May 1985
Reporting: Curt Sanburn

208D-003-042 Ed and Amy offscreen

Being together and working together is like a gift from the cornucopia of wonderfulness that fell out of heaven or something," gushes Amy Madigan, with Ed Harris near their Malibu home.

Tracy and Hepburn. Burton and Taylor. Newman and Woodward. There's something about onscreen couples pairing up offscreen that tickles the heart and makes movie romance seem possible for us all. Ed Harris and Amy Madigan are the latest team to flourish in work and at home. Their hungry, almost wordless affair lit up small-town Texas in last year's Places in the Heart. In Alamo Bay, the new film by Louis Malle, Harris is a married fisherman and Vietnam veteran while Madigan runs a fish processing plant in the small Texas port. Their affair-and the town-is split by a war between local shrimpers and the Vietnamese refugees whose arrival threatens their livelihood.

Though their careers have been kindled by playing characters who play around, in real life Harris and Madigan are 34-year-old just-marrieds (she's a month older) who lead a life as easy and comfy as an old shoe. "Acting is largely a matter of trust," says Amy. "With Ed, because I know him, love him and trust him, I don't have to worry about a lot of nonsense. I know he'll be two hundred percent there." Ed's deep voice gets deeper: "You know I'll take care of you." Amy: "Yeah, and that's great." Ed: "And vice versa."


Thirty minutes of jump-roping a day keep Harris's five-foot-10, 160-pound body taut. While jumping, he says, "I think about quitting smoking." Several weeks before each movie, he goes into weight training.

The only hints of Hollywood in their ranch house in the hills above Malibu--a Jacuzzi in the bedroom and a retractable movie screen in the living room--came with the place when they moved in last January. In any case, the stereo's more apt to be on than their VCR. Amy, a former rock singer (that's her voice on the jukebox during a steamy slow dance in Alamo Bay) is partial to heavy metal; Ed leans toward country. Her collection of green glass bottles and bibelots glints on windowsills; he has 25 trucker hats in his closet. A blue '69 Mercedes shares the garage with a four-wheel-drive wagon used for trips into the mountains. But Ed bristles at the suggestion that their lifestyle is casual. "Casual intimates a certain nonconcerned atmosphere," he says. "I think 'informal' would be a better word." Casual or not, they like nothing better than to end the day in front of their stone fireplace, drinking beer and watching the sun go down.

Bartender Ellen Henderson goofs with Amy and Ed at Santa Monica's Circle Bar, a favorite hangout.

Amy has spruced up the bathroom with angels, art prints and a photograph of her husband, saved from the set of Places in the Heart.


Harris and Madigan almost didn't get to team up in Alamo Bay. Louis Malle, the French director (Atlantic City) and husband of Candice Bergen, was set on Harris, but when Madigan was suggested, Malle balked. "I thought it was too obvious," he says. "But then I met Amy and it all fit. In the story, the two lovers have known each other since childhood, and the fact tha Ed and Amy were already so close added a new dimension." To prepare for the role, Harris hung out for two weeks with a Texas shrimper named Peanut. "A week into it, and Harris had become this guy," says Malle. "I remember saying, 'Ed, you really have a red neck!"' Madigan, with her rock and roll roots, has always been a natural actress. Laughing, she says, "I have no compunction about being obnoxious."

In their Malibu home, Harris and Madigan entertain director Louis Malle. "I thought they'd be quite comfortable with these characters," says Malle.


Madigan grew up in Chicago and sang rock through her college years at Marquette University. In 1974 she moved to Los Angeles, where she played in local clubs before turning to acting. Harris went from suburban New Jersey to Columbia College to play football but after two years dropped out and drifted to Oklahoma, where he took classes, pumped gas and worked as a night watchman. After seeing some summer theater, he moved to L.A. to study acting. He was onstage in Sam Shepard's Cowboy Mouth in 1980 when Madigan first laid eyes on him. "It was like something you see in a movie or hear in a song," says Amy. "I just thoughy--'Well, there he is.' It was obvious to me that I'd see him again." A year later, at the first rehearsal of a new play, Harris noticed a fine-boned actress in jeans, leather jacket and wild socks. "They were so colorful," Harris says. "I'd never seen socks like that before." One day at lunch break, Madigan asked him to her house to rehearse over a tuna fish sandwich. "Nothing happened that day," says Harris dryly, but eventually, "nature took its course." And so did their careers. Madigan landed a breakthrough role in Love Child, and Harris acted in eight movies in four years, including his performance as apple-pie astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff. Says Harris: "Marriage became inevitable when she critiqued my performance in Fool for Love [another Shepard play] and I found myself listening without getting defensive." While on location for Places in the Heart, they decided. One morning after breakfast they sneaked away from the set and were married by the Waxahachie County justice of the peace. Their adopted stray dog, Girl, was the only guest. The couple are now developing a film adaptation of Zane Grey's 1912 novel Riders of the Purple Sage: Harris would play a gunfighter--the strong silent type--and Madigan a plucky Mormon maiden. Their love/hate relationship turns to love, and in the end they ride happily off into the-what else-sunset.