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March 17, 1988 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-03-17

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One Woman, 3-0

Mary Steenburgen
gives depth and weight
to ordinary roles
Here is the secret of Mary Steenbur-
gen's extraordinary acting talent:
she doesn't just create characters. As
she puts it, "I've always had a passion about
taking the written word and turning it into
a living, breathing person." In nearly every
one of her film roles, Steenburgen has por-
trayed ordinary women, including her Os-
car-winning performance in "Melvin and
Howard" (1980), but she has made them
seem special. Not by flaunting her heart on
her sleeve, nor by baring her soul in bold-
face, but by accentuating those essential
qualities that make us human. She creates
weight-more than just the reflection of
projected light. She creates depth-in a
two-dimensional medium, she's a one-
woman 3-D effect. In short, she creates peo-
ple who are real.
And it may be because Mary Steenbur-
gen, 35, is, herself, a real person. She's not a
creature of Hollywood-an ego on two legs
who treats life like an audition. She lives
with her husband, actor Malcolm McDow-
ell, and their two kids, Lilly, seven, and
Charlie, four and a half, in the mountains
near Santa Barbara-about a 90-minute
drive from Los Angeles. After finishing
"Cross Creek" (1983) and at a point when
her career was going full tilt, Steenburgen
decided to stay home for two years and take
care of her children. In other words, she

Creating real people: With Lisa Jacobs in 7'
doesn't always do what's best for her career.
"A lot of people are very concerned with
their career," she says. "It's almost like an
entity that walks alongside them. I love the
actual act of acting, but I don't consider my
career as something to be nurtured and fed.
At times I've almost starved it."
Steenburgen's career is about to go from
famine to feast. She will make her network-
television debut on the forthcoming CBS
movie "The Attic: The Hiding of Anne
Frank," about the Dutch woman who shel-
tered the Frank family during the second

world war. And a movie for which she was
executive producer and had a minor role,
"End of the Line," is currently going into
national release. Shejust completed a small
role in a Woody Allen picture. And in May
she will begin work on a film adaptation of a
Beth Henley play, "The Miss
Firecracker Contest," with Hol-
ly Hunter and Alfre Woodard.
"I feel good about my career
even though I'm not the No. 1
box-office attraction," she says.
Natural courage: "The Attic," to
air in mid-April on CBS, tells
the story of Miep Gies, the
Dutch woman who sheltered
eight Jews, including the fam-
ily of diarist Anne Frank, dur-
ing World War II when Nazis
were deporting them from
Amsterdam to concentration
camps. By hiding Jews, Gies
risked extreme punishment
from the Germans, and, by re-
sorting to forged coupons to
feed everyone at a highly ra-
tioned time, she compounded
the danger. In her perform-
ance, Steenburgen shows how
naturally courage and decency
;N ARNSTEIN flowed from this unpretentious
ie Attic' woman. While filming on loca-
tion, Steenburgen got to meet
Gies: "I said, 'I guess you felt like you were
mother to eight people.' She said, 'Yes'."
For "End of the Line," Steenburgen
acted as executive producer for the first
time. She took the job to make a personal
statement about her home state of Arkan-
sas. Steenburgen, and the film's director,
Jay Russell, come from around North Lit-
tle Rock. Although Steenburgen acted as a
reference for Russell's Columbia Universi-
ty film-school application, they met only
after she'd read the script for "End of the
Line," the story of two longtime railroad
workers who fight back when they lose
their jobs. She immediately agreed to work
on the picture, which stars Wilford Brim-
ley and Levon Helm, as well as Kevin Ba-
con, Bob Balaban and Holly Hunter. "Al-
though I play a very small part, it's the film
that's most personal to me. It could have
been about my father," says the daughter
of a man who was a conductor on the Mis-
souri Pacific line for 38 years.
Working as a producer, says Steenbur-
gen, was "a pain in the ass." Amazingly
enough, for someone who had to pay strict
attention to details to bring "End of the
Line" in for a ridiculously low budget of $3
million, she says, "I live in a daydream,
sensorial world, and linear thought is so
hard for me. My seven-year-old looks at me
all the time and says, 'Concentrate'."
Steenburgen is prone to term herself "a
flake." We should all be so flaky.



A personal film: Relaxing with Bacon (left) director Russell of 'End of the Line'



APRIL 1988

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