughs.] That’s my biggest memory from that: how ready I was to get home to my little boy, who was an infant. And I was afraid that the plane was going to crash because it was snowing so badly. Here I’ve paid a hundred bucks just to break in line to get on the plane, and then I thought I was going to die. That’s my biggest memory. That, and I had to kiss a guy who smoked a lot of cigarettes, and I remember him chewing gum beforehand.
AVC: That role was kind of an anomaly for you. You did almost no television work then, instead sticking almost entirely to films.
AM: Yeah, and it took a while to break into film. It wasn’t like it was an overnight happening. I had to work at it. But I got there.
Footloose (2011)—“Vi Moore”
AM: That was a blast. I knew that it was going to be a hit. I could feel it just by watching Craig [Brewer] work. He’s a really talented director. I think he did a really great job of embracing the original, and I think people appreciated that, along with the fact that he updated enough that it felt current. It was interesting to have to be so quiet and watch everybody else work. I realized how hard that is. Having always played lead characters, it takes a lot of energy to stay focused when you don’t have that much to do. So that’s one thing I learned. That, and to be a good participant, supporting the young people. That helps me in my new position as well, being a great support system for the younger actors.
AVC: Did you have any particular fondness for the original film?
AM: Yeah, of course. I loved it! A teenage girl acting wild and crazy? Yeah! [Laughs.] I think all women have that piece of them that wants to have the permission to be like that, to not have to be a goody two-shoes. I mean, I know she’s doing the wrong thing and all that, but there’s a piece in all of us that really kind of wants to have the opportunity to be crazy.
Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984)—“Miss Jane Porter”
AM: Well, Cameroon was amazing. Not many people have been to Cameroon. The locations that we went to were astounding, and the sets themselves were gorgeous as well. The clothes were beautiful. There were corsets. That scene with Christopher [Lambert] on the bed, with him jumping around and going, [makes monkey sounds]. That’s a pretty vivid memory. [Laughs.] I remember the actors wearing [Rick Baker’s] monkey suits and how they had to completely cover their eyes while wearing those really hot costumes. Oh, and working with Ralph [Richardson]. Sir Ralph.
AVC: There was a lot of British acting royalty in that cast. Was it intimidating, given that it was your first film?
AM: I felt a little bit like a fish out of water, you know, just because I’d never experienced it. Everybody else knew what they were doing, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. It was a huge movie, too, which is kind of a hard way to start. I wouldn’t suggest that to anyone. Start with a small film. Start small and build up to something like that, because it was enormous, with a lot of attention on it.
AVC: What was your reaction when you found out about the post-production dubbing? [After the completion of filming, it was decided somewhere up the food chain that MacDowell’s Southern accent was inappropriate for the character. As a result, her dialogue was dubbed in post-production by Glenn Close. —ed.]
AM: I was shocked, for starters, because I had no idea. And how I found out, I felt, was cruel. I went over to do looping, and they kind of told me. I was by myself. My agent didn’t know. Nobody knew. I thought the way they did it was very underhanded and thoughtless. I still ended up making the sounds for the baby being born in the jungle, but… well, you can imagine that ended up being pretty easy, because I was in so much pain after that. I fought really hard to redub it myself, but it was really… I had a lump in my throat the whole time, so I’m surprised I even made it through. It was horrible. [Hesitates.] I thought about jumping out a window. Seriously, I did. Because I kind of knew what the fight was going to be for me. And I was correct. I was right.
But, you know, in the end, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career, because it made me work really hard, and it made me more appreciative, and it made me very humble. And it taught me huge life lessons about arrogance and hard work. I’m really not talking about my arrogance, I’m talking about how the world judges people. So I think it taught me a lot. It made me who I am. It’s one of those horrible things that happens to someone where, at the moment it happens, it’s debilitating and heart-wrenching, but when you look back, you know that you overcame what most people could never overcome. So in the end, if you ask me, it’s the greatest accomplishment of my life. Well, as far as my work goes. That’s not including my children. [Laughs.] But it was a huge accomplishment. I look back at it, and I really feel like I overcame the impossible.
