Actor Andie MacDowell was hoping that she would get a chance to work opposite her daughter, Margaret Qualley, so she was pleasantly surprised when Qualley landed the starring role in the Netflix series Maid and suggested MacDowell join her in the production.
“That’s a really special thing to happen to a parent, to have a child trust them and to want them to play opposite them,” MacDowell says.
Loosely based on a memoir by Stephanie Land, Maid tells the story of a single mother named Alex who leaves her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and struggles to make ends meet. MacDowell plays Alex’s mother, Paula, who appears to have an undiagnosed mental health disorder that leaves her in a near-constant state of mania.
MacDowell says she feels particularly attuned to her Maid character because her own mother also struggled with mental illness and alcoholism.
“My mother is not Paula. But understanding the complexity of mental illness was something that I’m versed in,” she says. “I know what darkness is. There was a lot of darkness in my house due to the chaos and the depression and the drinking.”
On her own mother’s mental health disorder
She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But I don’t think she was schizophrenic. That’s the problem. I think a lot of times people do these diagnoses because maybe they’re having a psychotic event, but back then — this was in 1958 or ’59 — I don’t even know exactly. … It was shortly after I was born, so it could have been hormones involved. But they gave her shock treatments, and she was sent away for about three months to a place in Asheville, N.C. But when she came back … she became an alcoholic. She wasn’t on medication and she didn’t get any therapy because they just did things like that back then. It was like they would send women off and they were “cured.” … Back then, it was something that you hid, especially in a small town. It was just shameful. And she didn’t really drink before she had the shock treatments, but she became an alcoholic afterwards. And I think that’s how that’s how she dealt with it. She just drank to numb herself, really.
I think she was just superdepressed. She didn’t have the mania, so she wouldn’t stay up all night. I just think she was extremely depressed and couldn’t get out of it, she definitely needed something to … help her balance out her chemicals.
On her father’s reaction to her mother’s alcoholism and mental illness
My father was a beautiful man, but I saw him hit my mother when I was 4 and give her a bloody nose. … He divorced shortly after. I just think he couldn’t live in the chaos. He left me in the chaos, which I find fascinating. That’s something I’ve really struggled with because he got out. He took himself out, he got himself out, but he left us, which was fascinating to me.
On the chaos in her house growing up, with four sisters, a mother addicted to alcohol and an absent father
My mother and my other sister, the one that was just older than me, did not get along at all. So I was just trying to make things OK in the house and quite often trying to keep my mother away from my sister, which was intense. Even if she had friends over, I would kind of babysit my mother, just to make sure that nothing would go wrong. My mother would rant and rave and go off on my sister. And it was mutual, so they would fight. So it was intense. My sister was very disappointed in my mother’s behavior and wanted her to be another person, and she wasn’t, she was what she was. And I was the codependent just wanting to keep the peace.
Usually [my mother] would drink so much … she would pass out on the floor and I would put a pillow under her head and put a blanket on her. And every night, I would get up to go and check that the cigarettes were not burning. She would have a cigarette in the ashtray and the ashes would just be completely burnt. She never took a puff off of it, and then she’d have another one burning and another one burning, and there were burnt holes all in the couch and on the linoleum floor, there were marks, burn marks, all on the floor.
On trying to do an intervention for her mother
I did an intervention for my mother when I was in the 12th grade, a failed intervention, unfortunately, but it was an intervention. I called everybody and said, “I can’t leave her like this. We’ve got to do something.” … Someone gave her a little bit of Valium, which I think was a huge mistake because I couldn’t communicate with her when we got to the place and we just couldn’t get her out of the car. … Then we drove her to the state [mental health] place … and a doctor came down to the car and told us, “If you do not commit her today, she’ll be dead in five years.” But to commit her to a state institution? I don’t know. We just couldn’t do it, so we didn’t do it. So we drove her home and I remember we got a speeding ticket on the way home. That’s when [my sister and I] finally cried. … I told [my mother], I said, “They said you’re going to be dead in five years,” and she quit drinking alcohol; she just drank wine, which I think it did make a difference. It’s not like that pass-out-on-the-floor kind of drunk. She drank lighter. That was the repercussion of that experience.
On being devastated when her voice was completely dubbed in her first film, 1984’s Greystoke
That was horrible. It was my very first movie, I was 23. No one ever said, “We don’t like the way you sound.” No one was ever clear or straightforward. …. It was all unbeknownst to me, and it was really a hard thing to get out of, to move beyond that. It was a decision for myself. … I kept working. I had to. I could not let that be my legacy. I had to make it. I had to make it because I couldn’t leave it like that. It was just too mortifying for that to be me, that that was my story. And I just got into class. I worked really hard. I took classes. I watched movies. I worked. I spent money, good money, [on] good coaching.
