- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

It’s rare, to say the least, for a 40-plus actress to find a role in which she can tap her seasoned sensuality. Joan Allen has three such films either out right now or coming our way shortly.

Miss Allen seems an unlikely candidate for such a triptych. This, remember, is the actress many originally saw either as the dutiful and retiring Pat Nixon — nobody’s idea of a sex goddess — in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” or as the subzero housewife in Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised by the three-time Oscar nominee conquering any role she tackles.

“I’ve gotten to do five films in the last two years,” she says. “There’s been a personal blossoming for me. I’m getting the chance to do some more diverse things than, perhaps, I did before.”

The 48-year-old belongs to a rarefied company in Hollywood, way too small to open a picture, too large a talent to be ignored.

It’ll be hard to miss her this season.

In “Off the Map,” which opened last week, she plays the mother of a New Mexico family that has turned its back on modern living. When a young tax auditor finds their remote desert home and promptly falls in love with Miss Allen’s character, no one in the audience blinks an eye.

“I loved that in ‘Off the Map’ — she’s very earthy … a blue jeans, can-fix-a-car kind of gal,” Miss Allen says.

She plays a more conventional — if only marginally — love interest in “The Upside of Anger,” opening in area theaters today. She’s the abandoned wife Terry, a woman scorned, who takes to the bottle — and to alienating everyone around her. Yet, somehow, she remains appealing enough to land a handsome ex-jock played by Kevin Costner.

The third film, the upcoming “Yes,” finds Miss Allen as another jilted lover who bounces back — this time by romancing a Middle Eastern man.

She doesn’t blame the Hollywood powers that be for taking their time to discover her passionate side.

“Making a film is a very expensive prospect,” she says graciously. “It makes sense that they want to do something they feel comfortable with.”

That said, it doesn’t hurt her marketability to drop the prim facade that characterized her memorable early film roles.

Not that her icy reserve toward Mr. Costner’s Denny Davies melts right off the bat in “Anger.”

“It’s a messy one,” she says of the age-appropriate romance at the center of the film. “It’s not like she sees him and says, ‘Oh, my God. I love you.’ It has to get earned. People can relate to that.”

The youngest of four children, Miss Allen began her career by co-founding the Steppenwolf Theatre Company along with John Malkovich. The ensemble, which would produce Gary Sinise, Laurie Metcalf and others, led her to a Tony Award-winning stage career.

She left the theater for film, earning Oscar-nominations for her roles in “Nixon,” “The Crucible” and “The Contender,” but still lacks the clout to get the green light bulb to flash.

Take “Pushers Wanted,” a project she hopes to produce and co-star in along with Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Brenda Blethyn and Claire Danes. The film follows a group of blue-collar Irish women who volunteer to push wheelchair-bound senior citizens headed to Lourdes for potential cures.

The modest project boasts a slew of respected actresses, but funding isn’t available just yet.

It could happen to anyone, she says.

“I’m not even sure Julia Roberts still can [open a movie],” she says of the current marketplace.

It’s up to actors to help crunch the numbers should they care enough about a film getting the go-ahead.

“Everything can get made for a price,” she says.

That’s showbiz, and Miss Allen has neither the time nor the inclination to stuff the suggestion box with complaints.

“I feel very well respected,” she says. “I’ve gotten to work with some of the best people in the business.”

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