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Engage for Charlotte Observer
Posted at 1:07 p.m. EDT Friday, July 13, 2001
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The two lives of Andie MacDowell

The Hollywood actress plays her most cherished roles in Asheville: Raising her three children and working for charity

Religion Editor

FLAT ROCK -- She goes by two names, which makes sense, since she leads two lives.

Around Asheville, she's Rose Qualley - mother of three, faithful church-goer, active in charitable circles, getting ready to build a Tudor-style home in fashionable Biltmore Forest.

Everywhere else, she's the movie star with long, dark, curly hair and a smile that is part sexy, part girl-next-door.

Prepare to plunk down $7.50 for any one of the three movies she has coming out, plus a fourth on HBO. Turn on the TV and there she is laughing at Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." Click, there she is making goo-goo eyes at John Travolta in "Michael." Click again and there she is selling L'Oreal to women drawn to the beauty of celebrity.

The face behind the makeup, of course, is Andie MacDowell. But that's only half the story. Get past the great looks, popular movies and all that star power and what you have is a 43-year-old woman who'd just as soon be home in Asheville, going by her given first name, playing a different role:

Good-hearted Rose.

Camps, kids and cookies

At the Cannes Film Festival, they ask her the same question over and over: Why does she always play sweet, if slightly befuddled, characters? (Because playing a horrible one would be "Yuck!" she tells us.)

At Andie's Camp for Kids, where youngsters with diabetes come to the N.C. mountains for a week of fun and games, the kids have a different reaction when they meet their benefactor at the climbing wall near the woods.

"SHE HAS A FIGHT SCENE WITH MISS PIGGY!" shrieks 9-year-old Olivia Cullipher of Mebane, giving thumbs up to MacDowell's cameo in "Muppets from Space."

A star with a larger ego might have been hurt that no one mentioned her breakthrough role as a repressed wife in the 1989 "sex, lies and videotape." Or her star turn as Hugh Grant's leading lady in the lovable 1994 comedy, "Four Weddings and a Funeral." (One writer said she made sexual allure seem wholesome.)

But about the time she starts cackling like she did in the 1999 Muppet movie, it's clear MacDowell is OK with being famous opposite Miss Piggy. She hugs this child, poses with that one and brags to all, "Hey, I can make some really good chocolate-chip cookies."

MacDowell has come to the camp that bears her name to visit the children. She is also here to raise attention and money for her cause. Working through the Ruth and Billy Graham Children's Health Center, she sponsors separate summer camps for children with diabetes, cancer and asthma.

Such is her life of celebrity and charity, MacDowell closed a brief visit to the camp near Hendersonville recently by telling the children "God bless you all," then dashed off to catch a plane to New York for a L'Oreal shoot.

From Gaffney to Hollywood

This is confusing stuff if you're not grounded enough to handle it. But if you grew up in Gaffney, S.C., a child of divorce who helped care for a mother troubled by alcohol, stardom cannot blind you to what matters most.

Much of MacDowell's story is familiar to Carolinians and die-hard Hollywood fans.

She dropped out of Winthrop in Rock Hill in the late '70s to pursue a modeling career, then made her film debut in 1984 in "Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." It would be just another video on the Blockbuster shelves if not for one bizarre footnote. Worried about MacDowell's Southern accent, the movie brain trust dubbed in the voice of Glenn Close.

The Rev. Don Inlay, one of her pastors at Central United Methodist in Asheville, said MacDowell jokes how, after that fiasco, there was nowhere to go in movies but up.

In the 17 years since Tarzan, MacDowell has become a fixture in films, usually in a supporting role as the affable leading lady to the hottest men in Hollywood - Travolta, Hugh Grant, Andy Garcia and others. She's appeared twice on People magazine's Most Beautiful People list. Her L'Oreal spots, with the trademark phrase "Because I'm worth it," are inescapable.

She's probably not going to challenge Meryl Streep for the title of Most Brilliant Thespian. A fans' Web site - "Carolina Rose: An Andie MacDowell Site" - includes an answer to Andie-bashers who say she's just a pretty, often expressionless, face.

"Apparently," one Andie-backer writes on the site, "some can't appreciate a performance unless it is presented in grand, sweeping, emotional gestures."

While critics snipe and supporters defend, MacDowell is happy to live far from the glare - first on a ranch near Missoula, Montana, with her then-husband, former model Paul Qualley, and now as a recent divorcee raising three children in Asheville. MacDowell naturally prefers not talking about the divorce.

Let them debate her talent in Hollywood; she's finding meaningful things to do in North Carolina.

"I don't really need more attention than what I'm getting," she said. "I really do think God put me in the place he put me."

Her favorite role

MacDowell limits her film work to five months a year - she recently threw out 15 scripts that had gathered dust on her nightstand. That gives her the other seven months for her favorite role: Rose, dedicated mother and devoted Christian.

She raises money for her summer camps, organized through the Grahams' children's health center in Asheville. That was MacDowell in a head-turning sequin gown, cohosting an 80th birthday gala for Ruth Graham last year at the Grove Park Inn.

She does good turns all over the Carolinas - speaking at this year's opening of Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, accepting the key to the city from Asheville and an honorary degree from Lander College in Greenwood, S.C., for her good works.

"I feel like I have a guardian angel watching over me," MacDowell told Lander graduates that day.

She spends time with her four siblings and father, all of whom live within a couple hours of Asheville. Her mother died when she was 23.

She dotes on her children - Justin, 14, Rainey, 12, and Sarah Margaret, 6. (She clearly prefers keeping them out of the spotlight. The only time her body language seemed to say "Next question" was when the conversation turned personal.)

Raised Episcopalian, she's a regular at Central United Methodist, even agreeing to speak at a luncheon once about living out your faith in the work place. "She was real nervous," noted associate pastor Don Inlay. "She said, `I'm used to reading what other people write. Now I have to do my own thing.'"

She doesn't even mind when the celebrity life seeps innocently into real life, as when the Dowden Sisters finished performing spiritual/bluegrass music once in church and asked MacDowell for an autograph.

Inlay recalled MacDowell's reaction: "She said, `You guys are wonderful. I should ask for your autograph.'"

Figuring it all out

You're sitting in rocking chairs on a gorgeous morning in the N.C. mountains, talking to one of the best-known actresses around. You're naturally curious to get the scoop on Willis (she starred with Bruce in "Hudson Hawk") and Beatty (she appears with Warren in the current semi-bomb comedy "Town and Country").

And yet here she is in unglamorous blue jeans and hiking boots, gripping a cup of coffee, refusing to surrender to idle celebrity chatter. Instead, she turns the conversation toward the book she's reading, "The Ragamuffin Gospel," and the challenges we face.

"We're all ragamuffins," MacDowell says. "We're dealing with the day-in and day-out of life, trying to figure it out."

And just like that, it's clear:

Andie MacDowell - Rose, really - is succeeding where so many fail.

Despite two names and two lives, she knows who she is.

She has figured it out.

Ken Garfield: (705) 358-5094;; The Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308.

Andie at the Blumenthal
Andie MacDowell will be in Charlotte July 30 for a benefit premiere of her new movie, "Dinner with Friends," airing Aug. 11 on HBO. Story, Page 5E.

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