Model-turned-actor" has always been a bit of a Hollywood cliché. Certain catwalk divas - Naomi Campbell comes to mind - have failed to reel in audiences by attending the Cindy Crawford school of acting. But the Eighties cover girl Andie MacDowell has turned in noteworthy performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sex, Lies and Videotape and Green Card.
As the 46-year-old actress sashays into a penthouse suite wearing a multicoloured Escada wrap dress, which hugs her curves in all the right places, one admires her plastic surgeon. "No, no..." she quickly sets the record straight. "I haven't seen any that I like! That's the problem. I don't do Botox, because I wouldn't be able to move my face! What feeling could I give you if I can't do that?" She furrows her brow and flashes a ferocious smile to prove her point. No Botox. Got it.
Jetting in from her North Carolina home to promote Queen Latifah's new comedy, Beauty Shop, with her large hazel eyes and raven curls MacDowell is every bit the melancholy beauty. Nestling her 5ft 8in frame between overstuffed feather pillows on a floral sofa, she crosses her legs and searches for a plausible explanation as to why she's still in the Hollywood game, 35 film credits and two decades on.
"I honestly don't know why some models make it and others don't. It could be down to luck and timing. It's never made much sense to me and I try my best not to think about it," she purrs in her soft, southern drawl. "People would make fun of girls trying to act, which is kind of immature. But the truth is, no matter where you come from, it's hard for anybody to make it in this business. The odds are more or less against you, but you never know until you try."
True. Only a handful of models in MacDowell's era - notably Rene Russo, Geena Davis and Sharon Stone - have made it in the movies. The ultimate trendsetters were Lauren Bacall, Jessica Lange and Anjelica Huston. Yet MacDowell still benefits from a lucrative modelling contract, as a spokeswoman for L'Oréal hair products. "I don't think it affects anything anymore, because everybody is a celebrity spokesperson for some brand or another," she says. "And I didn't see any shame in it whatsoever. I applaud them for still using me."
There was a time when MacDowell was the target of industry ridicule. This was sparked by her 1984 screen debut, playing the ape-man's lady in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Straight from the Paris fashion runways, she landed the coveted role only to have her country twang dubbed over with Glenn Close's faux-British, drawing-room tones. Needless to say, the media had a field day and wrote her off as a ventriloquist's dummy.
One would have understood if MacDowell had run for cover, never to be seen or heard from again. But her demure, angel-haired exterior disguised a tenacious inner will. "I knew if I stopped then, that's what people would remember me for," she says. "That was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it made me work a lot harder than perhaps I would have if everything had been handed to me. I began to aggressively pursue acting. I was taking classes, going to auditions, and I really honed my skill."
It was five years before she gained admiration for her role as the sex-deprived housewife who couldn't climax in Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape. But the Hollywood establishment showed her only grudging respect. Still she ploughed ahead, giving notable performances in Unstrung Heroes, Short Cuts and The Object of Beauty, as well becoming a cast-iron box office draw after Peter Weir's Green Card, opposite Gerard Depardieu, Nora Ephron's comedy Michael with John Travolta, and her role as Hugh Grant's love interest in Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Puzzlingly, while actresses such as Demi Moore raked in $20m for, say, Striptease, the big bucks eluded MacDowell. Did she ever think, why not me? "No, not really, to the tell ya the truth," she shrugs. "I was very happy with the types of movies I was being offered. I didn't even think about it. I've been way too busy taking care of my family and I don't know how they end up making the decision to pay that kind of money; it's just beyond me.
MacDowell has a credible theory as to why she's still reading good scripts. "Maybe it's because I didn't sell out in my 30s?" she offers. "But really I don't know why. I do think a part of it is that you get very comfortable with being the cream of the crop... and then you get to your 40s and you don't want to be left out. You've been so comfortable in that position and that just doesn't last forever, and so those actresses don't continue because they still want to be No 1.
"I've always wanted to be treated like an equal when I've worked with other actors. I don't like someone telling me, 'You're the big Hollywood movie star.' I want to show up in my jeans and T-shirt and be on the same level as everybody else. I'm there to do my day's work. There are a lot of fabulous actors who never became stars. I want to continue to work until I die."
MacDowell has two films due out: Tara Road, based on a Maeve Binchy novel, and the Bille Woodruff-directed comedy Beauty Shop, which stars Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari and a very camp Kevin Bacon.
Beauty Shop is a spin-off to Barbershop 2: Back in Business, and finds hairdresser Gina (Latifah) making ends meet - no pun intended - as a stylist in the swanky salon of Jorge (Bacon), a vain man with an indeterminate European accent. When Jorge takes credit for Gina's innovative styles, she quits and opens her new family salon in her 'hood. Her clients include a bored and wealthy housewife, Terri (MacDowell), and the saline-enhanced, superficial Joanne (Suvari). "Talking to your hairdresser is almost like talking to your therapist," MacDowell says. "They touch your head, your nails, and week after week you find yourself confiding in them about your personal affairs."
Born Rosalie Anderson MacDowell in Gaffney, South Carolina, she's the youngest of four daughters. She weathered her parents' divorce when she was six and was raised by her mother, who struggled with alcoholism and died when MacDowell was 23. Today, she credits her mother for instilling "any confidence and fight" she possesses.
After a brief stint at college, MacDowell moved to New York and was immediately signed by the Elite modelling agency. In 1985 she met her first husband, Paul Qualley, the father of her three children, on a modelling assignment for Gap. Residing on a sprawling, picturesque 3,000-acre Montana ranch, MacDowell once referred to their marriage as a "fairy-tale romance". Soon after the marriage broke down, however, MacDowell married her high-school sweetheart Rhett Hartzog, a jewellery businessman. The couple split at the end of 2004.
MacDowell nods. "Thankfully, I'm much happier now. I'm less hard on myself. I was trying to live up to expectations of the world. I think that was one reason I got married so quickly. I wanted to be just right and now I've taken the time to realise that I am just right."
'Beauty Shop' opens in cinemas on 22 AprilReuse content