On how the 1989 Steven Soderbergh film Sex, Lies, and Videotape changed her life
Before Sex, Lies, and Videotape, nobody took me seriously. I was broken. I was trash, really. But after Sex, Lies, and Videotape, I became a well-known actress and people perceived me as an actress, finally, and it made money. So if you do that, then it’s a paradigm. Everything changes in your life. And I started being given jobs. I didn’t even have to audition. It was amazing.
On working with Bill Murray in Groundhog Day
He’s intense, I have to say. Bill’s not the easiest person in the world I’ve ever met, but he’s brilliant at what he does. And I felt it was really, really important for me not to lay on the comedy. He’s so big, his comic nature and abilities are broad, and they’re perfect and they’re really good, and I just played her real and real honest. I just came from her in a very honest, straightforward place and gave Bill all the space to do what Bill does, and the story unfolds and you take this amazing trip. I just think it’s really a great movie and it holds up. It’s still a great movie. It’s one of those classic films.
On going gray and loving it
My hair started going silver during COVID, and my daughters were staying next door to me … so they saw me all the time and they would say to me, “You look badass and you’ve got to keep this.” … I fell in love with it and I decided to keep it. And I have to say, I’ve never felt more beautiful. I’m not saying that everybody has to go do this … but it suits me, and I think it’s been embraced by so many people, and I like that. I like that people are comfortable with me getting older. I think that’s an important message for all of us that we get older and we are beautiful.
Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. My guest, Andie MacDowell, stars with her daughter Margaret Qualley in the new Netflix series “Maid.” That’s M-A-I-D. The series has apparently struck a nerve. In its first few weeks, it broke the record set by “The Queen’s Gambit” as the most-viewed limited series on Netflix. That record has since been broken by “Squid Game.” MacDowell co-starred in several films that hit the zeitgeist in the ’90s, like “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” “Groundhog Day” and “Four Weddings And A Funeral.” She has a dual career as an actor and a model. She’s been a model and spokesperson for L’Oreal Cosmetics for about 35 years.
Let’s start with “Maid.” It’s loosely based on a memoir by Stephanie Land. Margaret Qualley plays Alex, a young mother of a 3-year-old child who leaves her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and finds herself a single mother broke with no job, no home and no one she can really rely on for help. Sometimes she reluctantly turns to her mother, Paula, Andie MacDowell’s character, who appears to have an undiagnosed mental health disorder that leaves her in a pretty constant state of mania, talking non-stop about herself, her plans and her passion for her own art. Alex, the daughter, has no job experience or special skills, so she takes the only job she’s able to get – cleaning homes. But the cleaning agency she works for takes such a big percentage, Alex is basically getting minimum wage and having to pay for her own transportation and cleaning supplies. It doesn’t leave enough money to rent a home, so she and her daughter spend time in a shelter for women who’ve been the victims of domestic violence.
In this scene from the first episode, Alex is going to a job interview with the cleaning agency Value Maids. And out of desperation, she asks her mother to watch her 3-year-old daughter, Maddy. Alex discovers that her mother’s home is now an Airbnb with strangers living there, and her mother is now living in an RV in the woods with her boyfriend, Basil, who’s played by Toby Levins. Outside the RV, there’s a lot of Paula’s paintings. Here’s the scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “MAID”)
MARGARET QUALLEY: (As Alex) Hi, Mom.
ANDIE MACDOWELL: (As Paula) Ah, Maddy, Alex – this is so exciting. I can’t believe you came to see this. This is what all the brilliant painters and sculptures are doing in the art world right now. This is me stepping up to a global collective of minds…
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Hey, Mom.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) …Archetypes. You know about archetypes.
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Hey.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) That’s what I’m representing here in cobalt – the hero, the everyman, the mentor, the mystic…
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Mom.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) …The lover. Then, of course, there’s…
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Mom.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) …Jungian archetypes. And it’s like, what…
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Why didn’t you tell me that you Airbnb’d your house?
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) I did, didn’t I?
QUALLEY: (As Alex) I just drove around to two campgrounds looking for you.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) Well, honey, if you don’t check in with me from time to time, that’s on you.
QUALLEY: (As Alex) I called you 14 times.
TOBY LEVINS: (As Basil) Is that Alexandra? Bloody hell. You disturbed the Airbnb people? Well, they’re going to leave a [expletive] review now, aren’t they, you fair dinkum monster?
