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Rachel Ward: Not Just Another Pretty Face

February 24, 1991|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

"People generally think if you have a pretty face, you don't have a soul," Rachel Ward was saying during a visit to Los Angeles. "I suppose that makes you kind of defensive. I kind of have a strong reaction to being merely thought of as glamorous. I have more to offer than that."

The actress hopes to prove just how much she has to offer in "And the Sea Will Tell," a four-hour miniseries airing Sunday and Tuesday on CBS (both nights at 9 p.m.). The story was adapted from the book of the same name by Bruce Henderson and Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles district attorney who successfully prosecuted the Charles Manson family.

Although miniseries are based usually on published works, "And the Sea Will Tell" was made before the book was out. "The story was powerful enough in its telling that it didn't need to rely on the prior selling of a book as a safety net," said John Matoian, vice president of movies and miniseries at CBS.

The story is based on a case Bugliosi handled after he left the district attorney's office to become a defense attorney. Ward plays Jennifer, the girlfriend of a charismatic young fugitive named Buck Walker (Hart Bochner). Bugliosi (Richard Crenna) defends Jennifer after she and Buck are accused of murdering a wealthy couple on a South Seas island.

Ward, 33, doesn't want to be a glamour girl on the screen and plays down her looks in person. Wearing little makeup, black cowboy boots and a shapeless multicolored minidress for this interview, the former model still looked stunning.

"I really do find I am attracted to the dark side of people and places and things," Ward said, fidgeting with her necklaces. "I find it much more interesting to play someone who is a little more ambiguous than someone who is sugarcoated or formularized to appeal to, and appease, a mass audience."

That's why the British-born actress said she leaped at the opportunity to play Jennifer. "Unlike a lot of things I see on American TV, she had some aberrant behavior which I find interesting to explore."

Ward referred to the miniseries as "And the Sea Will Smell." She said, laughing, that the nickname doesn't reflect her feelings about the drama. "You always give something a nickname. But 'And the Sea Will Tell' is such a stupid title. What does it mean exactly? No one will know what is going on."

"And the Sea Will Tell" is Ward's first miniseries since she starred opposite Richard Chamberlain eight years ago in the Emmy-winning "The Thorn Birds," one of the most successful miniseries of the 1980s.

" 'The Thorn Birds' schedule was luxurious," Ward said. "This schedule was just crazy. I think that's why people constantly prefer to do films when you are up against these kinds of schedules."

Because of the demanding schedules, Ward said, television is not an actor's medium. "But the parts are an actor's medium, particularly for actresses. You get more opportunity to do gritty roles--roles where you are examining something."

Early in her career, Ward was simply window dressing, playing a succession of femme fatales in such films as "Sharkey's Machine," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and "Against All Odds."

"I had to get right away from those roles," Ward said. "That took a lot of standing back. I just felt if you are going to do those roles you are not going to have any escape from them. I felt I had to stop and take a back seat for a while."

In 1983, Ward married "Thorn Birds" co-star Bryan Brown and then moved from Los Angeles to Sydney, in Brown's native Australia.

"I did a lot of theater in Sydney," she said. "I really thought about the type of things that I wanted to be part of and what stimulated me."

Since their marriage, Ward and Brown have appeared in one film together, the Australian-made "The Good Wife."

The two don't have plans to work together in the near future. "It's hard enough to find something you like for yourself. I don't want to play second fiddle to Bryan and he doesn't want to play second fiddle to me. And when you live together and breathe together, it's kind of nice to go out and work with someone else."

Ward, who has two young daughters, Mathilda and Rosie, said she has been able to juggle her marriage, career and motherhood.

"I want to have it all. I want to have a career. I want to have a family, and it's just juggling the whole thing so nobody loses out. If the kids start losing out on something, then you have to readjust. But I also think it's a huge advantage for them to travel around the world, particularly because Australia is so isolated and insular."

When the Browns aren't working, they live on a ranch outside of Sydney. "I'm an excellent milker," Ward said. " . . . I squirt anyone who comes near me."

Growing up in England with "the old silver spoon in my mouth," Ward never envisioned herself milking cows. "I think if someone told me that would be my future, I would say, 'Shoot me now.' "

Ward paused and smiled: "But it turned out to be not so bad."

"And the Sea Will Tell" airs Sunday and Tuesday, 9-11 p.m. on CBS.

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