Actress Andie MacDowell’s appeal is in her ethereal glow. From her crown of dark cascading curls to her porcelain complexion and delicate features, MacDowell’s sweet yet sultry sensuality captivated movie-going audiences with hits like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Green Card, Groundhog’s Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral. She has always played the woman of great desire who orbits just outside of the male lead’s reach… that is, until he figures out how to win her over.
As Andie tells it, her “it girl” status throughout the late eighties and the whole of the nineties was a thrill ride, but left her feeling torn between an A-List movie career and being a hands-on mother to her three children. It was then she resolved to stop making movies back-to-back, but to choose her projects more carefully, kicking the tires first to be sure the role was worth time away from her family.
Over the last eighteen years, MacDowell has continued to work steadily, choosing roles that move her, make her think, and those that allow her to unpack her more provocative side. In 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, MacDowell played Nancy, the flirtatious older woman who unapologetically has her way with Joe Manganiello’s character. It’s safe to say that at this stage in MacDowell’s career she is doing anything but playing it safe on screen.
In her latest film, Love After Love, MacDowell tackles the role of the beautifully confident Suzanne, a wife and mother of two grown sons (played by Chris O’Dowd and James Adomian). She is loving her life (including her sex life) until her husband’s declining health and his death leaves her and her family reeling with grief, bitterness, and fear, as they try to regain their equilibrium.
Andie and I sat down for a frank discussion about growing older in Hollywood, embracing each stage of life, the #MeToo movement, finding her spiritual center and the enigmatic definition of happiness.
Allison Kugel: When you’re making a movie like Love After Love where the subject matter is heavier and about loss, do you feel pressure to entertain the audience, or is your allegiance solely to bringing out the truth of this character?
Andie MacDowell: I don’t think about it as entertaining the audience. I think it’s about touching your audience. When I read a book or watch a movie, I feel what the characters are feeling. Sometimes when I watch a movie, I almost feel like I’m in the movie. It’s more along the lines of being honest. And this character, Suzanne, she is so beautifully written. It’s about taking someone on the same journey that these characters go on. In the beginning of the film, she has such confidence and she is very lucky in her life. You see her drinking and having fun with all these people, and there is so much love around her. Then she goes through complete devastation from the loss of her husband, and then it’s the slow road back, including her learning how to have sex with another man. Our director, Russell Harbaugh, is a true artist and I think this movie looks like a piece of art. Although there is nudity throughout the whole film, it’s done in such an artistic way that it makes the story that much richer because you just feel like you are watching these people’s lives.
Allison Kugel: I watched your interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones and you were talking about being sick and tired of women being objectified on film, but there is a difference in how nudity is presented in Love After Love.
Andie MacDowell: Nudity in this film feels human, and similar in the way men’s and women’s nude bodies are depicted. The forms and the shapes and how we were laying on the bed. It’s shown as being real and a part of life.
Allison Kugel: You can see your humanity in the way it was filmed.
Andie MacDowell: And that’s the difference. It wasn’t how women are usually seen. I think women have quite often been used in movies as an object for men. And, you know what, there’s a lot of naked men in this movie. It’s part of the story, and the way it’s presented, you don’t even think about it in that way.
Allison Kugel: You’ve said that you were starving for this type of a role. Beyond the need to no longer be typecast, did playing Suzanne in Love After Love allow you to work out events and emotions from your own life? Was it therapeutic for you?
Andie MacDowell: I have such a well and a huge depth of life experience that I haven’t had the opportunity to use on film. I saw so much that I could do with this character. She has all these different parts of herself. She has this lusty confidence; she’s a self-assured woman that’s not ashamed that she had an open marriage. And then she crumbles. But she is heroic in taking care of her husband, and then devastated at losing him and you then see her destroyed. And then she is trying to start over, and she has that humbling experience of having sex with the person she works with. In the scene where she loses it on the young actress, I really wanted to play that part of things, the ability to be cruel because you’re in pain. We do that as mature women. We’re fed up as mature women and we lash out sometimes. It’s a true moment in the film.
Allison Kugel: Do you feel a sense of relief that the kinds of roles you’re getting to play now are more character-driven, as opposed to the young female lead that you played in the nineties?
Andie MacDowell: I’m thankful for all the jobs I’ve had, and I’ve gotten to do some great parts. I don’t have any regrets, and I think those roles suited me at that age and time. I think as you get older, you are a character (laughs). You have a lot more depth by the time you’re my age, because you’ve had to struggle. My life has not been a piece of cake. I understand what it is to have a complex life, because my life has been complex. By the time you’re my age, you see things differently and I think you have more to offer in a way.
Allison Kugel: How did you feel about being cast as Chris O’Dowd’s mother in this film, playing the mother of an adult child?
Andie MacDowell: I am old enough to be his mother. And I just played another character, recently, where I tried to look even older. I don’t have a problem with looking older. I think I can play ten years older and ten years younger. At some points in the film I looked older than at other times. I think that happens all the time, in real life too, depending on how you’re feeling. I think when you’re sad you look old. I looked younger in the beginning of this film, because I’m happy. And I looked older later in the film because I was damn tired and sad! I think you age like ten years when you’re that sad.
Allison Kugel: This movie is about grieving and finding your way back after the loss of a loved one. What are the things that you turn to when the ground starts to shake beneath your feet? How do you come back to center?
Andie MacDowell: Oh, I’m always looking for center. I hike a lot and I like to be in nature around trees. I love to ride horses…
Allison Kugel: Me too!
Andie MacDowell: Do you? They say that it has a physical effect on you.
Allison Kugel: I believe that. I always say that riding horses is my yoga. People are always bugging me to do yoga and it’s not really my thing. Riding gives me that meditative state.
Andie MacDowell: I should be riding right now. It’s soothing and calming, it lowers your cortisol levels. It’s good for everything. Being around animals in general is really comforting.
Allison Kugel: What do you teach your kids about emotional and spiritual resiliency?
Andie MacDowell: They are spiritual, which I am thankful for. I put no pressure on them to believe anything that I believe, but I think it’s healthy to have spirituality in your life. They also do a lot of yoga. They are very peace-seeking people, and love-seeking people, on the inside. To me, God is love, so they are headed in the right direction.
Allison Kugel: In your late twenties and into your thirties and you were doing movie after movie – Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Green Card; Groundhog’s Day; Four Weddings and a Funeral – and all eyes were on you. What did that moment in time feel like for you?
Andie MacDowell: Well, I could have done a lot more, but one year I did three movies in a year and I realized that I could not be a good mother and do that many movies. I was so popular, and I was so young, that it was easy. I could usually decide when I wanted to work and go find a job; it was that easy. And I would always try to do one independent and one studio film. That would be my goal each year. Life was great. I have to say it was wonderful to be in that position.
Allison Kugel: And then you entered your forties.
Andie MacDowell: Yes, it’s true. People would keep saying to me when I would get interviewed, “How does it feel to turn forty and know that you’re not going to work anymore?” And it really was… kind of like a light switch.