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Uh-uh. I can’t deal with him today and his fake Australian accent. I can’t do it.
LEVINS: (As Basil) It’s not fake. I was born in Perth. So…
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Sure you were, Cilantro.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) Don’t call Basil Cilantro, Alex. Our identity is subjective. He’s Australian. I’m French Italian. In reality, we are both 100% Icelandic fairy (laughter).
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Can I talk to you in private for a minute? I’m in a rush, Mom.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) No. Whatever you can say to me, you can say in front of him because he is my life and business partner.
QUALLEY: (As Alex) What business – renting your house out or making you sleep in an RV?
LEVINS: (As Basil) You’re a malignant tumor.
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Go put some shrimp on the barbie, all right?
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) All right, Alex – enough. Out with it with.
QUALLEY: (As Alex) With…
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) Out with it. You want something from me, so just ask. What is it?
QUALLEY: (As Alex) Can you watch Maddy for an hour? I have a job interview. It’ll be one hour, two max.
MACDOWELL: (As Paula) Of course. She’s my granddaughter. She is always welcome to experience me and be a part of my life.
GROSS: Andie MacDowell, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on this new series. I think that last line says so much – that she’s always welcome to be with me and experience me (laughter). It’s like – it’s not about the grandmother wanting to experience her granddaughter. It’s about the importance of the granddaughter experiencing the grandmother, your character. It’s so narcissistic.
MACDOWELL: Yeah, it is very narcissistic. And you know, it’s – at this moment, you meet Paula right in the beginning. She’s definitely on one of her manic highs where she’s extremely self-involved and consumed with herself. And I think it’s really hard for her to relate with other people at that moment and easy to take advantage of. So you learn a lot about Paula in this opening scene and her relationship with her daughter and her granddaughter.
GROSS: What’s it like to have your actual daughter, Margaret Qualley, in character? Is this the first time you’ve acted together?
MACDOWELL: It is the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t think that it would happen. I thought eventually we may work together, but it was very important to her to carve her own career for herself and not to be seen as my daughter. She wanted to be seen as an individual, of course. We all want to be seen for our own gifts and talents. And I – and she was comfortable. I think she has made – done enough work. People have seen some of her work. Some of her work is a little bit more obscure, but she’s even proud of what she’s accomplished.
GROSS: And I’ll add that’s – that includes being in “The Leftovers” and in…
MACDOWELL: “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
GROSS: Oh, yeah, which is such a great film.
MACDOWELL: But she did some other kind of offbeat work, too, that she’s – you know, within the business she’s noted for. The public may not be conscious of it. But she’s made – she’s already made her own name, so thank goodness for that because she felt comfortable and told them that she felt that I would be great in this role. And I was truly honored. I’m – you know, that’s a really special thing to happen to a parent, to have a child trust them and to want them to play opposite them.
GROSS: So she recommended you for the role.
MACDOWELL: Correct. She recommended me, yeah.
GROSS: And was that because she knows that your mother had a mental health disorder?
MACDOWELL: I think that was part of it. You know, what she says to me now is that she thinks I’m a great actress, which (laughter) is very – you know, it just makes me smile. I – you know, it’s very heartwarming to hear your child say something like that. But I do think there had to be a piece of it that she – she’s asked me a lot of questions. She’s very curious, and I think she wants to know about my history so that she can understand herself because, no matter what, when we come through something like that, I’m not cured. Right? So there’s going to be components to my own personality that you can see are injured. So she knows I’m an injured soul. So it’s very close. You know, I – I’m not Paula. My mother’s not Paula. But understanding the complexity of mental illness was something that I’m versed in. I’ve done my homework. I didn’t have to go searching for it because I’ve been searching for these answers for a while.
GROSS: So do you see your character as having bipolar disorder?
MACDOWELL: Yes. But that being said, I have read a lot about mental illness, and it’s really hard to define. You can live with someone who’s so complex in their illness it’s hard to know whether they are, you know, schizophrenic or they are bipolar. They cross over, so she’s very complex, I think, in her – her mental illness is very complex. And the whole sexual part of it is fascinating because I know that from someone that I was very close to that a lot of times, they have this tendency to be a really sexual or inappropriately sexual, and that is also part of the disease. It’s something that is out of their control.
GROSS: Yeah, every time she meets a man, no matter how inappropriate this is, she starts flirting with him. And you see her body completely change into all these kind of caricatures of sexual poses. And the man, instead of – the man is usually just, like, staring at her like, what is this? And I’m wondering how you figured out how to do that in a convincing way, where it’s, like, so uncomfortable as opposed to appealing?