Muppets Tonight (1998)—herself
Muppets From Space (1999)—“Shelley Snipes”
AM: That was a blast! First of all, I’m a huge Muppets fan. Gigantic. I think they’re genius. I think they’re some of the best work out there and completely underrated, just because of how genius they are. I love that kind of humor. It’s so innocent but brilliant. They’re extremely talented, and it was just the most fun. And my own innocence came out completely in how I interacted with the Muppets: Even though the guys were underneath the ground—they’ve got these boards, and their hands come up through the boards—I was so into it that I would sit there and have a conversation with Miss Piggy when we weren’t shooting. [Laughs.] As if Miss Piggy was a real person. But that’s how talented these guys are. And they love what they do.
AVC: So did you film your episode of Muppets Tonight in the midst of doing Muppets From Space, or was it done before that?
AM: That was before. And I had a blast on that, too. [Laughs.] Just the most fun. The writing was amazing. That whole thing where we did the reenactment of the 32 people that I’ve slept with? Too fantastic. And I remember I told them that I wanted to be a Southern belle, so they strung me up in a bell house and made me an actual bell, so I’m yelling, “I meant ‘belle,’ not ‘bell’!” [Laughs.] They were really bright, those writers. You’d give them an idea, and they’d come up with this stuff right off the bat.
Groundhog Day (1993)—“Rita”
AM: Well, that was one of my most favorite jobs ever. I love Harold Ramis—I got work with him on Multiplicity, too—and he is an incredible man, a wonderful director. The script was brilliant, and working with Bill [Murray] was amazing, because you really have to be available. That’s all you have to do: constantly be available and listen. The best part of acting is reacting to whatever happens, and I never knew what Bill was going to do, because it changed constantly. So I just had to react to whatever he did, and that was a lot of fun. It’s a great film, and what it says is amazing as well. It’s a really light, fun movie, but the ultimate lesson is beautiful.
AVC: Was it particularly difficult to shoot because of all the repetition involved?
AM: No, it was a great shoot. Nothing difficult about it. There really wasn’t. It was just a beautiful experience all the way around.
The Practice (2003)—“Grace Chapman”
AM: That was fun. And crazy. It was a hard time in my life, too, so I was already insane as it was. It was just good timing, ’cause I already felt crazy, anyway. I don’t know why they asked me, but they did, which was really nice, and it was a genius piece of work. David [E. Kelley] is unbelievable. It was his way of saying goodbye, in a way, because he could sort of forecast the decline of a lot of intelligent television. And I agree with him, as far as people craving insanity and wanting to watch people acting stupid. You know, reality television, unfortunately, is not really reality. It’s like watching wrestling. Everybody wants to believe that it’s true, but it’s not true. And it’s sad, because a lot of people still believe it is. So it’s the decline of intelligence and a certain dignity in television, and that was basically what he was saying was happening. A lot of people might be getting rich off it, but it’s still a sad case, and that’s what that whole episode was about, with tying up [CBS president] Les Moonves, putting a cannon in front of him, and giving the whole speech about, “This is what you want, so here you go.” Which is basically what reality television is: watching people at their lowest possible level.
Sex, Lies, And Videotape (1989)—“Ann Bishop Mullaney”
AM: I’m still waiting for someone to write something that good for me again. I just don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I guess I need to be thankful for getting the job, period, because not many people get to play a woman who’s so repressed that she can’t talk about masturbating or orgasms or anything else, not even with her therapist. She’ll just go in and talk about garbage for fear of having any such word come out of her mouth. And yet her sister is completely the opposite and having sex with her husband. So she finds her husband’s best friend, who is a sex addict and makes tapes about women, and she falls in love with him. I mean, who could write something like that? It was amazing. Just an amazing character, with so many opportunities for details. I went in and I worked on it, and it was probably the most prepared I was for anything, but it was also the most interesting character I’ve ever played. I don’t know if I’ll ever find anything that interesting again. Sadly. [Sighs.] That’s the way I feel: I don’t know if it’ll ever be matched.
AVC: Peter Gallagher said that he got his part in the film partially because Tim Daly dropped out, but it didn’t hurt that you and he shared managers at the time.
