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COVER STORY

Beginner's Luck

All Elle Macpherson's Roles Seem to Come Easily: Model, Actress, Entrepreneur. But Is She Prepared for Motherhood?

September 21, 1997|Carla Hall.

It's late and Elle Macpherson is starving. "Would you like to stay for dinner?" she asks. It is a gallant invitation; I know she'd rather have me leave. She has to pack for a monthlong European vacation that starts the following day. She has to give a press conference, just hours before she gets on the plane, to answer unpleasant questions about two men who allegedly robbed her home of money, jewelry and photographs and tried to extort money from her. And she's already spent most of the afternoon and early evening answering scores of questions about her personal life, modeling and her burgeoning movie career.

But longtime manager Stuart Cameron, a cheerful Australian who's been hovering about discreetly all day, is in the kitchen whipping up a little something. Macpherson clearly wants to be gracious--and, like, I'm gonna say no?

Cameron offers up slabs of breaded veal, surfing in a pan of oil, accompanied by Brussels sprouts slathered in butter and a big bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes. "Mashies," Macpherson says hungrily, ladling up a mound on her plate.

I break every dietary rule I have--no butter, no oil, no breading, no eating of little veal calves--to dine with her. But Elle Macpherson--possessed of a body so extraordinary it sold three calendars, graced the cover of four Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and won her an audition for her first major movie role--doesn't give it a second thought. She plops her plate on her lap and dives in.

Of all the adjectives that describe Macpherson--beautiful, hard-working, pragmatic, multinational--neurotic is not one of them. Certainly not where food is concerned. Of course, there's something other than a remarkable metabolism that might account for her appetite. On this hot summer night, she is two months pregnant, a condition she hides beautifully, even in jeans. ("It's like the food police," she grumbles a few weeks later when asked why she ate so much. "What is it with American women? That's pretty much how I eat.")

Whether she's modeling or telling you her age (33)--or appearing nude in her first major film role ("Sirens"), Macpherson appears to approach the task at hand without torment. That's not to say she hasn't thrown up out of anxiety right before shooting a movie scene. (She did--several times--during the filming of "Sirens.") Or that she hasn't obsessed over how to create a full personality for a character who's on screen maybe 15 minutes total (that's her lot in the upcoming movie "The Edge," scheduled for release Sept. 26. It's not as if she hasn't bossed around a photographer, suggesting camera angles to capture her at her best.

No, it's more that Elle Macpherson has all the confidence of someone who left her native Australia at 17 for a two-week vacation in the United States and emerged, in just a few years later, as an icon of contemporary beauty, revered by boys and men the world over. By age 30, she was a multimillionaire. Today, she's a poster girl for diversification; she thinks of herself as a successful businesswoman plugged into various enterprises--acting, modeling, hawking a lingerie line, engaging in high-profile investing with other famous models in the Fashion Cafe restaurant chain.

There's just no need for free-floating neuroses. "I thought everybody in the movie business was crazy," she explains. "I thought unless you were neurotic, you would never be a good actor. I thought actors were people who were not comfortable with themselves and had to escape from themselves by playing other characters. And I thought, 'I'm very comfortable with myself. I've created this character, this kind of product that I sell called Elle Macpherson.' But you know what? I got bored. And I started to want to escape from myself, and I escaped from myself in other characters. And that's where the passion came for acting."

She's been modeling less, taking a six-figure job in Europe every now and then for the money, weaning salivating clients like "Victoria's Secret" down to an occasional catalog. As an actress, she has good-naturedly worked her way through a string of roles as The Beautiful Woman, doing a respectable job and winning the affection of high-powered colleagues.

"She's very natural as an actor," says Anthony Hopkins, who, with Alec Baldwin, stars in "The Edge." "She's not at all ponderous."

In fact, in the movie business, where supermodels are expected to embarrass themselves when they try to act and the bar of expectation seems to be set lower for them, people talk about Macpherson as if she's practically brilliant. Her buzz is better than her reality.

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