MACDOWELL: Yes. Well, I think it’s driven by her illness. So it’s not like something that feels correct. It’s inappropriate. It’s like a misfire in her brain and how she should behave. And it’s not really the desperation of an older woman. It really is from her illness. I think it just – it’s almost like lashing out.
You know, I went – I was walking the other day in – at Venice Beach, and I had a lot of people come up to me and thank me for the way I portrayed the character. And not to say that everybody’s dysfunctional in Venice Beach, but I think you meet outlandish people there. And that’s really what I was going for, and I think that’s why a lot of people liked her even and found her charming. Because we do. We do find those people charming, even in their brokenness. And I think that’s what’s so complex about this character is you find her mental illness can be very charming. And that is really, really sad, because you can’t see the illness. It’s almost like she’s delightful sometimes.
GROSS: Well, also, I think in small doses, you can see somebody like that character as being a life force – like enthusiastic, brimming over with creativity and passion. But if you spend enough time, you realize this is really the sign of a problem, as opposed to, you know, artistry and enthusiasm for life.
MACDOWELL: That’s it exactly. And I think sometimes it’s really hard for people to have empathy for someone like that because they can’t see the depth of the pain because they’re always covering it up. So it’s really hard to see it and define it as illness.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Andie MacDowell, one of the stars of the new Netflix series “Maid.” We’ll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE WEE TRIO’S “LOLA”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Andie MacDowell. She stars with her adult daughter, Margaret Qualley, in the new Netflix series “Maid.” MacDowell plays a woman who has a mental health problem and is typically in a manic state. MacDowell grew up with a mother who had serious mental health problems herself.
How would you describe your mother’s mental health disorder? Do you know if it was, like, bipolar or…
MACDOWELL: I – you know, it was so complex, my mother. But I would love to really go back and try to research and find out. Because my mother died when I was 23, and that’s early. And she was a lovely person. She was a very complex person.
But she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but I don’t think she was schizophrenic. That’s – you know, that’s the problem. I think you – you know, a lot of times, people do these diagnoses because they – you know, maybe they’re having a psychotic event. But they don’t – back then – this was in 1958 or ’59. I don’t even know exactly when it happened. It was shortly after I was born, so it could have been hormones involved. But they gave her shock treatments, and she was sent away for about three months to a place in Asheville, N.C.
But when she came back, I mean, I never saw anything that looked like schizophrenia to me. So I don’t know what happened exactly, except for little details that I have. But she became an alcoholic. That’s how she – you know, she wasn’t on medication and she didn’t get any therapy because they just did things like that back then. It was like, they would send women off and they were cured.
And if women had a nervous breakdown – that’s really how they used to define things like that, a nervous breakdown. Back then, it was – you know, it was something that you hid, especially in a small town. It was just shameful. And she didn’t really drink before she had the shock treatments, but she became an alcoholic afterwards. And I think that’s how she dealt with it. She just drank to numb herself, really.
GROSS: So you say that what you saw in your mother didn’t seem like schizophrenia. What did you see?
MACDOWELL: I think she was just super depressed. She didn’t have the mania. So she wouldn’t stay up all night. I just think she was extremely depressed and couldn’t get out of it. She definitely needed to have some kind of a chemical balance, something to help her balance out her chemicals. She wasn’t like Paula, but I know what darkness is. There was a lot of darkness in my house due to the chaos and the depression and the drinking. And it was – there was a lot of darkness.
But I also saw darkness with my father, you know? I mean, my father was a beautiful man, but I saw him hit my mother when I was 4 and give her a bloody nose. So that goes back to this domestic violence as – it happens. I mean – and he ended up leaving. He – you know, he divorced shortly after. I just think he couldn’t live in the chaos. He left me in the chaos, which I find fascinating. That’s something I’ve really struggled with because he got out. He took himself out. He got himself out, but he left us, which was fascinating to me.
GROSS: How many of you – how many children were there? How many siblings?
MACDOWELL: Four girls. My older sister was going off to college, and then my sister underneath that really tried to mother us, but she had to go to college. And yeah, it was chaotic. And then my mother and my other sister, the one that was just older than me, did not get along at all. So I was just trying to make things OK in the house and quite often trying to keep my mother away from my sister, which was intense. Even if she had like friends over, I would kind of babysit my mother, you know, just to make sure that nothing would go wrong.
GROSS: You’ve used the word chaos. Would you describe a little bit what the chaos was like?
