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June 6, 1999
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SJP


Stepping into the breach
By BOB THOMPSON


HOLLYWOOD -- Madeleine Stone-face is a tag Madeleine Stowe doesn't appreciate.

Jokes are not her specialty, but she refuses to describe herself as humourless. Uncompromising, opinionated, stubborn are descriptions she's more comfortable with. Add willing to accept a challenge at a moment's notice.

And she doesn't have to confirm that last one, because her actions spoke louder than her words.

When director Simon West needed a last-minute replacement to play opposite John Travolta in The General's Daughter (opening in a few weeks), she was called. Stowe, without a lot of fuss, was on the Georgia set from her Texas home within days.

In the murder-mystery, Travolta plays an undercover detective working for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division assigned to the base camp murder of a general's daughter. Stowe plays a another detective and former girlfriend of Travolta's investigator. Also featured are Timothy Hutton, James Woods, Clarence Williams III and James Cromwell.

Stowe merely shrugs when she's asked about the pressure and her instant character preparation.

"I never saw this movie as having substance," she says candidly.

"I did come to it at the last minute, but it wasn't a problem. It was well written."

By all accounts, it was well performed, too. We'll see what moviegoers think in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old Stowe is back at her Texas ranch she shares with her adolescent daughter and her husband Brian Benben, who starred in the TV's syndicated series Dream On.

Both made a decision to leave this movie industry town more than a few years ago, and Stowe, in her typical upfront style, doesn't regret the escape "from the fakery."

The L.A. native never fit here anyway, not since her debut on TV's Barretta 22 years ago. Her movie career has been as erratic as she was ambivalent about it.

Actually, it took Stowe 10 years of gruelling bit parts and cameos on TV and movies to get noticed in the film industry. That happened with her role in Stakeout.

Subsequent misfires, such as The Two Jakes with Jack Nicholson and Revenge with Kevin Costner, stalled her upward climb.

In 1992, her performance in The Last Of The Mohicans and 12 Monkeys helped a lot. Parts in bombs such as Unlawful Entry, Bad Girls and China Moon did not.

Most agree that The General's Daughter performance should get her career moving in the right direction again. That doesn't modify Stowe's outspoken nature and her honesty about herself.

Like when she admits she can get distracted when she focuses on a task at hand. Like the time tornadoes touched down near the Georgia set of The General's Daughter.

"I was in the middle of having a fight with my husband on the telephone. And they were knocking on my trailer door," recalls Stowe with a smile.

"I said rather sternly, 'I'll be out in a minute.'

"But they were screeching at me to get me out of there. So I opened the door and said, 'What? Oh.' "

No injuries. No major damage. No lost nights of sleep for Stowe. "I live in Texas, tornado alley," she reminds.

She gets a lot more serious when the subject turns to violence in films, since The General's Daughter does have some action sequences.

"I'm a little frightened by it all," she says, referring to the recent killings at high schools, including the murders at Littleton, Colo.

"There must be something happening in the wiring of the brains. I am really astonished at the number of violent acts.

"I'm not saying that the movies created these situations, because there are a whole bunch of things.

"But a lot of people in the movie industry tend to run and hide from it like ostriches. Movie industry people are definitely in denial right now, but you do become de-sensitized to violence when you see it on the screen so often.

"Let's face it," she says, "violence exists for one reason in movies, and that's to get an effect, create an emotion, sell tickets."

She's hoping The General's Daughter is less flagrant in that regard.

Meanwhile, Stowe's back to chuckling about the recent mini-controversy over her co-starring in Impostor, originally designed as one-third of a trilogy.

"Actually," reports Stowe shaking her head at the mercurial movie industry, "they're trying to turn Impostor into a full-length film.

"Which I feel very like this about it all. It's part of Alien Love Triangle. Danny Boyle did the first one, and then Gary Fleder did the second one, Impostor. And Miramax is so in love with it, they're trying to push us all into the movie of that this fall. But unless it's the right script, I say why mess with something that's perfect right now. It's perfect. It's just remarkable."

The producer, the director, the associates, all listened to her politely on the subject. Then the bosses will do what they want anyway, she says. That's life in the movies.

Maybe that's why Stowe isn't always as playful as she might be -- even with her "adorable husband."

"Yeah, yeah," she says. "And he gives me lots of pet names.

"Which ones? I have to think, because there are so many.

"Uh, Snaggletooth. He calls me Snaggletooth. He calls me Funch and Cakers. Funch for Funnybunch. Cakers? From Babycakes."

Ahhh, and what do you call him?

"Nothing," says Stowe. "And he gets very upset at me because of that."

The MADELEINE STOWE File

GREW UP: In Los Angeles, daughter of a Costa Rican mother and WASP, civil engineer father who died in '83. Discovered as an 18-year-old USC journalism student, handing out programs at a theatre in Beverly Hills.


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