AM: Yeah. And I got the part because the writing was so crazy that a lot of people weren’t showing it to the actors who were being considered. I was not. I wasn’t considered hirable at that point. At that point, nobody wanted me. That’s the only reason I got to audition for it: The people that they were thinking about, their agents wouldn’t even let them do it. There was some stuff that was taken out of it. It actually had Laura’s character described in the script as having very full pubic hair. [Laughs.] It was actually describing her pubic hair. I think people kind of got to that part and shut the script and said, “No! My client’s not going to do this!” He ended up not showing her pubic hair, but… even if you watch it now, it’s still a pretty radical film.
AVC: Steven Soderbergh was reportedly pretty flexible during filming, allowing you and the rest of the cast to change stuff on the fly.
AM: He was. I mean, he told me, “You can change the dialogue if you want to,” but I was so prepared by that point… I had done it in so many ways that the dialogue was fluid for me at that point, but I felt it was perfect. Occasionally I ad-libbed a couple of things or made some suggestions, and we changed some things, and I told him how I felt about resolving the relationship with the sister, which wasn’t in there. I told him I felt it was really important that there was some kind of resolution, which is why I take the plant to her at work. That was added. So he was definitely into those kinds of things. But he was a kid! He was younger than me! So that was fun. [Laughs.] He’s not intimidating. At all. And I think that helps. I think the lack of intimidation and the feeling of camaraderie was really beneficial to making it a joint effort, where everybody just was all about the movie, really. Nobody was making any money, either, which actually was nice. I wish I’d had some points on it, though. [Laughs.] But then, I’m sure so does everybody else who was involved. Yeah, that sure would’ve been nice.
Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994)—“Carrie”
AM: A totally different character for me up to that point. After Sex, Lies, And Videotape, I had a lot of opportunities to play similar roles, but I didn’t go for it because I wanted to do something different. So I was really happy to get this character, because she was flamboyant and sexy and the opposite of Ann, basically. The way she was talking about 32 lovers… she was a completely different person. Hugh [Grant] was magnificent, the writing was really good, and [screenwriter] Richard Curtis is a genius. That was just a beautiful experience.
AVC: You must have enjoyed working with Mike Newell well enough: He directed Jo, that pilot you did in 2002.
AM: I did get along with Mike, and I was flattered when he came to me with the opportunity to do that pilot, but… I guess I didn’t really go into it earlier, but it was almost a good idea. [Laughs.] But I could tell when we were doing it that it really wasn’t working. I can’t tell you what, but something wasn’t working. Sadly. It’s kind of to my own benefit to think this, but I believe everything works out for a reason. Hopefully. Maybe it’s just better to think that way when things don’t go well. [Laughs.]
Hudson Hawk (1991)—“Anna Baragli”
AM: You know, Hudson Hawk was before its time, and it took a while for people to actually like it, so when it came out, nobody appreciated it. But I think it was kind of cutting-edge. The kind of humor that it was is more appropriate now, I think, than when it came out. It was very much over-the-top, farcical, and extreme. But you see a lot of stuff like that on TV now, and I think people are much more open to that unrealistic type of humor. It ended up being a cult film. But when it came out, it was a disaster and was critically destroyed. So I just think it was ahead of its time.
AVC: Were you surprised when it was slaughtered by the critics?
AM: You know, I was so busy at that moment in my life with my kids and working that I didn’t really stop to analyze it too much. I felt bad for the other people who were involved, but I didn’t really think about it so much for myself. I mean, it was Bruce [Willis’] idea, so it didn’t really reflect on me. And if it had been successful, it wouldn’t have reflected on me, either. It wouldn’t have made a difference either way, so I didn’t really think about it too much.
The Player (1992)—“Herself”
Short Cuts (1993)—“Ann Finnigan”
AM: Well, just to get to work on either one of them was an honor. Robert Altman was such an amazing director. On Short Cuts, I got to see more of how he worked, with the cranes and the whole feeling of taking one scene into another scene, the nonstop motion of the camera and the all-in-one experience of doing long scenes. So I think the most interesting part was just sitting back and watching how he worked, because he was definitely a unique director, and he deserved the accolades that he got. He was brilliant. And I just feel very fortunate to have had the experience. Not many got to work with him, really, but I was one of the lucky ones.