MACDOWELL: My mother would rant and rave and go off on my sister and so – and it was mutual. So they would fight. So it was intense. My sister was very disappointed in my mother’s behavior and wanted her to be another person. And she wasn’t. She was what she was. And I was the co-dependent that would – that was just wanting to keep the peace. But my mother would be drinking and I’d talk to her, you know, but usually she would drink so much she was no longer functioning correctly. She would pass out on the floor and I would put a pillow under her bed – under her head and put a blanket on her. And every night, I would get up to go and check that the cigarettes were not burning. She would have a cigarette in the ashtray and the ashes would be so, you know, like, just completely burnt. She never took a puff off of it, and then she’d have another one burning and another one burning. And there was burnt holes all in the couch. And on the linoleum floor, there were marks, burnt marks, all on the floor.
And I remember because my dad was extremely sophisticated – to me, he seemed sophisticated. Like, he was the kind of person that had the 5 o’clock cocktails and he had a really good job and his wife drove a Cadillac and they had several houses. And he would come in – and you have to understand, my father was a really beautiful man. Everybody respected him, including me. I respected him. But I don’t understand how he could see that and do nothing – that blows my mind – see the holes in the couch.
GROSS: Now, I read that when you were in your teens, you and your mother worked at the same McDonald’s.
MACDOWELL: Yes, we did. Yep, we did.
GROSS: But she got fired because she showed up drunk.
GROSS: What was it like for you to watch your mother be fired? And did you stay on the job after she was forced out?
MACDOWELL: What happened was my mother had lost her driver’s license. She got a DUI. And I was driving her everywhere or she would have to take a cab. And I knew she’d been drinking, but I couldn’t tell if she – I was giving her – you know, gave her some coffee. I couldn’t tell if they were going to be able to tell, and that was her last job before she died. But I went in and spoke to the manager and I, you know, said, please give her the job back. And he said, I can’t. So I quit. I had to quit. I mean, I wasn’t going to keep working there after they fired her. But, you know, my mother got her degree in education. She was a bright woman. She loved to read. She never dated anyone after my father left. She had a very sad life. And I had so many – people tried to help her. I got a letter from her when I had left to go to Paris. She would write me letters, and she wrote me one saying that she had quit drinking. But I never experienced that because she was sober, I think, for about six months before she had her heart attack. She was sober for a very short period of time, and then she had a heart attack. But she did quit drinking. And I still have that letter that she wrote me, which is really heartbreaking.
GROSS: What does it say?
MACDOWELL: That she was – just how proud she was of me and what I was accomplishing, and that I deserved a mother that didn’t drink.
GROSS: Oh, so do you think she stopped drinking because of you?
MACDOWELL: That’s what she said. But, of course, you really stop drinking for your – you know, when you decide to stop drinking. That’s what it is. I did an intervention for my mother when I was in the 12th grade – a failed intervention, unfortunately, but it was an intervention.
GROSS: What did you do?
MACDOWELL: I called everybody and said, I can’t leave her like this. We’ve got to do something. And we took her to my aunt’s house in Columbia. Someone gave her a little bit of Valium, which I think was a huge mistake because I couldn’t communicate with her when we got to the place. We just couldn’t get her out of the car. I think if she had been clean, cold sober, I could have gotten her in. And then we drove her to the state place. There’s, like, the state mental health place on Bull Street in Columbia. And a doctor came down to the car and told us – he said if you do not commit her today, she’ll be dead in five years. But to commit her to the state institution – I don’t know. We just couldn’t do it, so we didn’t do it. So we drove her home. And I remember we got a speeding ticket on the way home. That’s when we finally cried (laughter). My sister and I got pulled over for a speeding ticket. It was just like, how bad can this day be? Then we got home. But I told her – I said, they said, you’re going to be dead in five years. And she quit drinking alcohol. She just drank wine, which I think it did make a difference. It’s not like that pass-out-on-the-floor kind of drunk, you know? She drank lighter. That was the repercussion of that experience.
GROSS: Well, let’s take another break here, and then we’ll talk some more. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Andie MacDowell, and she stars with her adult daughter Margaret Qualley in the new Netflix series “Maid.” We’ll talk more after a short break. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS THILE AND BRAD MEHLDAU’S “INDEPENDENCE DAY”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.
Let’s get back to my interview with Andie MacDowell, one of the stars of the new Netflix series “Maid.” That’s M-A-I-D. MacDowell’s daughter, Margaret Qualley, plays her daughter in the series. MacDowell first became known for her roles in the ’90s, including “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” “Groundhog Day” and “Four Weddings And A Funeral.” She has a dual career as an actor and a model.
