With farming and the outdoors in her blood,
the actress and model is a nature girl at heart.
By Allan Richter
If Andie MacDowell’s character seems particularly at home in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the setting of what has become a modern classic, “Groundhog Day,” it may have something to do with the actress and model’s affinity for small town and rural life. Now that MacDowell’s son and two daughters are grown, she is preparing to move back to her Montana ranch for a taste of the simple life with which she was raised in South Carolina.
“I want to have chickens again. I want to grow my own food. I’d like to have goats. I’d like to have goat milk. I want to make goat cheese. I want to do all that again,” MacDowell tells us in a recent interview.
These days, the actress known for “Groundhog Day,” “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and other films can be seen on both the big and small screens.
In “Mighty Fine,” an independent film about a family transplanted from Brooklyn to New Orleans, she stars with her daughter Rainey Qualley (this year’s Miss Golden Globe). And in the ABC Family network’s “Jane By Design,” MacDowell is a tough-as-nails fashion diva and the oldest actor on set. The cable network has ordered eight more episodes of the series, which launched in January.
Nothing underscores age more than working with younger actors, but MacDowell, who turns 54 this month, is quite comfortable in the role. “I’m really enjoying doing ‘Jane.’ I love working with the kids,” MacDowell says. “It’s interesting because in the beginning I think they had me on some kind of pedestal, but I’m completely off of it now.”
A testament to her timeless beauty, MacDowell continues to model as a L’Oreal spokeswoman. “I’m still public and saying to women, ‘You can be beautiful in your 50s’ and ‘beauty is not about age,’” she says. “Diane Keaton is there saying the same thing. Jane Fonda is there saying the same thing. We’ve evolved a lot in the time period that I’ve been in the beauty business.”
MacDowell spoke to us in New York, where she was on a press tour promoting “Jane By Design.”
Energy Times: Tell me about the heritage of farming and nature in your family.
Andie MacDowell: My mother was actually in the forefront of organic farming. We weren’t really farmers, but we had a garden in our backyard, and she was composting when I was in high school.
So back in ’74 my mother composted. That’s very early. I have no idea where she heard about it, but she grew up on a farm, and maybe that was why she was drawn to it. My mother grew up on a farm in Allendale, South Carolina. Her brothers still are big-time farmers down there. They grow everything and have cattle and all that. My mother’s family even made their own ketchup. They made everything themselves. They didn’t buy anything, so there were no preservatives in anything they had.
I grew up loving vegetables. I grew up eating healthy foods and had a love of vegetables. I remember tying up the tomatoes with her stockings and pieces of sticks. We grew our own tomatoes in the backyard, and we had plum trees and we would make homemade preserves with the plums. We had a big huge pecan tree, and we were always picking the pecans and cracking them and saving them in the freezer. I loved yellow squash, and zucchini. We didn’t have enough space for corn, but that’s one of the things I always looked forward to, and I still do, is sweet corn, white corn. I don’t think you need to put anything on it. I loved okra and green beans. I just grew up eating vegetables like that. For me it’s like candy. I grew up being exposed to what I would call real foods. I did the same thing for my kids; they feel the same way.
ET: How did your father’s side of the family influence you?
AM: My dad got his degree in forestry. I think in his senior year he met a man in the lumber business and became a lumber broker. He knows trees really well, and so I think more than other kids I grew up loving trees and did a lot of hiking and spending time in the woods. He loved to be in the woods, too, and that’s a big part of how I grew up.
I still spend a lot of time in the woods. I’m an avid hiker and have a ranch out in Montana, where I’m a tree farmer. It’s an easement with the Montana Land Reliance [a non-profit land trust that preserves and conserves private lands], so it’s protected and can never be developed. So I have a large piece of property that’s in an easement that for perpetuity will never be developed, and I grow trees. I’m not chopping trees down. I’m growing trees just like you would in a garden. It’s for wood, but I mean I take down sick trees or trees that are bug-infested and then I replant trees and they grow.
ET: Is hiking sport for you, in addition to fitness?
AM: I hike a lot. My sister Beverly and I took on this challenge recently with a hiking club in Asheville, North Carolina, in the western part of the state. There are 40 peaks over 6,000 feet, and you have to bushwhack to get to the specific points on the peaks. They’re marked in the ground, but they’re really hard to find. Most of them are off-trail, so you have to use a map and a compass to be able to find them. It’s time-consuming. You have to go with someone who leads it who actually knows where they’re going because it’s not an easy task. Each hike is 13 miles or something like that.
