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`BAD GIRLS’ STAR IS AT HOME ON THE RANGE

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"You don't mind if I lay here relaxed and comfortable?"

Andie MacDowell is draped on a plush sofa in a luxury hotel called La Mansion and looks like she ought to be.Named one of the 10 most beautiful women by Harper's Bazaar in 1990, she has played up-scale and classy women in "Object of Beauty," "Green Card" and a current hit from England, "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

But Andie in real life is no la-di-da lady. In fact, she is no Andie. She is really Rosalie Anderson MacDowell from Gaffney, S.C., one of four daughters of a lumberman father and an alcoholic mother.

The looks may whisper princess, but the personality drawls cowgirl.

"I used to run up behind the ponies and put my hands on their butts and jump up on 'em from behind."

That's sort of what she does in her latest movie, which opens Friday. "Bad Girls" is about a quartet of prostitutes in the Old West who take matters - and guns - into their own hands.

"I'm like a little kid," she says, giggling. "I play games, and I can play any character I want."

The character she plays most of the time is Andie MacDowell, Montana housewife and mother of two, who, through no fault of her own, happens to be a gorgeous celebrity.

Fantasize for a moment that you are this stunning movie star, who turns 36 on Thursday. You are happily married for almost nine years to a former male model you met while doing a Gap ad.

Paul Qualley is also "a great cook" who stays home to take care of your children, 7-year-old Justin and 4-year-old Rainsford (named after your granny, Rainsford DaBose).

On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, your personal trainer comes to your ranch, 40 miles from Missoula, after which you ride one of your 10 horses. You make millions of dollars a year by traveling to exotic places, dressing up in costumes, playing games and kissing Hugh Grant, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Peter Gallagher, Bill Murray and Drew Barrymore (in "Bad Girls").

What is the hardest thing you have to deal with?

"I guess not being a hundred percent mom," MacDowell says with a sigh. "Sometimes I have a bit of guilt about that - not totally being there completely."

But, she says brightly, "I think my husband and I worked it out pretty well. He was better with the babies."

Still, feminism has its limits. "Oh, I don't mind a man opening a door for me."

And doors do open for Andie.

Robert Altman, well-known as a connoisseur of women, cast her in both "The Player" and "Short Cuts."

David Letterman obviously enjoys her, too. Visiting his show when "sex, lies and videotape" was released in 1989, she explained to America that unlike her repressed character in that movie, she has no problem having orgasms.

More recently on Letterman to promote "Bad Girls," she gamely demonstrated her roping skills by trying but failing to lasso the camera.

"I practiced roping the make-up chair before the show, and I got it every time," she pouts. "But, you know, the pressure. Plus the camera was a lot wider than the make-up chair."

MacDowell says about Letterman: "He was never mean to me. I think people ask for trouble on his show by coming off being tough or hard or saying stupid things."

James LeGros, who plays a cowboy captivated by MacDowell's character in "Bad Girls," says he signed up for the movie partly because of her.

"It's great to work with somebody who understands we're in show business - not working with burn victims in Croatia," he says. "She comes to work to have a good time. She's funny; she listens; she's got so much soul; she's beautiful. Just look at her - she's Andie MacDowell."

Look at her off camera and you'll see a natural beauty wearing little or no make-up, with chin-length black curly hair tumbling casually around her face and a very small diamond ring on her fourth finger.

Look at her on screen, especially in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and you might see more of her than you expect. For a former model, she's a little zaftig. "I play real women," she says.

And she laughs at the very idea of worrying about weight. "I've got over that," she says, though she exercises almost every day and tries to eat sensibly.

When she was modeling, she went through periods when she hardly ate at all. That obsession with skinniness ended when she made "sex, lies and videotape."

"I was pregnant, and I couldn't be skinny," she says. "I dropped any thoughts of the way I looked, and I really went inside myself and worried about who I was, not what I looked like. It was a great discovery.

"And when I worked on `Green Card' with Peter Weir, his daughter and his wife were very ... normal. And he didn't like the attitude Americans have of being really skinny. So he asked me not to be.

"And now women are thanking me for the character in `Four Weddings and A Funeral.' They'll say, `I'm so happy to see that you have some meat on your bones.' "

MacDowell adds: "I think you cannot help but blame the fashion industry. All the models are so anorexic looking, almost like they're on drugs."

But if MacDowell is comfortable with her body, she's not about to show it off in public.

"I don't want to do any nudity. I think it's pretty bad if in order for men to enjoy a movie they have to see women naked. I don't think a woman would go to a movie just to see a man with his clothes off."

MacDowell does want to do more movies like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" - "funny, intelligent, touching, with a woman who's strong and says what's on her mind."

Next, she's making a movie directed by Diane Keaton. And she's perfectly content with the way her career's going, thank you.

"I kind of like the way I am. I like to be treated normal. I'm not in the sleazy magazines. Nobody picks on me. It's like I'm not too big. But I'm big enough to work."

But she is big enough that, back in Missoula, people are shy about approaching her. And one young woman had a real problem whenever MacDowell showed up at the health food restaurant where she lunches regularly.