I want to ask you about the role that was your breakthrough role. And this was “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” which was Steven Soderbergh’s first feature film that he directed. And this was a big indie hit. So you play Ann, who’s in a marriage with a lawyer, who’s played by Peter Gallagher. And you’re feeling very unfulfilled in this marriage. You don’t yet realize that your husband is having an affair with your sister. And your character is very inhibited and very sexually inhibited. Your sister is the opposite. What did you relate to about this character?
MACDOWELL: I – you know, growing up in the South, I think it wasn’t uncommon, especially because I’m older, that, you know, a lot of people – a lot of girls were taught that sex was dirty. So I knew people like that. But I think it’s not uncommon that some people – women used to feel very insecure about that, about their sexuality.
GROSS: Did you like playing inhibition?
MACDOWELL: I did. It was so much fun. I think anytime you have a character that’s that complex and interesting, that there’s something innately – that you have something really to draw on. It makes everything more interesting. It makes every scene interesting. It colors every aspect of what you do throughout the, you know, the whole movie.
This person is terrified of anything sexual. So everything that she does becomes more interesting. I did a scene with James Spader. And I remember making this choice and being so excited about this choice, where we go to lunch together. And there’s a wine glass. And I was fiddling with the wine glass up and down, with my hand up and down. And you know where I got that idea? (Laughter) It was so funny. I got that idea – when I was 23, I did “David Letterman’s Show” (ph). And I was terrified. I – he had a collapsible cup. And when I was talking to him, I was so nervous and just totally there with him that when – he passed me that collapsible cup without me realizing he had done it. And I took that cup. And I opened it, and I shut it, and I opened it, and I shut it…
MACDOWELL: …As I was talking to him, completely oblivious to what I was doing, earnestly not knowing what I was doing. Then I realized what I was doing. I shut the cup. And I passed it back to him, just mortified. And he just smiled and said, you can keep that.
And I never forgot it. I was like, man, I’m going to use that. So I did in “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” in the scene with James Spader. I was like, OK, that’s where you’re coming from. You’re just looking at this man. You’re so in awe of him. You can’t believe that you’re in this space. You’re having this conversation with him. And you just take the glass and you play with it. So I used it.
GROSS: So as I recall, “Sex, Lies, And Videotape” came out in the very early years of the Sundance Film Festival. And it was a big hit at Sundance. And it was a big hit at, you know, art and indie houses around the country. How did the film change your life?
MACDOWELL: Oh, completely changed my life – before “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” nobody took me seriously. I was broken. I was trash, really. But after “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” I became a well-known actress. And people perceived me as an actress, finally. And it made money. So that’s like – if you do that, then it’s a paradigm. Everything changes in your life. And I started being given jobs. I didn’t even have to audition. It was amazing.
GROSS: How did you get the part in “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray is a weatherman on Groundhog Day, and for some inexplicable reason, he keeps waking up day after day, and exactly the same thing happens day after day after day? And you play his producer. And you’re a kind of like smart, sensitive, you know, really responsible person. And he’s kind of, like, going crazy because no one else is experiencing this repetition day after day the way he is. So how did you get the role in that? That was such a big hit. And it’s still a kind of touchstone film in so many ways. And people are always referring to things as being like “Groundhog Day.”
MACDOWELL: Yes. I love that movie. Harold Ramis saw me in a movie called “The Object Of Beauty” that I did with John Malkovich. It wasn’t a big movie. But it’s a fun movie – very artsy. And he saw me in that. And, of course, he knew me from “Sex, Lies, And Videotape” as well. But he liked what he saw in that movie. And then he wanted me to meet Bill Murray. So basically – they do that quite often. It’s, like, a chemistry read or whatever. They put two people in the same room, and they see how they are together. If they find it’s – you know, there’s, like, electricity between these people or whatever – he wanted to see how we were together. And that’s – and then I got the job (laughter).
GROSS: Yeah, you were good together. What was it like working with Bill Murray? He’s really so brilliant and so eccentric.
MACDOWELL: He’s intense, I have to say. Bill’s not the easiest person in the world I’ve ever met. But he’s brilliant at what he does. And I felt it was really, really important for me not to lay on the comedy. He’s so big. His comic nature and abilities are broad. And they’re perfect. And they’re really good.
And I just played her real and real honest. I just came from her in a very honest, straightforward place and gave Bill all the space to do what Bill does. And the story unfolds. And you take this amazing trip. But yeah, I just think it’s really a great movie. And it holds up. It’s still a great movie. It’s one of those classic films. I think that you can always get pleasure out of it. Yeah, I’m really proud of that movie.
