Madeleine Stowe's Second Act

Nearly two decades ago, she abandoned an A-list movie career to live on a Texas ranch and raise her daughter. Today, 'Revenge' star Stowe is the toast of TV, performing heroic deeds in Haiti—and showing that the best of life can begin at any age

by Margot Dougherty
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Photograph: Peggy Sirota

Under agent Mishkin’s direction, Stowe’s acting career grew slowly. As a wide-eyed Mary in 1978’s The Nativity, she convinced a befuddled Joseph (John Shea) that she had conceived their child through an angel—a far cry from her steamy embraces with Kevin Costner in a 1990 movie called (coincidentally) Revenge and a comic grapple that same year with Jack Nicholson in his Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes. “I felt very free,” Stowe says of those scenes. “I still do.” Which explains Victoria Grayson’s lusty Revenge interlude with an old beau played by James Purefoy. “The network was like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do with this?’ ” says Stowe. “But it’s psychological. You’re not seeing anything explicit. I feel very relaxed about it.” Nor does she expect Benben to object. “Brian did Dream On!” says his wife. “He had at least one naked woman in bed every episode.”

Though she has lived with Benben since late 1980 and has been wed to him for nearly 26 years, Stowe claims she’s “the worst person” to approach for marriage tips. “I’ve never known a perfect marriage,” she says. “We’ve definitely had peaks and valleys. I hate saying that marriage is work, because I don’t think of it that way, but sometimes you find yourselves on different paths. Then you converge again. I think our convergences are longer in duration than our separate paths.” It no doubt helps that she considers Benben “the funniest human being you’ll ever meet.”

It was 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans that made Hollywood stand up and take notice of Stowe. “She was absolutely terrific,” says Michael Mann, who helmed the movie. “As a director, you start out imagining what you want the character to be. With Madeleine, she was all that and more. She could be extreme, and you can only do that if you’re totally authentic. In every way—intellectually, hormonally—she was this character. She gave everything to those moments.”

And those moments begat more moments. She landed roles in Short Cuts, China Moon and Blink. She starred opposite Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys and joined Drew Barrymore, Andie MacDowell and Mary Stuart Masterson for an all-female gunslinger posse in Bad Girls. It was going on location for that film, which was shot near Fredericksburg, that convinced Stowe to buy up a chunk of Texas and relocate.

She stayed there for more than a decade. Then, six years ago, she and Benben moved back to L.A., where Stowe continued to revise and peddle her script. “This is my thing, and Brian’s stepped away from it,” she says. “He’s an unusual man that way.” Different actors and directors showed interest, but the movie never lifted off. Then she turned 50 and had an epiphany: Instead of playing the lead (a woman now much younger than she), Stowe would direct. “I’m visually oriented,” she says. “It seemed like the right thing to do.” Since she made that decision, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz have signed on to star, Oscar winner John Toll (Braveheart) is on board as the cinematographer, and the funding is falling into place. “I’m on fire with this idea of what I want this film to be and bringing together these incredibly gifted people and having a dynamic conversation,” she says. Director Terry Gilliam, known for his works of mad genius (Brazil, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), gives his 12 Monkeys star a thumbs-up. “Madeleine’s been so determined to do what she wants to do in her own way,” he says from his home in London. “She’s pigheaded and smart, and she knows film. She’s got it.”

First Published May 22, 2012 First published in the June 2012 issue

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