By  on February 28, 1994

LONDON -- Andie MacDowell sat casually in a director's chair on the set of her new film, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and complained about being beautiful.

"Sometimes I wish I had less beauty," she said with apparent sincerity, her long legs peeking from a tan split skirt and her skin glowing. "I think I have more to offer than that, but sometimes that's all people want to see."

MacDowell doesn't understand all the fuss about her appearance.

"Everyone thinks I'm this incredibly confident and beautiful person," she said in her soft Southern lilt. "But I wish I had complete ease and grace and confidence. It's good to have a bit of nerves, though. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself."

MacDowell showed few nerves on that sunny English day a few months ago as she waited for her next scene during filming of the comedy, which also stars very hot British actor Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, John Hannah and James Fleet, and was directed by Mike Newell ("Enchanted April," "Dance With a Stranger") and written by Richard Curtis.

Now the film is ready for release -- it'll be out this weekend -- and Duncan Kenworthy, the producer, says the $4.5 million project "takes apart weddings in the same way that 'Die Hard 2' took apart airport security."

The movie follows eight friends through two years of four weddings and a funeral as it traces the circuitous romance between Charles, played by Grant, and the boisterous Carrie, an American played by MacDowell.

MacDowell beat out 25 other American actresses for the part and says she was eager to get it because of the quality of the script and the fact that Carrie is a free spirit who literally counts her lovers (they total 33).

"I suppose it is another romantic film, but I'm a romantic person," said MacDowell. "My favorite movies are the old Katherine Hepburn ones where women were strong and independent. Women's roles get weaker all the time and it's frightening.

"Now the whole criteria of a film seems to be its shock value and that's demeaning to women," MacDowell continued. "People go see a movie because they hear a woman shows her crotch and they don't care about its quality." She paused, then blushed and laughed. "I mean the quality of the movie."Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays Grant's unrequited love, Fiona, has similar concerns. The actress, who lives in Paris, has become known in the British tabloids for her nude scenes on British television and the furor they cause among viewers. A former associate of Prince, Scott Thomas says she now ignores what is written about her since most of it is untrue. But she still enjoys acting, both in television and in the art-house films she does in France.

"It's nice to do television, because 10 million people see your work while, at most, 250,000 have seen the films I've done. You can't lose track that the number-one reason for this business is to entertain as many people as possible, otherwise it gets depressing. Or you may as well be acting in your broom cupboard."

While MacDowell and Scott Thomas worry about the future of women in films, Grant was still getting used to acting in a 20th-century movie rather than a Merchant-Ivory period piece. His last film was "The Remains of the Day" with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson and he's also been in "Maurice" and "White Mischief."

"I feel quite naked without a wing collar," he joked, standing in a morning suit outside a church in the City of London, where yet another wedding scene was being shot. Grant is the first name above the film's title and he still is coming to grips with being the star, rather than just a supporting cast member.

"It's hell," he says seriously. "I wake up each morning as if it's the day of triple chemistry exams at school. The pressure is intense. I've also discovered that I'm just not queeny enough for a star. I should be much more prima donna-ish, " he smiles mischievously.

That shouldn't take long. Hollywood's just starting to notice he's a Paul McCartney look-alike, and he's also got "Sirens" (with Elle MacPherson) and "Bitter Moon" (the new Roman Polanski pic, where he's again paired with Scott Thomas) coming out this spring, and will start shooting Newell's next, "An Awfully Big Adventure," this spring in Dublin.

Grant's impish sense of humor made him the jokester on the relaxed set and he has a wicked eye for parody. Of MacDowell he said, "She's wonderful, but she smells of garlic today and she's been eating clouds of parsley to get rid of it. And she stretches her neck before each take, which looks like a giraffe trying to get to food. Of course, she didn't realize it until I pointed it out."MacDowell blushed again, then said, "Wait until I figure out what he does before each take."

MacDowell said she suffered no culture shock on the set, despite being the only American. It helped that her family was with her during the six-week shooting schedule and her two children, Justin and Rainey, were even extras. She admits to sometimes ambivalent feelings about acting, saying she's occasionally tempted to give it up.

"There are times I don't even try to act and don't read any scripts. I'd like to quit, but I'm not in a position to do that. I still enjoy acting, but real life is important, too."

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