It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 30 years since Melanie Griffith’s Tess McGill took the Staten Island Ferry to her Wall Street secretarial job in 1988’s Working Girl, with Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” providing the anthemic soundtrack for her journey across New York Harbor.
Prior to the film’s release, Griffith had seemingly lived plenty: her first acting job at 14; sexually charged scenes at 17; a marriage to and divorce from Don Johnson (the first time); a second marriage, to Steven Bauer, resulting in her first biological child, Alexander (now 33). After Working Girl, while her career grew (her performance garnered her an Academy Award nomination), so did her personal experiences. Divorcing Bauer, she remarried and divorced Johnson again and then married (and later divorced) Antonio Banderas. There were trips to rehab. And she gave birth to two more kids (plus claimed a stepson, Jesse Johnson, as part of her extended family). Griffith’s daughters are the ones carrying on the Hollywood legacy that her mother, Tippi Hedren, now 88, started. Stella, her 21-year-old with Banderas, is a student at USC who spent the summer taking acting classes at Stella Adler, where Griffith herself had studied. And Dakota, her 28-year-old with Johnson, is an international superstar thanks to her role as Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades of Grey blockbusters.
But in our national collective memory, Griffith, who turned 61 in August, remains Tess from Working Girl: sexy, plucky, and a poster child for outmaneuvering misogynist pigs way before the #MeToo era. “That’s fucked up,” says an amused Griffith when she’s reminded over lunch near her Central Park West apartment that Working Girl was a full three decades ago. “I didn’t even think about that. But it was one of those amazing, amazing experiences in my life. And people still love it so much. They tell me how much it meant to them and how it changed their lives. And a lot of women my age and younger say, ‘I saw that movie, and it gave me encouragement to do what I wanted to do.’ ”
Does that feel good? “Hell, yeah,” Griffith says with a smile, outshining her two diamond rings and the heavy-duty studs in each ear.
As Griffith dips into her tuna tartare and Parmesan-sprinkled fries, she says she always knew the Mike Nichols-directed film would have an impact, in part because making it was “magic.” Also, the issue of toppling the patriarchy remains crazily resonant today. Griffith’s mother went through a lot of hell in Hollywood, especially because of her much-discussed working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock.
“She was mentally abused and tortured by him,” explains Griffith, “so I knew not to ever let somebody take advantage of me. And I wasn’t stupid. I’m not saying any of those girls are stupid, but I was aware of what was possible.”
Though several of her early roles involved baring her skin for the camera, she insists she never had a situation where anyone tried to abuse her. “I’m sure that I had the suggestion of ‘I want to sleep with you, come over,’ but I knew better.
“If I think back, there were things that were asked, and I would just say, ‘No, I’m not doing it that way,’ but you had to be strong and know what you wanted,” Griffith continues. “I think I always had that. I was a tough chick. I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t want to do it.”
This resilience may explain why, when Griffith admits she’s thinking about writing a memoir and I suggest borrowing the title Working Girl, she proposes calling it Working Bitch instead. “But I don’t want to do a corny, stupid movie-star book, you know what I mean?”
Griffith, who stepped out of the limelight to raise her kids and be a wife, seems ready to get back to work again. Marrying Banderas after divorcing Johnson for the second time was “tumultuous,” Griffith recalls.
She and Johnson, who met when she was just 14 and married for the first time only a few years later, “were imprinted on each other,” she says. “It was sort of a natural karmic thing for us to get back together and to have Dakota. She was meant to come into the world, if you think about it.”
Starting another family with Banderas in 1996, Griffith adds, “was more exciting than playing a part in a story. You have to live your life and not just play somebody else all the time. And how can you play somebody else if you don’t live your own life?”
Griffith says she is still chummy with Johnson, Bauer, and Banderas. “All of my husbands, my three husbands — I love them all so much, and we’re all very close.”
Still, getting married again doesn’t seem like a reality for her. “I really don’t think it’s relevant for anyone anymore,” Griffith says, offering up some of her fries. “But especially if you’re 60 and you have four kids and you’re living the life you’ve always wanted. Then why get married? It’s, like, I would love to fall in love and have a romance, a relationship, but I haven’t. I keep looking. I’ve had a couple of lovers but not a relationship.”
Would she try dating apps? “No, Jesus,” Griffith says, smirking. “Tinder or something would just be so tacky, I think.”
Do her four kids try to fix her up? “No,” she says with a laugh. “I think I can find someone on my own. But if you know of anybody, please tell me.”
In the meantime, she’s ready to tackle a new role. “After getting divorced and, in a way, finishing up with my kids — my Stella is now 21 — I have the time and the chance to reboot and revitalize my career, I guess you would say.”
Then there’s that book she’s considering writing (on her own, without the help of a ghost writer, thank you very much). And she’d like to return to Broadway — she played Roxie Hart in Chicago 15 years ago — though not in a musical. “That’s my dream. I think that theater is kinder on a 60-year-old face” than movies or television is, she says. For instance, she just had some skin cancer removed from her nose, and it left a black-and-blue mark.
“It’s a scary thing when you’re an actress and you depend on your face for work,” Griffith says matter-of-factly. “But I realize I have to put a Band-Aid on it, and it’s fine. I just look like a dork.”
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Michelle Pfeiffer took time off for her family, I tell Griffith, and now she’s in every movie at the multiplex. “I mean, Michelle Pfeiffer is so fucking beautiful. I’m not that beautiful,” she says nonchalantly. When she’s home in Los Angeles, Griffith works out every day with a trainer, and she recently came back from an epic European trip that included a stop in Germany, where the stem-cell scientist Dr. Augustinus Bader oxidized her blood with anti-inflammatory peptides three times. (Griffith invests in Dr. Bader’s skin-care line; her brother-in-law is involved in the company.)
“It’s a different deal when you’re older,” she says. “And we’re old. I don’t mean it badly, and I don’t mean it like, ‘Oh, poor me,’ or anything like that. It’s just a different deal when you’re an older person. It’s different from being the hot stuff to being the old hot stuff.”
All it will take is a little push, though. “I’m really just now ready to do it again,” Griffith says, finishing a second cappuccino and antsy for a walk and a cigarette break. “But it’s exciting. It’s a challenge. I’m good in my life.”
Photographer: Robbie Fimmano. Fashion editor: Ali Pew. Hair: Maranda. Makeup: Lisa Storey. Manicure: Whitney Gibson. Production: Tyler Duuring.
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