Wearing a light sweater, a tank top, jeans and a warm smile,she exudes no movie star pretension whatsoever. In fact, as she settlesin to a chair at the end of her suite's dining room table, she seems likeany other working mom. I half expected her to offer me glass of iced teaand start talking about the PTA.
In town to promote "TheGeneral's Daughter," her new film withJohn Travolta, instead of bringing up the PTA she's on a surprisingly on-the-leveltact about the movie biz and is genuinely interested in having a conversationrather than a prefabricated Q&A. In fact, our rendezvous starts witha question from Stowe, inquiring about the PowerBook that I whip out totake notes on. She's none too savvy when it comes to computers, she confesses,asking how one moves around on the internet.
Well, you type in a web address or click on a link.
"Click on?" she asks earnestly. "Is thatthe thing you do with the mouse?"
Stowe may be (completely!) out of touch with computer technology,but she's certainly hasn't lost contact with the kind of honesty that Hollywoodusually sucks right out of people. Even when asked a generic question like"what drew you to this film," she fails to go on movie promotionautopilot, giving the kind of a candid reply a coached and career-drivenmovie star would never utter:
"I had been out of the loop for so long," shesays without hesitation. "This was a big studio picture. I realizedthe importance of being in a picture that has a high profile."
Returning to the loop after a couple years' break for thebirth and infancy of her daughter, Stowe is considerably more carefreeand chipper than the victim-with-stamina types she often plays ("Afteryou have a kid you're just so happy to be alive," she says), althoughher asymmetrical, porcelain features betray the same vulnerable yet confidentfemininity.
Susan Sunhill, the rape investigator she plays in "TheGeneral's Daughter," is a variation on this recurring role. A veteranof the army's Criminal Investigation Division who specializes in crimesagainst women, Stowe's performance suggests indirectly that the charactermay have a personal history with such crimes that drives her determinationto solve the seemingly twisted murder of a beautiful, young captain.
Although this character is trying to put her victimhoodbehind her, Stowe acknowledges her proclivity toward playing such roles.
"They have a tendency to get beaten up or thrown offa cliff, I know," she admits with an ironic laugh. "Why doesthat happen with me?"
She decries Hollywood's current preponderance toward choosingmurder, mayhem and profit over developing a social conscience and, whenprodded, modestly chimes in on the raging children and entertainment violencedebate, saying, "When you just dump a kid in front of a TV, hell yesit's going to affect them."
Then comes that unguarded sincerity again. "I don'tthink I can complain about it because I haven't done a thing to changeit," she says frankly. "I feel really weird about this becauseI've made so many movies with violence in them. (But) if someone offeredme $10 zillion to do something violent, I'd probably do it. I don't knowabout my integrity."
No doubt she was paid considerably less than $10 zillionfor "The General's Daughter," which director Simon West ("ConAir") shamefully milks for shock valueand mayhem by revisiting the murder and exploiting the murdered girl'sviolent sexual peccadilloes. But Stowe says, albeit indirectly and diplomatically,that the picture was a different animal when she signed on.
An admirer of the Nelson DeMille novel on which the movieis based, Stowe avows to an altered finale and talks fondly of a complex,ex-lover interplay between the two CID detectives that she and Travoltaplay, "which made it more interesting for me." But, to her obviousdisappointment, most of that subplot was left on the cutting room floorafter test audiences had trouble following both the murder investigationand the relationship. (She says it's already been determined to restorethose scenes when the movie comes out on DVD.)
While she's open about her reservations concerning "TheGeneral's Daughter" and is even willing to, in a roundabout way, hintat a disagreement with the director's style ("Simon tends to leaveyou alone," she says, then when asked what she likes in a director,she replies "I like to be bossed around."), she's often muchharder on herself. Asked about the widely-panned 1994 Western "BadGirls," the pained look of a TV commercial migraine sufferer crossesher face. "That was just a movie that should never have been made.I was horrible in it. I look at it and think, You stiff! Just die!"
On the other hand, Stowe has nothing but praise for herco-stars, especially James Woods, who plays the murdered girl's commandingofficer and a prime suspect.
"I had so much fun with him. We would have huge fightsin the makeup trailer every day about Clinton and Lewinski," she laughs,recalling that while they were having fun with the debate, the crew sometimesmistook their heated exchanges for malevolence and thought they might haveto separate the two actors. "He hates Bill Clinton. He went on (PBSradio's) Fresh Air and called him a sociopath! Jimmy is the poster boyfor bad behavior, but he's also just a total doll."
Another contemporary Stowe adores is her "12 Monkeys"director Terry Gilliam, who has asked her to play a part in "The ManWho Killed Don Quixote," a film he's trying to win financing for now.
If the project gets the green light, we might in a yearor 18 months get to find out what Stowe really thinks of possible co-starsJohnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and possibly Robin Williams. That is, if herastonishing honesty doesn't beget her a studio babysitter on her next presstour.