GROSS: You know, you said that before “Sex, Lies, And Videotape” established you as a real actor that you were kind of broken in the industry. And I think one of the reasons why is that your first film was “Greystoke,” which was a kind of back story about Tarzan. And they dubbed your voice.
MACDOWELL: Yeah, that was horrible.
GROSS: They had Glenn Close, like, dub your voice. And you didn’t even know that that was happening.
MACDOWELL: That’s correct.
GROSS: Was that because of your Southern accent?
MACDOWELL: I guess, you know, I – you know, it was my very first movie. I was 23. No one ever said, we don’t like the way you sound. So I – no one was ever clear or straightforward. So I was – it was all unbeknownst to me. And it was really a hard thing to get out of, you know, to move beyond that. It was a decision for myself. I decided to do that. I make a joke out of it now because I tell people – I just said, I did it for my grandchildren that I still don’t have.
GROSS: But you did what?
MACDOWELL: I kept working. I had to. I could not let that be my legacy. I had to make it. I had to make it because I couldn’t leave it like that. It was just too mortifying for that to be me, that that was my story. And I had just got into class. I worked really hard. I worked – I went – started going into – I took classes. I watched movies. I worked with, you know, very – I spent money, good money (laughter), with good coaching. I did a lot of coaching. I did voice lessons. I worked on my accent. I did – you know, I worked on just the resonance of my voice, of understanding where your voice comes from. I did everything.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Andie MacDowell, one of the stars of the new Netflix series “Maid.” We’ll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAOMI MOON SIEGEL’S “IT’S NOT SAFE”)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Andie MacDowell. She stars with her daughter, Margaret Qualley, in the new Netflix series “Maid.”
When you started acting in the ’80s and then when your career started to take off around ’89 with “Sex, Lies, And Videotape,” it was a period when women didn’t have the voice in the movie industry that they have now. Like, now you have women writing and directing and producing, looking for women’s stories to tell or for stories where women are at least very prominent and subtly written. So what did you feel you were up against when you were trying to establish yourself?
GROSS: And in the years after that, after you had established yourself.
MACDOWELL: I think I – you know, I had three children. So honestly, what I was doing was focusing on my children and then, when I knew it was time for me to work, looking. So I would look for something that was appropriate for me that I felt that I would be good in and then go and try to get that job. That was my 30s. My 40s, everybody started asking me, how does it feel to turn 40 and know that you’re never going to work again? I mean, literally, that’s what they said to me. I had the craziest things said to me when I turned 40. I remember going to a film festival and this journalist saying, how does it feel to get older and lose your beauty? I just couldn’t believe it.
GROSS: (Laughter) Thank you very much.
MACDOWELL: I know. I did laugh. I have to say, I did laugh. And I felt for her because she must really feel that way. That’s what I thought. She was in her 20s, and I was like, oh, my gosh, that’s what you think of me, and that’s going to be you. You know, you’re next, right? And I told her – I said, I – you know, I really don’t feel like I’m losing my beauty; I just feel like it’s a different kind of beauty. You know, we evolve, and we age, and this is part of the process. But we don’t do this to men. I said, why are you asking me this question? And that – but that was a normal question back then.
GROSS: You’ve been a model and spokesperson for L’Oreal cosmetics for – what? – 35 years.
MACDOWELL: Yes, 35 years. I know. It’s just amazing. It’s been a huge gift for me, the large – just an unbelievable relationship to have such a long – I love long-term relationships, I think.
MACDOWELL: You know, they’re an accomplishment, right? They really are. Being able to say, I’ve accomplished – I didn’t accomplish a marriage, but I did accomplish a 35-year relationship with L’Oreal. And I do think that’s something to be proud of.
GROSS: It’s interesting that after you turned 40, you felt like you were shunned in Hollywood, that it was really hard to get good roles, and people didn’t expect you to because you were – you know, you were over the hill. But you were able to keep modeling cosmetics, which is all about looks, for 35 years, you know? And you’re still doing it.
MACDOWELL: I’m still doing it. And I do feel like things have gotten better for women.
GROSS: Well, how do you think the cosmetics industry has changed in terms of how it sees women of different generations?
MACDOWELL: Well, I think one of the reason I stayed with L’Oreal is it was important to them to carry that message that women age, and aging is not about losing your beauty. I think that was something that was really important for their company. And they always used – have used women – older women. They have Jane Fonda, who’s 80 years old; Helen Mirren, who I think is about 10 years older than me. So I think it’s in – been important for them to represent women of all ages in the company. And that – and also, I do think it has an influence on how we are perceived as women. When you have beautiful women out there being, you know, spokespeople or models, whatever you want to call them, for cosmetics, I think it really is important to see women like that and dress beautifully and going out and being glamorous and loved and accepted.
