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To flee the showbiz madness of Los Angeles, to raise her family in a friendly small town, to live near the sea for fishing and sailing and diving, Kelly McGillis came to the end of the earth.

But this is no Garbo act, no escape from the world. McGillis, 35, the sexy flight instructor in "Top Gun," the serene Amish widow of "Witness," the tough lawyer of "The Accused," has plunged into the Key West scene - as a restaurateur. She and husband Fred Tillman, a yacht broker and marketing consultant, opened Kelly's Caribbean Bar & Grill last month in a historic wooden house on Whitehead Street, and it's constantly packed with locals and tourists.McGillis is doing what many stars wish they could: living pretty much a regular life. She did not join the celebrity parade to South Beach. She did not sequester herself on a remote island or a walled-in compound. McGillis and Tillman came to Key West for the usual reasons - year-round sun, art galleries and writers, historic wooden houses. And they came to be in a town where they could walk down the street - as Ernest Hemingway and Harry Truman did - without being stared at or bugged to death.

"It's got a very European attitude," McGillis said of Key West. "There's a certain tolerance here that's quickly vanishing from the rest of America."

Like the town it's in, Kelly's Caribbean is a casual, relaxed place, complete with Caribbean art and ambience - and moderately priced for Key West.

This is no absentee celebrity ownership place. This is hands-on management. McGillis and Tillman supervised the renovation of the house and are in the restaurant almost every day. They wipe down tables, taste food, deal with orders, make sure everything is just right.

"The only way to really know what needs to be done is to be here and do it," McGillis said. "I feel it's my responsibility. It has my name on it, and I care a great deal about what goes on. I'm such a bloody perfectionist that it drives everybody nuts. But mostly it drives me nuts."

Not as nuts, maybe, as Hollywood was driving her. After winning the parts - and critical acclaim - others would kill for, McGillis walked away.

The main reason was to spend more time with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, Kelsey. (She is expecting another daughter soon.) Her restaurant work is flexible - McGillis can take an afternoon break to go home and be with her daughter - and it's something the family can do together.

She likes the hot weather, the humidity, the tropical languor here, too. But she also wanted to flee the relentless dealmaking, gossiping and speculating of Tinseltown.

"I wanted to live in a place that, when I wasn't working, I was on vacation," McGillis said. "When I was in Los Angeles, going to the grocery store was a job interview."

Here, she can ride her bicycle around without being pestered. Since the days of Hemingway, the locals have let famous people live normally - and the tourists are too busy gawking at Sloppy Joe's and Hemingway's old house to notice a movie star in sunglasses and casual clothes.

"Usually, I can move around with pretty much feigned anonymity - or what I choose to believe is total anonymity," McGillis said.

A far cry from your face being beamed to thousands on a movie screen. McGillis hasn't made a film since playing Babe Ruth's second wife opposite John Goodman in "The Babe," but she says she hasn't given up movies for good.

"I'm not abandoning my career by any means," McGillis said. "I'm still working. It's just that I'm not doing six projects a year. I'm being much more selective, and I think my family comes into that selection process."

Like many actresses, she is frustrated by the dearth of good movie roles for women - too many of the scripts that come her way feature "murderous-psychotic-woman-of-the-month" parts, she said.

"I'm reading scripts all the time," she said. "I haven't, to tell you the truth, read anything very interesting to me."

She finds much more satisfaction in doing theater, mostly at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., as much as she can. McGillis has directed two plays in Key West - a one-act show during last fall's Key West Theatre Festival and the dark comedy "Morticians in Love" this year at the Waterfront Playhouse. She is scheduled to appear in Ibsen's `Hedda Gabler" on Broadway this fall.

It was in theater that she fell in love with acting, as a stage-struck kid in a high school play - like millions of others. McGillis grew up in Newport Beach, Calif., a doctor's daughter and a discipline problem. She dropped out of high school at 17 but later attended the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in California and the Juilliard School of Drama in New York.

As a student, she discovered Shakespeare and continues to learn his roles. In Viola from "Twelfth Night" or Portia from "The Merchant of Venice," McGillis finds the strong, complicated, interesting women missing from most of the movie scripts she reads.

"It's my training. I love it," McGillis said. "I love poetry, and I love language."

And she loves acting, but it's a huge time-consumer that - like any demanding job - strains a working mother. McGillis can't walk off the stage in the middle of a performance if Kelsey has a cold.

"It's a hard choice sometimes," she says. "It's not a nine-hour-a-day job. It's a 15-hour-a-day job. You never get to see your kids. And they're only young once."