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

Unbound Captives is not Stowe’s only passion project. In 2008 her friend Haggis invited her to Haiti to meet Father Rick Frechette, a physician and Catholic priest dedicated to providing the country’s poor with essentials for living. Haggis heads up Artists for Peace and Justice, a group that helps fund Father Frechette’s work with the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, and he asked Stowe to join him for the same reason he asked her to be the centerpiece of his boys’ night: “She’s ballsy, and she can hold her own.”

Many celebrities have gravitated to Haiti, but, Father Frechette says, “it’s easy for us to see who’s here for adventure and who’s here for commitment. From the start, Madeleine was here for commitment. We engage in a lot of dialogue about a lot of things: the horrors we see, the things we’re planning, what crazy idea might be worth trying out. Her feedback is poignant and astute and wise.” Ironically, the exposure-phobic actress has persuaded the priest to increase his visibility. Stowe burnished his website and accompanied him to Washington to explain his progress and the need for funds.

Since 2008, Stowe has flown to Haiti several times a year. If she’s in the country on a Thursday, she goes with Father Frechette and his team on their weekly trip to Port-au-Prince’s public morgue, helping to slip bloated corpses into body bags and tucking a rosary into each before taking them for burial. “It’s tragic,” she says. “Little babies are the hardest to see. The men have to light cigarettes and drink rum to obliterate the stench—which I can’t do because I’d be on the floor. These guys are committed to taking the dead on to the next world. They sing incredible Creole songs.” The work is difficult, but Stowe loves it. “It connects me to the living,” she says. “I see these broken bodies as a reminder of what has to be done down there.”

Once again, her father’s specter looms. Caring for him, Stowe says, gave her the wherewithal to persevere through the most heart-wrenching moments in Haiti: “While I’m there, I experience the joy of the people who are living. When I come home, I weep. It’s a little like PTSD. But within a week, I’m dying to get back there.” In October at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, Father Frechette’s order of priests, the Passionists, will present Stowe, Haggis and the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli awards for their support in Haiti.

With her TV show, her film project and her commitment to bringing attention to Haiti, it’s unlikely that in the near future anyone will be asking where Madeleine Stowe has gone. Still, the star predicts, she will “probably continue to drop off the face of the earth from time to time.” In your fifties, she believes, “you really want to put the burn on, to do as many things in life as possible, go where you haven’t been, experience what you haven’t experienced, leave a body of work that’s significant to you. I feel very good about this period of time.”

Next: Behind the Scenes with Madeleine Stowe

Related: Chelsea Handler's Dirty Secrets

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

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