The funny thing that has happened for me, though, now that I’ve gone silver-haired, is there is – I think the younger generation loves me more for that because I’m getting that from my daughters. First, my daughters were the ones that inspired me. My hair started going silver during COVID, and my daughters were staying next door to me. And we’re – you know, we’re kind of trapped here, like everybody else, so they saw me all the time. And they would say to me, you look badass, and you’ve got to keep this. You can’t – you’ve got to keep it. They would say that to me constantly. And I fell in love with it, and I decided to keep it. And I have to say, I’ve never felt more beautiful. I really – I’m not saying that everybody has to go do this, that all women should stop – my two older sisters will color their hair until they die. They’re just – that’s their personalities. But it suits me, and I think it’s – I think it’s been embraced by so many people. And I like that. I like that people are comfortable with me getting older. I think that’s an important message for all of us – that we, you know, we get older, and we are beautiful.
GROSS: So one of the products that you’ve done ad campaigns for is wrinkle cream to prevent wrinkles. And my impression is, like most people in television and movies, especially most women in televisions and movies, that you’ve had some work done. So like, you don’t have the wrinkles that most women…
MACDOWELL: I haven’t had any work done.
GROSS: Really? That’s remarkable. Wow.
MACDOWELL: Nada, nada. And if you saw me in person, you would see it – nothing.
MACDOWELL: I don’t even have Botox. So I have nothing – nothing on my face, but just me. But I will tell you, I think genetically, I have good skin. My grandmother supposedly had really good skin. I get facials. I get facials. I tried Botox. I don’t like it. But I haven’t had any plastic surgery. I think about it. I think about doing it.
GROSS: What’s in the pro and con column when you think about it?
MACDOWELL: Well, I went in to talk to this lady in Beverly Hills that does filler. I just wanted to hear what she would say. And she was pushing me to do a neck lift and pull up my side (ph). And it’s interesting when they show you. Like, they can show you what you would look like. And you’ll sit there and contemplate it, you know, because – I got the little, you know, stuff underneath my chin, and my neck is soft. And I’m a little – got a little jowl-y thing going on, you know? And you can – you’re tempted. You look at it, and you’re tempted.
And then I left that place. And I was like, I’m never going to go back in there ever again. It terrifies me to death that I would contemplate something like that. But you know, it’s – I think it’s – I think aging is something that you either have to decide you like it or you don’t. And really, it’s a choice. I don’t belittle anyone for making the choice. Here’s my problem. Here’s my problem. My eye sees everything. It sees everything. And I kind of like the aging better than the process, if you know what I mean.
GROSS: You mean you like people’s natural faces as they age more than the…
MACDOWELL: Yeah, than seeing – I can see the work.
MACDOWELL: I see the work.
GROSS: I’ve heard so many actors say that they don’t want or they didn’t want their children to become actors because it’s such a brutal profession with so much rejection, and so few people actually succeed when you look at all the people who try to become actors. So when your daughters first decided they wanted to go into the business (laughter), how did you feel about it?
MACDOWELL: I think mostly I was honored because – and I’ve always worried that I was away from them too much. And I would say to them, even when they were younger, I remember saying, particularly to Rainey, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to leave you. And she would go, please don’t do that; I’m so proud of you. And it made me – then I started thinking, oh, OK, I’m teaching her that it’s OK as a woman to do both. And – but it was still hard for me. You know, I felt guilt that I wasn’t there all the time.
So for me, it was another message that I hadn’t done anything wrong because I had this guilt complex. And that’s the only perspective I thought of. I didn’t really. I didn’t think it through too much about rejection. I think I did – I did talk to them about that. I talked to them about rejection, emphasis on weight – I hate that – you know, the how you’re never going to feel good enough, beautiful enough – you know, how hard it is. I did tell them all that, and then they still wanted to do it. So you know, I mean, they’re happy. They’re creative souls, creative beings. And they love what they do, so I understand that.
GROSS: Well, I want to congratulate you on the success of “Maid” and your performance in it. Thank you so much, Andie MacDowell, for talking with us.
MACDOWELL: Thank you so much for talking to me. I’m honored to be on your show and to be speaking with you.
GROSS: Andie MacDowell stars with her daughter Margaret Qualley in the Netflix series “Maid.” That’s M-A-I-D.
Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli reviews the revival of the Showtime series “Dexter.” This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET’S “CAROLINA SHOUT”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.