Ali MacGraw: Body and Soul
Sunday Express 29th December 1991
At 53, the actress has simplified her life and streamlined her beauty routine. By Lesley Salisbury. Photograph by Andrea Blanche
Ali MacGraw has never been your typical movie star. She looks like one when she has to - in a black Armani evening suit with her off-beat Indian jewellery and four-inch heels - but she's always been happiest away from Hollywood and its hoopla. She never really fitted in; she was damaged by it, as she revealed in her painfully honest autobiography. Moving Pictures, and does battle with her remaining demons every day. "I'm a recovering alcoholic and there's a moodiness that goes with the illness that needs tending to on a daily basis," she says quietly. "The more I tend to it, the better I feel. And, I guess, the better I look."
She looks spectacular. At 53 she appears 10 years younger. She is one of those infuriating women who look great without make-up; her hair shines, her skin glows, the brown eyes that captivated Steve McQueen sparkle and, when she laughs, she really laughs.
Mentally, too, she's in the best shape she's been in for years — certainly since that day five years ago when she woke up and realised she needed help with her life. The cause? "A love affair gone wrong. And, in the almost paralysing grief about it, I was gently led to the realisation that I'm not only an alcoholic but someone who has used half-researched love affairs almost as a drug.There's no more incredible drug on the planet than Being in Love. Capital B, capital L. And nothing that can cause such incredible disappointment."
Treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic and therapy - still ongoing "It's a terrific Treat when you wake up and say, 'My God, this is who I really am.'' And that's much what happened to me.
And it’s beginning to feel wonderful."
Although she's in love again now, she has learned to say no more about her love life.
"People loved the drama of my marriages," she says. (She left her first, to Robert Evans, then a hugely powerful producer, and married McQueen in 1973.)
"They made me more famous than my films did. I've made only six, I think I became 'rich and famous' without the rich. I got $10,000 to do Goodbye Columbus and S20,000 to do Love Story: incredible money for someone who was then just a photographer's assistant, but compare that with what Julia Roberts makes today .. ."
Evans (the father of her son Joshua, now 21) and McQueen were multimillionaires. But when she walked out of the marriages, she left money behind: "When I moved out of Steve's house, all I took with me were my child, my books and my blue jeans." She'd never even bought a house until recently, when she fell in love with a "tiny, tiny house" in the artists' paradise of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her other home, just outside Hollywood, is rented.
"As I get older, I find I need time to myself. It's a luxury I can have now that my son is grown up and living his own life. I need to be quiet, to maybe just mess around in the garden — though I'm no great gardener — or cook something. "I'm a nest-maker, not a mansion-maker! All I need is my books, my dogs, my music and my 'toys' - things I like to do: artwork, design. Give me a bottle of glue, paper and some scissors and I'm happy."
Happy and beautiful: how's it done? "I've had good eating habits from childhood; we ate loads of vegetables and home-made bread — a piece of meat .or fish was a luxury- And because I was never athletic, I've always had to make a conscious decision to exercise. You can't get away with just taking the dog for a walk. Pleasant as it is, it doesn't do anything about keeping one's bottom from falling off.
"I've always been religious about exercise.
I've never seen it as a quickie-fixit cosmetic thing. I did the Pilates method (a gentle stretching regime) for about six years and I've always gone to exercise class. Now, facing up to the reality of being in my fifties, I go to what I call a 'hard-core gym', working with a trainer with weights, two days on, one day off. And four or five times a week I do a yoga class. It's all second nature now."
She also has a facial at least once a fortnight "It seems extravagant, but my face is still part of what pays my rent. If I don't maintain it, I don't have anywhere to live! It's a habit now, like brushing my teeth. The woman I go to is very reasonable; I buy my cleanser and toner and masque from her — I believe in keeping my skin very, very clean - and I use her nourishing cream. I put it in tiny pots when I travel; then all I need is an eye pencil, brown eyeshadow, mascara, blusher, and I'm ready.
"I don't look well with a lot of make-up on. I don't know what it is; I think all the lines on my face tend to be accentuated with foundation and powder. And I look horrible if I wear too much eye make-up: hard, which I don't think I am.
"I have a weekly manicure and a pedicure every two or three weeks because I'm barefoot all the time. It makes me feel better, cleaner. And when I'm really wrecked, I'll treat myself to a massage or have a hot mineral bath."
The thick tresses of her Love Story days were, she admits with a sigh, a problem. "The truth is, I cut it all off in. a fit of temper and depression years ago and now I often wish I had 'hair'. Jose Eber [who does all the famous hair in Hollywood] has been cutting it beautifully every four weeks over the past 10 years. I colour it, too. I have these white stripes in the front. Sometimes I like men, sometimes I don't, so they come and go. But my hair is fed and conditioned - it sounds like one of my dogs - and it's in tremendously good health." What about clothes? "I used to wear shoes with four-inch heels until they threw my back out. Now I mostly wear coloured ballet slippers and call it a day! I've learned a lot from people like Giorgio Armani - the face, the shining hair, the beautiful skin and the personality is what it's all about. You should see the person first. I mink that's real style.
"There's always a variation of fashion that you can wear without looking laughable. I have a couple of Azzedine Alaia dresses that I love and that make me feel - and therefore, I hope, look - sexy. And I feel sexiest if I'm in good shape, wearing something very, very simple made of terrific fabric.
"I now have clothes I wear over and over again. The other night I said to my man, 'What am I supposed to wear to this?' And he said, 'What do you mean? You always wear the same thing, your black Armani suit.' He's right. Funerals, weddings, cocktail parties -just change the earrings and I'm ready.
"I remember going through terrible periods in my life when I thought a new dress or a new haircut would fix everything. Those excessive, unbelievable, panic-driven changes in the way one looks, hoping it's going to make the inside feel better and the outside look better."
Did those panics result in cosmetic surgery? Honest as always, she says: "I did my eyes once and I'd do them again in a second. And I wouldn't mind doing a little stuff on my face. Not a radical facelift that makes you look as if you've been in a wind machine, but a little tuck here and there.
"What I wouldn't do is breast implants. They scare me; they could be dangerous. But I'm certainly not one to preach. I've made plenty of mistakes - I look back at pictures and wonder how I could have gone out the door looking like that." And she smiles as the cat purrs in her lap and the dogs come up for a belly-rub. All MacGraw has had the last laugh in Hollywood.
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