Bad Girls (1994)—“Eileen Spenser”
AM: Oh. [Pause.] That was an interesting experience. [Pause.] Yeah, that was not a great experience, I have to say, because they hired one director, they fired her, they stopped for two weeks, and… there were just a lot of disconnects in it. I was glad to have had the experience, because I think you learn from every experience, but as much as I loved working with a bunch of women, it was difficult, I’d have to say. And because we went into overtime, I had to be away from my children. Yeah, I think everyone would agree that it was a very hard experience.
Town & Country (2001)—“Eugenie”
AM: You know, I still need to watch that movie. [Laughs.] Is that terrible? I really want to see it, because there were some moments in it that I thought were really funny at the time. But I haven’t watched it yet! I need to, though.
AVC: It’s notable for being, shall we say, not entirely financially successful.
AM: Yeah. Uh… yeah. [Laughs.] But, you know, you never know. It’s kind of like Hudson Hawk. I might watch it and go, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad!” But it was a crazy experience. I saw a lot of money being wasted while we were filming, which I did not understand and didn’t really even know how it was possible. We shot that whole big thing with the guns and the extras and all that… You know, I guess it’s still in there. The last scene with Charlton Heston and the guns and the extras, blah blah blah, that was all added in. Which I never understood. And I just remember the producer saying, “Well, I’m not really sure it’s going to be in the movie,” and I just couldn’t believe it, because that scene had to have cost a fortune. But that director [Peter Chelsom] was really great. I don’t know why they hired such a great director and tortured him the way they did, because his movies were fabulous. I don’t know. I’ll really have to watch it sometime. I can’t really judge it if I haven’t seen it, now, can I?
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)—“Dale Biberman”
AM: I just want to kiss Joel [Schumacher] for giving me a job, because at that moment I was sort of untouchable. It was in the middle of still sloughing off the bad experience from Greystoke, and everybody still thought I was damaged goods. And Joel gave me a job. For some reason, he saw something in me that was of value. At that point, I still didn’t trust myself, even though I was working really hard, going non-stop to a multitude of different classes. I was studying Shakespeare, taking Method, studying the Meisner technique, doing everything I could possibly do to overcome my bad experience. But I still couldn’t get a job. I had so many doors slammed in my face. And then, for some reason, Joel just gives me this job. And it changed my life, because it gave me hope. And I will forever be indebted to him.
Harrison’s Flowers (2000)—“Sarah Lloyd”
AM: Oh, that’s a beautiful movie. I think I did a really good job in it, honestly. [Laughs.] I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it was a really hard job! I suffered a lot in it. That’s the way the director worked. He really put me out. I was doing all of my work when it was cold and wet, and the rape scene… I worked my butt off with really great actors, and I thought it was quality work. It wasn’t a hit, like the movies that I tend to be noticed for, but I feel really good about what I did in the film. And it did well critically, which was important to me. By the way, the guy who did the rape scene? Never came out of character. He was very intimidating. But that’s the way the director worked as well.
Unstrung Heroes (1995)—“Selma Lidz”
Crush (2001)—“Kate Scales”
AVC: Is there anything that hasn’t been brought up that you figured would be?
AM: Maybe this is because I filmed it right around the same time as Harrison’s Flowers: I loved Crush, which is another one that wasn’t a hit but did get a fair amount of critical acclaim. One that I really loved, though, was Unstrung Heroes. I think it’s a great film, and I think it’s some of my best work. It was offered to me, and I was pregnant with my last child, and I was scared to tell anybody that I was pregnant, because I was afraid I would lose the job. But I really wanted to do it because I thought the script was beautiful, so I told the truth. And they really ended up having to hide the baby, because by the time I actually did the movie, I was five months pregnant. [Laughs.] But I think it gave my face an interesting look, because I look so different in it. And my hair’s shorter. However I looked, though, I just think it’s a beautiful film.