From the roles she plays to the cigars she smokes, actress Demi Moore makes her own choices.
Near the barracks, a congregation of movie lights, shining bright yellow through opaque windows. In front, a small group, clustered in blue director's chairs under a protective canvas, talking, glancing now and then at two Sony monitors, black and white images from inside the barracks: a cameraman lights a set, a stand-in stands in for the star.
In a chair, a figure in combat fatigues, standard khaki issue, the name "O'NEIL" in black stenciled over the left pocket. A soldier, lean and powerful, black hair mowed to a standard military crewcut, and then some, a dark stubble outlining a head distinctly ovoid. A left cheek painted with dirt and blood—more than smudged, a victim of training more than basic. Behind the chair, a woman; her hands, in firm round strokes, massage the soldier's neck and back. The soldier holds a cigar.
"It's a Cuban Montecristo Joyita," the soldier says, taking a long, pleasurable puff. The voice is assertively strong—and distinctly feminine. "I prefer the panatelas, though I've tried the Montecristo No. 2, the torpedo. It's a little big for me but I like it." The name on the back of the chair: DEMI MOORE.
Demi Moore? The sexy, glamorous, provocative, cigar smoking film star, the highest-paid actress in movie history, dressed in combat gear, her alluring jet-black tresses shorn practically to their roots, her face and figure similarly bereft of the glamour that has adorned movie screens and magazine covers, gossip columns and celebrity TV shows, for more than a decade?
Yes, Demi Moore.
The time is mid-June, the scene Camp Blanding, a National Guard base in the Florida countryside an hour or so south of Jacksonville. It's the location du jour for Moore's next movie, titled G.I. Jane, in which she plays a Navy lieutenant, Jordan O'Neil, who opts for training as the first female Navy SEAL—or Special Forces frogperson—and undergoes an ordeal at the hands of those in the military who feel that combat training is not woman's work. Moore is a co-producer of the film; her director is Ridley Scott, whose credits include Thelma and Louise, Alien and Blade Runner.
The hair—or lack of it—doesn't faze Moore one bit. It simply "goes with the territory," she says, "of doing whatever's necessary to make the role realistic," to make an audience believe she is the character up there on the big screen. The cigars are also part of the territory. Moore has been smoking them for seven years, and, she says, "this has become a big cigar smoking set. There's always a Cuban cigar in some crew member's mouth, and Ridley always has a Montecristo No. 2 in his hand."
But for Demi Moore, there's much, much more that "goes with the territory" of being a highly publicized, highly visible and highly paid celebrity in the world of American cinema.
The films in which she has starred—they include Ghost, St. Elmo's Fire, A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, The Scarlet Letter, Striptease (for which she was paid $12.5 million, a record for an actress) and Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in which she is the voice of Esmeralda)—have grossed more than a billion dollars. That's right, billion with a "b." She has earned more than $21 million in the last two years, making her the only film actress on the Forbes magazine compendium of the highest-paid performers.
Moore has been sometimes lauded and more often vilified by the celebrity-hungry mass media, praised for the highly popular movie Ghost, roundly criticized for baring her breasts in Striptease. She has been condemned for posing nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair and for daring to call President Bill Clinton to try to get Pentagon support for the Navy SEAL movie. (She managed only to speak to a presidential aide, and the Pentagon turned her and her producers down because there are no women SEALs, so the movie is being made without official assistance.) Her almost nine-year marriage to Bruce Willis, and the birth of their three daughters, have been frequent if not constant subjects of speculation and fabrication in the headlines of perhaps every tabloid on the face of the earth.
And yet, to Moore, it is all part of that "territory." She is, for a movie star, refreshingly direct: her magnetic green eyes immediately engage rather than avoid. Later, in her trailer, she will talk of her career, the press, the publicity—good and bad—her technique as an actress, her marriage, her children, her own troubled childhood, her hopes for the future—and her love of cigars. She will unhesitatingly speak her mind.
Criticism of nudity? "You wouldn't limit a man that way." The controversy over Striptease? "They're already making a big stink over the poster, which is nothing more than a pantyhose ad. Yet because it's me it seems to be a big deal."
