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"West" - May 1990

MAD ABOUT MEG - By John Lekich

Meg Tilly is a movie star, but she is also the girl next door. Raised on Vancouver Island, she's probably best known for her role in "The Big Chill" as the doe-eyed waif who nudges William Hurt out of a near-catatonic depression. Seven years later, it's difficult to remember much about a film so saturated with talent that Kevin Costner's role ended up on the cutting-room floor. And yet the image of Tilly's Chloe stretching a leg over her dark head with the ease of an angel kicking at a passing cloud still resonates with forbidden wonder for me.

Not since the young Audrey Hepburn has an actress seemed so pure and sensual, so gamine and wise, and two of the best directors in the business have fallen hard for Tilly. After Milos Forman had to cut her from his Academy Award winning film "Amadeus" (Tilly injured her leg playing soccer with the crew), he bombarded "Agnes of God" director Norman Jewison with tapes and telegrams praising his wounded prot‚g‚e. Jewison quickly succumbed, and Tilly's performance as a fragile nun earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. As for Forman, he would later cast her in last winter's "Valmont".

Now Meg Tilly was on my answering machine, asking me to dinner with the backfence sweetness of a neighbour sharing her recipe for no-fail brownies. Any technicolour daydreams I might have had of meeting her in the secluded log house she shares with her two children vanished when Tilly suggested a steakhouse in nearby Maple Ridge. "Sorry, there isn't much of a choice," she explained. "It's either the Keg or the A&W and I thought the Keg had better chairs.

The taxi ride out is just long enough for some harmless fantasizing. Tilly has been married once, to a movie producer some 20 years her senior, and she is now rumored to be involved with her "Valmont" co-star, Colin Firth. A familiar, wise-ass voice uncoils itself from the pit of my brain-stem: "Maybe she's available." I try to ignore this attempt at corrupting my professional principles, but it's feeling more like a date than an interview every minute. The words of John Huston, as the greedy developer in "Chinatown", reverberate. "Most people," he taunts Nicholson's Jake Gittes, "never have to face the fact that, in the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything."

The cab deposits me in front of the restaurant. A women emerges from the shadows wearing gumboots, her heart-shaped face framed by the collar of a forest-green rainslicker. The light in the parking lot is harsh, but Tilly, who turned 30 this past Valentine's Day, could be my kid sister. She's adorable. I'm stammering. She smiles, turns on her gumboots, and strides into the Keg.

Once we're seated, the waitress sets down a pair of complimentary strawberry daiquiris. Meg orders shrimp. I look painfully uncertain. She requests an extra fork. Only minutes into the evening, and I'm being invited to eat off her plate. Who needs Jack? Suddenly bold, I ask her about ambition, and she digs into the conversation with gusto. Acting, it turns out, wasn't her first passion. At the impossibly late age of 14, Meg decided to become a ballet dancer. " I worked five hours a night," she recalls. "I didn't go to parties. I didn't go on dates. I just pushed and pushed until I got good.

So good that, at 18, Tilly left Victoria for New York and a dance scholarship. It wasn't until a back injury cut her dance career short that she thought about acting. " I don't know what else I could do," she says, winsomely. Six months later, she was starring opposite Matt Dillon in "Tex", produced by her future husband, Tim Zinnemann. The bigger roles followed one after another. "I still have a problem with nuns," Meg says, talking about her "Agnes of God" part. "I follow them around like a kitten with a ball of yarn. After a while, all my characters become very close friends."

Is she obsessed with her role as a film noir vixen in "The Two Jakes", scheduled to be released this August? Her character, Kitty Berman, is married to the other Jake, played by Harvey Keitel. "The first time you see Kitty, she's in bed with another man," she confesses with illicit glee. Keitel, the jealous type, hires Nickolson's Jake Gittes to find the man who is bedding his wife. "Jack told me, 'Meg, I want you to play a real broad'-it was so much fun! Kitty has red hair, a red mouth, and eyebrows up to here," laughs Tilly, arching her own. "She appears to have it all together, but underneath the shoulder pads, she's crumbling inside."

But what about Nicholson, my role model, the smoothest man alive? "He's like a little boy," she exclaims. "He wants to please, and he still has that sense of excitement and discovery. As a director, he was sort of, 'Wahoo! Let's go!' I don't know how the movie's going to turn out, but it sure was fun." And so is Meg. Before long, I'm brazenly spearing shrimp out of her dish. Tilly is doing an affectionate impression of Milos Forman's Czech accent. ("Meggie, Meggie, why do you insist on walking like a duck?") And I haven't had to resort to the Nicholson defence once.

Maybe the nonalcoholic daiquiris have somehow managed to go to my head, but I can't help thinking I've found the perfect women, someone who'll share her thoughts as spontaneously as her appetizer. By the time the evening is over, my heart is a soft-centered chocolate. Tilly waits for my cab to arrive, bids me goodbye, and slips into the night. I linger in the shadows. "You're just gonna just let her go?" taunts my alter ego. Unable to resist echoing the last line of "Chinatown", I flip up the collar of my trenchcoat and make Nicholson's serpentine grin my own. "Forget it, Jake," I mumble. "It's just Maple Ridge."

Thanks to Mark for the shot of "The Keg"

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