By ALLISON KUGEL
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 – until, that is, he figures out how to win her over.
As MacDowell 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 18 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.
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?
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, 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 after 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.
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.
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.
You can see your humanity in the way it was filmed.
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.
You’ve said that you were starving for this type of a role. Beyond the need to no longer be typecast, did playing Suzanneallow you to work out events and emotions from your own life? Was it therapeutic for you?
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.
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?
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. 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.
How did you feel about being cast as Chris O’Dowd’s mother in this film, playing the mother of an adult child?
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.
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 centre?
Oh, I’m always looking for centre. I hike a lot and I like to be in nature around trees. I love to ride horses…
In your late twenties and into your thirties and you were doing movie after movie – Sex, Lies And Videotape; Green Card; Groundhog Day; Four Weddings And A Funeral – and all eyes were on you. What did that moment in time feel like for you?
Well, I could have done a lot more, but one year I did three movies in a year and I realised 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.
And then you entered your forties.
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.
Even though you still looked gorgeous and had the same abilities…
Even though I looked gorgeous. It gets harder. I never wanted to complain or whine too much because I always thought it was unattractive. I find it really fascinating that women are finally in a place this year where we are no longer seen as whiners. We’re seen as legitimately having a truth to tell that is finally being told.
In the early years of your career, did you ever have a #MeToo moment?
I didn’t ever have sexual problems in the context of my career. I never found myself in any kind of position in this business. I had #MeToo issues, but not in the business. But for me, what I find as relevant and as important as the #MeToo movement regarding sexual assault is that this is the first time we have had any voice. Women have always been accused of being too emotional. If you’ve studied therapy, early on, according to Carl Jung, a woman who wanted to be independent was crazy. That’s how far we have had to come. Just to be independent, not too long ago, we were called insane. There are so many social issues right now that are really important. My hope is that every aspect of how we have been diminished is going to be opened up. People will see and question why they would have to ask a woman the question that they asked me when I turned forty, yet not ask it of a man. It’s important that we take a hard look at that. That cannot be overlooked if we are to finally be seen as equal human beings on this planet.
With Love After Love you did find a role that shows the complexity of a female character.
I am astounded by this film and this role. And Chris O’Dowd is a great person and very talented actor. I was surrounded by remarkable people.
Was there a lot of improvisation in this film?
There was a good bit of improv. But with the script, I love the words that Russell Harbaugh wrote for me. They are not words that I would come up with, so I liked using his words and speaking the way that he wrote her. I’ll tell you what is improved, is the very first scene at the opening of the film – the line “Your dad’s pretty good in bed.” That whole thing was improv. There is something really fresh when you do improv, because it surprises you. That being said, almost everything else in the script was written and it’s somebody else’s intelligent words being given to me.
The question in that first scene that’s asked to your character is, “What is happy?”
That was an honest answer that my character gives, “You can’t always be happy.” A therapist told me that one time. It was a big revelation; you can’t always be happy.
How do you define happy? What does happy mean for you?
I think happiness is peace of mind. It’s definitely not superficial. Happiness is not a big house. I’ve had a big house and I’ve had a small house, and I think I was happier in the smaller house. Happiness is never going to be things. It’s also love and attachment, but to me happiness is really peace of mind.
What do you see as the moral of the story in this movie? What’s the takeaway?
That we’re broken. Everybody, all of us. I think we’re all broken and we’re just trying to get through life as best as we can.
I feel like there should be a “but” there. We’re all broken, but…
But, we’ll get through it together. We need each other and nobody’s perfect.
How are you going to ring in your sixtieth birthday next month?
I’m going to be working, which is what I like to do! That’s a good thing. I want to do something special. Maybe I’ll go to India. I’ve been wanting to go to India for a long time.
What do you think this new decade will bring into your life?
I know what I hope it brings. I would like to do more spiritual work. Go listen to Ram Dass talk, and Marianne Williamson; go to a yoga retreat and cultivate every aspect of myself so that I can continue to work on peace of mind. As you get older, I feel like if you’re going down the right road there is this clarity that you can see in your eyes. It’s a gentleness that is the most beautiful aspect a human can have. That is my goal, to continue to work on that gentle side of myself.
The title of this film, Love After Love; I feel like it holds a double meaning. Does it mean finding your life after losing love, or finding love again after losing love, or both?
For me it means that love is a complex thing. You can’t fit it all in one place. In this film, it could mean that maybe we all loved him so much that we needed to learn to love in another way. If you don’t have a person in your life any longer, then you have to find your way to loving other people.
Love After Love was released in the US on March 30.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A Memoir Of A Life Unhinged And On The Record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.