Evasion is a word Moore seems never to have learned—usually to her benefit, but sometimes to her detriment. Her attitude toward life is to march right ahead, do the best she can and let the chips fall. What others may think is not her concern. Is she the stereotypical, traditional girl next door? Of course not. But is she a highly successful, highly competent, driven and ambitious but ultimately decent and caring professional woman? Yes.
The renowned British actress Joan Plowright, Moore's co-star in The Scarlet Letter, once put it this way: "Demi uses what she's got and puts it in the marketplace. She has an honesty, truthfulness and straightforwardness that is very, very attractive." With Moore, what you see—and sometimes you see a great deal—is what you get.
Much of what you get consists of dedication, determination and devotion. She is into building and maintaining her body beautiful, and she works out frequently with her personal trainer, himself a state-of-the-art specimen of what years of weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise can accomplish. After arriving on the set at 7:45 a.m. and working on the movie constantly until 1, she will use her lunchtime not to rest in her trailer but to go for a 40-minute run—in the 90-degree Florida sun—her trainer at her side.
But while she certainly places great value in her trim, well-toned physique, she seems to have the proper perspective. Talking to a crew member between takes, she will glance down at her abdomen and laughingly point to the "loose skin." "Loose skin," she says. "It's from the baby. But it was worth it."
She also, from most accounts, does not behave on set like a spoiled diva, a grown-up member of the brat pack. The massager, for instance, who was busy kneading her shoulders outside the barracks is not for Moore alone. Moore makes a point, on all her films, of providing free massages for all crew members. "They work so hard and don't get paid a lot," she says. "It's a little fringe benefit that means something." Then there is this unsolicited comment from a female crew member upon finding out that a visitor was on the base to write a profile of the star: "She is generous and gracious of spirit. She is never rude, and she is a pleasure to work for. I've worked with many actresses, and she is the best. She's special."
Moore is relaxing in her trailer after a long day. She is showered, fresh; the blood-and-grime makeup has been removed, her glamorous cheekbones and prominent chin are sparkling clean. She has changed to jeans and a tight white T-shirt. Bright silver earrings dangle from her fully exposed, somewhat pointy ears, and the five-o'clock shadow that is her temporary coiffure seems somewhat neater, more in place. With or without hair, she exudes unalloyed eroticism—the healthy kind, natural, totally unforced.
"So," she says, taking a seat and facing her visitor directly, "what would you like to talk about?"
The current movie seems a natural starting point—and in talking about Lieut. Jordan O'Neil, Moore will seem more often than not to be talking about herself.
"This story addresses the issue of whether women should be in combat," she says. "We try to see if a woman can meet the standards that a man would have to measure up to. What attracted me is that the character is a woman challenging herself beyond what her normal expectations of herself would be. And because the arena she is challenging herself in is one of physical strength, I found it was interesting to put myself in a position where it's inevitable that she will be weaker, and to see how she can face that fact and overcome that obstacle to succeed. Stepping into a masculine world but maintaining everything about the character that's a woman is fascinating. And besides, the tomboy side of me really needed a place to go."
After all, Moore says, "on the set it's me and a lot of men. So it's addressing my masculine side, the part of me that has always been able to be one of the boys. It's the part that's aggressive in the sense of being assertive. And it's embraced, because I'm with a bunch of men, and as opposed to being looked on as too domineering, or too pushy, being called macho or butch, I find they're happy to let me be what I am. We're all out there acting rough and talking rough and smoking cigars and cussing up a storm, and there's great joy in the camaraderie. As a woman, you don't often get a chance to step into a situation like that. Women have that camaraderie among themselves now more than they ever have, but men inherently have it. It's socially ingrained."
The movie and the preparation for it have at times been grueling, she says, but she loves it. "I'm just having a blast," she says. "On many days it doesn't feel like work. I did pre-training for the movie where we went through a modified SEAL training. I showed up at 6 a.m., me and 40 guys, some extras, some actors, we were all thrown into it, and they kicked my ass until 4 p.m. and I didn't say boo. I loved it."
The role, she says, is completely different from the stripper she portrays in Striptease, "who is so inherently feminine."
"I try to find roles that are completely different from what I've done before," she says. "I'm just trying to keep it interesting, to challenge myself, and the only way to do that is to stretch. If I stayed in the same mode it might be safer, but it just wouldn't be as challenging."