You have to be strong to get to these places because they’re all over 6,000 feet, and I’m halfway through. Less than 200 people have accomplished it. My sister’s finished but I’ve been traveling a lot; she’s had a lot more time.
ET: What else do you do for exercise?
AM: I do a great deal of yoga, and I take all kinds of intensives. When I have time I structure yoga trips so that I can really immerse myself in it. I find it’s really good for me because it’s body, mind and spirit. It’s not just a physical experience. It’s also about learning how to handle stress and growing as a person. I really like that aspect of it, becoming a more conscious person.
ET: I’m going to guess that you don’t exercise on a treadmill.
AM: It depends. I’m in a hotel now, so I’m going to go down and do the elliptical or the treadmill. I usually walk. I don’t run much anymore because I tore my meniscus [cartilage in the knee]. But I have managed, and so far it’s doing a heck of a lot better in the past two years by just paying attention to it.
In yoga I don’t do anything that forces it. I changed how I do yoga. There are things that I couldn’t do, like I couldn’t bend my knee the whole way. So I talked to my teachers and they gave me some suggestions on how to strengthen my knee. So I do “pigeon” in a completely different way. And I’m just really cautious on how I bend it.
I don’t run, which can be really hard when you have a torn meniscus. And riding the stationary bicycle is supposed to strengthen your knee, so I try to do a little bit of that. It’s mostly being conscious of it, paying attention to what makes it feel stronger and giving it time to heal. Once in a blue moon I might go for a jog, but in general I’m more of a walker now. So I’ve avoided having to have surgery.
ET: It sounds like yoga has been multifaceted enough for you to change it up to accommodate your body’s needs.
AM: It is. I think the moment that you really become a yogi is when you quit competing with anyone else, and you listen to your body. We all know when something doesn’t feel right. It’s in being able to trust that sense of knowledge and being in tune with your body that you can learn how to strengthen your own body. And that’s really the place where I’ve come. I’m not competing with anybody but myself. You’re not supposed to [compete with others in yoga] but we’re all human, and we’re naturally inclined, especially athletes, to be somewhat competitive. I crossed over that threshold where I’m not competing with anyone but myself. You just start serving yourself better. I think the torn meniscus did it for me.
ET: Describe some of your typical meals and your philosophy about diet.
AM: I always believed in eating real food. The less processed food, the less food that comes in a box, the better off you are. So fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt is good. Fresh eggs would be great, and I’ve done that before. I’ve had my own eggs. But I do try to get organic free range eggs, and I think that’s hugely important now, with all the bad eggs that we’ve been having, literally, over the last few years. I eat a lot of flax seeds, and I have omega-3s in a shake I drink at home.
Try to have organic food. You don’t have to have any of those hormones. I think they’re very dangerous. I think they’re making young girls have their periods at ridiculous ages, and there’s no telling what else. It’s unfortunate that organic food is more expensive, but it’s worth it. Try just staying with real food and organic meat and chicken and fresh local fish.
I should probably tell you what I ate yesterday because today I haven’t eaten enough. Yesterday I woke up and had some nuts and an apple. I do raw nuts, like walnuts, sunflower seeds, a mixture of nuts in the morning, and a big glass of water. I do have coffee. I usually have my water and my coffee first, then I have my nuts and I have fruit. Then my daughter and I went out and we had salad and pumpkin and beets and goat cheese over some greens with caramelized vinaigrette. Then we went back to the house, and after we walked around a little bit we snacked on some raw vegetables from the refrigerator. Then I had a brown rice bowl with fish and a salad. I eat meat, but neither of my daughters eat meat.
I think everything should be in moderation. It’s to be enjoyed. I love eating. My daughter and I went and picked up frozen yogurt last night at the health food store and brought that home. We’ll buy cookies. We share cookies, but it’s a small amount. We don’t sit down and eat a whole cake. And we work out. So if you work out, you can have a cookie. Enjoy life but be smart. If you work out, like I did yesterday, I worked out for an hour, I can have a cookie.
Yesterday I worked really hard on the elliptical for 30 minutes, and then I got on the treadmill and I did a diverse workout of walking fast, and then walking fast on a slight incline, and then making it a complete incline all the way up to the top, so it’s like you’re climbing a mountain. That’s really good because it works your buttocks. I deserved my ice cream last night.
