Way back in 1981 Andie MacDowell drawled in her distinct southern accent the famous ad tagline “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.” That Calvin Klein TV commercial introduced the model to an audience outside of fashion magazine readers and represented the first step toward movie and television stardom. During that era, model names were little known if at all and MacDowell did not immediately leap from magazine covers to celebrity fame. Several years were required for MacDowell to establish herself as an actress.
MacDowell was born in South Carolina and a southern belle all the way. She has never lost her accent, though the drawl is not as distinct these days. Rosalie Anderson MacDowell and her thick mane of curly dark hair and unusual features were striking and she remains beautiful at 56. An agent spotted her in Los Angeles and MacDowell signed with the Elite Modelling Agency in 1978. Magazine covers and TV commercials followed.
Her film debut in “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984) proved embarrassing. The film was a handsome production being a literate version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character and cast MacDowell as Jane. After filming was completed, the producers decided MacDowell’s southern accent unsuitable and hired Glenn Close to dub over her voice. Following a small role in “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), MacDowell attended classes at Actors Studio in New York.
The acting lessons paid off because her third film established MacDowell as a star. Critics fell all over themselves praising “Sex, Lies & Videotapes” (1989), the film placing director Steven Soderbergh on the filmmaker map. MacDowell received her share of accolades and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as the sexually frigid wife. She earned another Golden Globe nomination for the romantic comedy “Green Card” (1990). MacDowell played a sympathetic woman marrying Frenchman Gerard Depardieu so he can remain in the country and they are forced to get to know each other during the INS investigation.
“Groundhog Day” (1993) was all about Bill Murray with MacDowell as romantic interest, but the hit comedy looked good on her resume. She dominated “Deception” (1993) which ranks among her best early efforts. The globe trotting mystery cast MacDowell as a widow unraveling the secrets and deceits of her late husband. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) is MacDowell’s biggest credit. The critically and commercially successful British comedy starred Hugh Grant as a player with an aversion to marriage until meeting MacDowell at a wedding. The actress received a third Golden Globe nomination.
“Bad Girls” (1994) can best be described as a camp western about hot women on horseback and shooting guns. MacDowell, Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson and Drew Barrymore were prostitutes turned outlaw gang. She played a reporter in the hit “Michael” (1996) which is dominated by John Travolta’s performance as the disheveled archangel. “Multiplicity” (1996) was a comedy about Michael Keaton xeroxing himself and MacDowell had the wife role.
At this point in her career, MacDowell and Hollywood basically parted ways. The actress turned to independent, offbeat and European-financed films and began transitioning into television. She was and remains a busy actress. Much of this material is non-memorable though there are some appealing roles. Perhaps MacDowell chose this route in hopes of such characters rather than spending the rest of her “prime” being trapped in aging Hollywood wives.
“The End of Violence” (1997) is a Wim Wenders directed misfire despite the vision of MacDowell as a bikini clad hit woman. Based on a William Styron story, “Shadrach” (1996) is an interesting tale about a former slave returning to die at his old plantation now owned by MacDowell and Harvey Keitel. An example of MacDowell accepting a nothing role was Keitel’s wife in the 2002 Italian crime film “Ginostra.”
Finally, a couple very good characters came her way. “Harrison’s Flowers” (2002) is an English language French film. She played a woman on a quest to discover what happened to her photographer husband in war torn Yugoslavia. He has been reported dead in the conflict and she refuses to believe it. The film follows her grim odyssey through the bloody war. MacDowell as the older woman? And a lonely one? That described her school headmistress in the British “Crush” (2002). She plunges into a passionate affair with a younger man, much to the vocal disapproval of her girlfriends. The young man does not complain. “Crush” contains that quirky British blend of humor and seriousness and is one of MacDowell’s finest performances, if not the best.
“The Last Sign” (2005) and “Tara Road” (2005) are little seen but worthwhile viewing as the mature MacDowell has left her modeling days far behind and proven herself a fine actress. Set in Canada, “The Last Sign” was the ghost of dead husband Tim Roth conjured up in her mind. The husband had become an abusive alcoholic, yet she loved him and feels guilty they argued prior to his fatal auto accident. Based on a Maeve Binchy novel, “Tara Road” refers to a house in Dublin. The intriguing premise has two women, American and Irish, seeking change in their lives and deciding to swap homes for awhile. Both these films depict sensitive fragile women and here MacDowell effectively portrays a mother in pain grieving over her son’s untimely death who desperately needs the fresh scenery and perspective Tara Road affords.
In recent years, MacDowell’s film output has been basically forgettable and not worth watching. “Beauty Shop” (2005) and “The Six Wives of Henry LeFay” (2009) were lame Queen Latifah and Tim Allen comedies. “Intervention” (2007) cast MacDowell as a psychologist running a rehab clinic in London. The dreary inspirational Christian drama “The 5th Quarter” (2009) placed her in a one-dimensional grieving mother role. A quick paycheck was the cameo mom bit in “Monte Carlo” (2011). The needless 2011 remake of “Footloose” found her as reverend Dennis Quaid’s wife.
The rare interesting film is the odd independent “As Good as Dead’ (2010) presenting MacDowell as never seen before as her character is a non-glamorous cripple. She is the vindictive widow of a religious fundamentalist cult leader seeking revenge via torture and murder over her husband’s killing. “As Good as Dead” is not an exceptional film but a must see for her fans because MacDowell has never played a character like this.
Like many actresses of a certain age, MacDowell has found better material on television. “Dinner with Friends” (2001) was adapted from Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize winning play concerning two married couples. The Hallmark Hall of Fame production “Riding the Bus with My Sister” (2005) centered on the relationship between MacDowell and her mentally-challenged sister played by Rosie O’Donnell. “At Risk” and “The Front” were 2010 Lifetime Channel movies from Patricia Cornwall novels with MacDowell playing a district attorney.
The short-lived “Jane By Design” (2012) was a charming ABC Family Channel series. The cute premise followed an aspiring fashion designer and high school student stumbling into a job as assistant to the head of a Manhattan fashion house. MacDowell was in superb form as the bitchy demanding boss Grey who is always dressed to the nines.
MacDowell currently stars in the Hallmark Channel series “Cedar Cove” which her fans will adore. Daring to appeal toward older demographics, the gentle-natured show revolves around life and residents in a picaresque Washington seaside town where MacDowell’s Olivia is a divorcee and the local judge. She is firm and wise in her judgements and tries to help people, yet is vulnerable and hesitant in seeking romance. A new man arrives in town to take over the newspaper and a slow and chaste mature romance develops. The actress defies her age by looking lovely and glowing with warmth. MacDowell also continues film work.