Moore acknowledges that the subject matter of Striptease is more than slightly controversial. "Yes, I know that some people feel that stripping is exploitive, that some women's groups have certain attitudes toward women who choose to do it," she says. "But what I discovered when I got on the inside of it was an interesting aspect of strength: not the down sides, which are fairly obvious, but the plus sides, which are not. Many of the women feel very empowered, not by taking their clothes off but by the fact that they have the ability to affect someone's emotions, to change a mood, to alter someone's experience, just like an actor does, male or female. The women also have a very good sense of themselves and their sensuality, a comfort with their bodies. And I also found that some of them feel quite empowered by the fact that they are doing a little dance and walking away with between $800 and $3,000 a night."
She also acknowledges that her most recent movies—The Juror, Now and Then, The Scarlet Letter—have not been as commercially or critically successful as she and her producers might have hoped, and that this fact is a potential cause for concern in terms of both the money she might make on films to come and the opportunities she might be offered. The Scarlet Letter, in which she starred as Hester Prynne, was blasted for making Nathaniel Hawthorne's sad ending a happy Hollywood one, and critics questioned whether a twentieth century sexpot was the right choice to portray a seventeenth century adulteress. But Moore is both philosophical and optimistic.
"In the balance of my track record of pluses and minuses, I'm far into the pluses," Moore says. "No career is 100 percent. In truth, I have been fairly fortunate. But it's a crapshoot every time you go out. Sometimes you have a story you think has everything and it just doesn't work. Sometimes you do something that you think has nothing particularly commercial going for it and it turns out to be a big hit. Sometimes a film, like The Juror, actually gets decent reviews but doesn't do that well, and you can't explain it. You just never know. But I seem to just keep chugging along and keep moving through it.
"I don't get too concerned because the variables are so great. And the effort I put into making a movie is never different. What I am putting into this is no different from what I put into The Scarlet Letter. I put every ounce of my heart and soul into it. The best thing I can get from a movie is the experience of making it. And the rest is whatever it's going to be. You can't get caught up in the end result. If I do, then I will stop living in the here and now. So for me, even though I've got a very big movie, Striptease, coming out in two weeks, and it's a movie that's had a lot of ink, a lot of focus, and I know already that it's going to have a lot of controversy, I also know that it's already far behind me. Because I'm here making this movie now. It's the process that counts, and I've moved on, and I'm in the process of doing something else. Striptease seems so long ago."
The bad press Moore has often received does not bother her, she says. "I don't give it much power," she says. "I don't allow myself to say or feel that they're not being fair to me. I feel that the press is a big machine that runs of its own will, and to fight against it would take too much of my focus and my energy. All I can really do is try to find the safest way I can to use the press for positive things—promoting what I love, the movies I make. The rest of it, even though sometimes it hurts, sometimes it's disappointing, sometimes it's unjust, I just don't want to get caught up in it. I've seen what the press does to other stars, and I know I'm no exception. Everybody has their day. Sometimes it's a good time for you in the press, sometimes it's just your turn to get hit. There seems to be no rhyme or reason, no matter what you're doing or how hard you're working. Except you do see that sometimes it comes like the tide—if it's been a really good time for you, the press starts looking for reasons to bring you down, and if you're really down it seems as if they start to jump on a bandwagon so they can be the creators and bring you back. So I just try to ride the wave."
Being a celebrity can be difficult, she says—when she remembers that she is one. "When I'm not working, I'm a pretty easygoing, simple kind of person," she says. "I'll be out at a restaurant on the weekend, a low-key kind of place, and we'll be in the middle of a discussion, and it's only when somebody comes up and asks me for my autograph that I'm reminded that that other person, the celebrity, is me, too. And sometimes I watch that other me while it's happening, and it's interesting, because I usually don't see myself that way. It's only when somebody else reflects it that I see it."
She tries, she says, to see "the part of celebrity that's the sweetness and not the part that's a pain in the ass—where you're in the middle of a conversation and you're trying to share an evening with friends, and people are interrupting. They don't mean to. They're excited. They're wanting to come close to something that they only see at a great distance. So I try to have compassion for the part that can be irritating. After all, they're the audience, and without them...."
The only time it's really unpleasant, she says, "is when it invades my family's private time, the time I spend with Bruce and the children, and I get taken away from them. If, for instance, we're at Disney World and people are coming up all the time and making it uncomfortable."