I basically stay about the same weight all the time. I fluctuate maybe five pounds up, five pounds down. If I get to a point where I know I’ve gone over what I’m supposed to weigh, then I’ll go on a diet. I’ll go to some kind of restriction where I cut out sweets completely or watch my intake of bread and I’ll pump up my exercise.
ET: What supplements do you take?
AM: I do take a lot of vitamins. I take vitamin D, because I was tested and was low on vitamin D. I take evening primrose [which contains gamma-linolenic acid, a fatty acid believed to help prevent hardening of the arteries, heart disease, eczema, cirrhosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and to help with menopause, PMS, multiple sclerosis and high blood pressure]. I take the one that’s for your brain, CoQ10. I take a breast health formula [with turmeric extract, calcium, maitake extract, green tea extract, grape seed extract and vitamin D3]. I take black cohosh for menopause. I can’t do hormones because I have something called prothrombin, a blood clotting disease.
ET: Our readers are going to want to know what you do for your skin.
AM: I’ve been using RevitaLift forever. It’s by L’Oreal. And sunblock is always a good idea. I wear loads of sunscreen when I’m hiking. I wear a hat, drink a lot of water. And working out is good for the skin, actually, because it helps the blood circulation, and perspiring actually helps your skin, too. And yoga relaxes you internally. If you can relax and be calm, that’s when you’re the prettiest.
ET: Both of your daughters are actresses, but I read you weren’t enthusiastic about that career for them.
AM: For one thing, I didn’t want them to be compared to me. It happened a lot because people said, “They’re following in your footsteps.” They’re really not. They have their own beat and their own path and they have to find their own way. I don’t know yet what that path is or what that way is going to be. That was part of what I was concerned about.
But fame also concerns me because I think once you’ve headed down that way you can’t turn back. You can’t say, “I don’t want to be famous anymore.” Once you’re famous, you’re famous. And accepting that responsibility is a huge part of what I do. It is a responsibility because you’re public.
My son decided to be a teacher. He didn’t want to be public. That was a big part of his decision. It is a sacrifice. I know a lot of people think it’s fun. It might be fun for a little bit, but it’s not something that goes away. It’s something you live with for the rest of your life.
When we’re little kids we watch TV and go to Disneyland and want to see Mickey Mouse. So we’re preprogrammed to want to have this fantasy world outside of what we do every day. So if you have all these fantasy people out there on whom you can project your hopes, your dreams, your disappointments—quite often it’s your disappointments—it takes you out of your own life. And it really is a fantasy world. It’s not really healthy, but it is what it is and it is how we are programmed.
So you’re going to be in that. And I explained [to my children] that once you head down this road, you’re taking on all of that energy non-stop. It’s yours, and you have to be able to deal with it. That’s huge. Or you could choose something else where that’s not your responsibility, and you can go about your life and nobody will notice what you’re doing. You can walk down the street and nobody will know who you are.
ET: You’ve said that you try to channel the attention that comes your way to some deserving causes.
AM: I try to use it to the best of my ability to help other people because quite often it seems kind of undeserving to have that much attention. I can’t walk down the street without people looking at me. But that’s okay, and I accept it. And thank God they do because that’s my work. It keeps the work going, but it’s a huge responsibility. And so what can I do with all of that attention? I try to do something positive and shift it to a cause that needs it, like ovarian cancer.
That disease desperately needs attention. I got to know all these women in my community that had ovarian cancer, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention. But if you get it, you die. Because it’s normally diagnosed in stage 3, because there’s no early detection, the majority of the time people have five years. Ovarian cancer is a really good cause to be associated with and to give all that attention that I get. Part of the hope is for early detection.
ET: “Groundhog Day” has became such a modern classic. Every year when February 2 rolls around, there’s another reason for pundits to analyze and wax poetic about the film. Why do you think “Groundhog Day” resonated with its audience so strongly?
AM: It’s about getting it right, and wouldn’t it be great if we could do everything over again and have a chance to fix the mistakes that we make? We’re all fallible. It’s about making the right choices. But it is interesting because a lot of times [co-star Bill Murray’s character] would get frustrated and continue to make bad choices. There had to be a shift in him [to set things right]. And I think that is ultimately what we all hope for—some kind of a shift to become conscious, to become aware, and that’s what yoga is for. And it does not mean that you may not take two steps back, but the goal is to become a conscious human being and to make good choices.