Interview: Andie MacDowell

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Andie MacDowell and Chazz Palminteri star in Mighty Fine
  • Andie MacDowell and Chazz Palminteri star in "Mighty Fine"
Andie MacDowell's breakthrough role was in Steven Soderbergh's 1989 indie Sex, Lies and Videotape, which was filmed in Baton Rouge. It's a strange coincidence that her return to indie film is with Debbie Goodstein-Rosenfeld’s semi-autobiographical drama Mighty Fine, a film that is set in and was filmed in New Orleans. In the film, MacDowell plays a Polish Holocaust survivor whose husband uproots their family from Brooklyn to New Orleans in 1974 to start a new life. The actress and L'Oreal spokeswoman took some time during a string of speaking engagements to talk about preparing for her role, being in New Orleans and getting older.

How did you prepare for your role?

Well, we worked with the person it actually happened to, so it’s not like we had to go out and search, because we were working with the person the story existed with. So we had the director, who was basically telling us how it all happened and what she experienced.

Did you work with a dialect coach or anything?

I worked with Sam Chwat, who is a wonderful dialect coach out of New York City who just died this year, sadly, and I’ve known him for over 30 years. I worked with him and worked with a local lady (Francine Segal). I worked with her and there was a woman from my hometown that was from Poland. She was an inspiration for me because there wasn’t a lot of time or money, so I was taking help from wherever I could get it.

What things, if any, did you have to learn about New Orleans at that time to inform your role?

I learned a lot about New Orleans because I was interested, and I did it just because I’m a curious person, but it wasn’t really relevant to the story to have to learn about New Orleans.

What things did you personally want to find out?

I did a tour with a really bright young lady that talked about great writers, like Tennessee Williams and his experience, and it was a little bit more in-depth than doing just a regular touristy type experience which I did with my daughter [Rainey Qualley, who plays MacDowell's daughter in the film] just for the fun of it. But ... she was an academic, someone who had a thorough study of Tennessee Williams, and that was a lot of fun. And then I did the regular touristy things everybody else does.

Were you able to eat out a lot when you were here?

I ate out load, and if you talked to my daughter she could tell you all the restaurants where we ate because I can’t remember the names. But she will remember everything, and her boyfriend is from New Orleans and they will be able to retrieve it much quicker than I can.

Sex, Lies and Videotape also filmed in the state. What was it like being back?

I really like being in New Orleans. It’s nothing quite like it. You feel like you’re in another world, and you can’t really compare it to anything. It’s just a beautiful city. It’s mad, crazy and wonderful.

You're currently in ABC Family's TV series Jane By Design. What, for you, are the differences between acting in film and television?

The pace is a lot faster on television, but the pace is a lot faster doing independent movies, too. We shot Mighty Fine in 18 days, which is unheard of. The pace (on TV) is really fast, they change the dialogue quite often ... I think there’s a lot more interesting television than we’ve ever had, because look at the enormous amounts of channels. There’s so much diversity on television and great opportunities to find fun work on television. The world’s changing really fast.

Do you have a preferred medium to work in out of film, television and modeling?

Well, I love being called a model at 54, but it’s not like I’m going down a runway ... I love being a spokesperson for L'Oreal, especially at this time in my life. To still be in the realm of the beauty industry I think is a great honor, and I think it’s much more of an important, relevant job now than then when I was younger because I am 54, and I love being able to send the message out to women of my age that we’re still valuable and we have worth, and we should be really proud of being where we are and taking care of ourselves and feel beautiful at any age. That job is something I still have a lot of dignity associated with.

And I love acting. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now and it’s something that feeds my soul. It’s my creative outlet, particuraly now that my children are leaving and going off on their own, I’m enjoying it more than ever.

It seems women tend to face discrimination in the entertainment industry because of age. Do you face that or see that with others?

I think women face discrimination in the world with age. The sheer fact that we’re talking about it means there’s discrimination. It’s a very youth-oriented world, and the media is a very youth-oriented place in general. And everyone’s pro-youth, it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s all about looking young ... it’s a part of life, but as soon as your realize how ridiculous it is you can overcome it because the reality is we all get older. And we need to find happiness and a sense of security with each number that comes to us, and be thankful we're alive.

My sister used to always say (about getting older) that "it beats the alternative," and I thought that was kind of cynical. But my mother died at age 53 and last year was a really strange year for me, because I was 53. It was really nice to turn 54. There was something really cathartic for the whole year for me and I do think it’s true, we’re lucky to be alive and every day is important and you need to make the most of it.

What are you working on right now?

I have these three speeches I’m doing, and then I’m going to the Cannes film festival with my youngest daughter for L'Oreal. Then I fly back and immediately I’m working on Jane by Design and then there’s other things in the works. So I’m just plugging along.

Mighty Fine is playing at AMC Palace 20 in Elmwood starting today.

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