According to red-carpet protocol, featured players should arrive before the movie's stars. But at the premiere for "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," it was already show time, and the youthful stars -- Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu -- were inside Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre when Demi Moore, who plays a supporting role as the dark angel, finally arrived.
Moore, 40, swept in -- too late to grant interviews, late enough to cause a stir. With young photogenic boyfriend, well-known ex-husband and their children in tow, she smiled to the cameras, tossed a sleek sheet of dark hair and rushed on, granting a glimpse of the real face and body that were as flawless as the images on magazine covers in nearly every supermarket checkout lane across the country.
On the carpet, in the magazines and on numerous television shows, Moore has been performing in a parallel production: the one staged by the Hollywood publicity machine that shifts into high gear around the opening of a big commercial movie. Once the hottest and highest-paid actress in Hollywood, Moore is a proven commodity for the team of agents, publicists and managers who have a stake in her success and the success of the film. And she "did her part by getting her body in shape and giving people a narrative," says Marty Kaplan, an associate dean at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "The publicity machine loves stories."
This one has two parts, according to Kaplan: Moore is 40 and looks fabulous, and Moore is a mother with a friendly ex-husband and, if appearances are to be believed, a 25-year-old lover. For those who remember her in her glory days, it's nothing short of an inspiration, he says.
"Sheer survival can't be underestimated as an attractive thing," Kaplan says. "We admire people who don't give up."
And in a popular culture that chews up celebrities for breakfast, Moore has demonstrated a remarkable staying power since she blew into Hollywood as one of the Brat Pack, became a media-maligned movie star with her own servants and jets, and then throttled back to raise her children in Idaho.
Part of her survival in the spotlight can be traced to her personal life (the troubled childhood, the divorce from Bruce Willis, the titillating tabloid reports of liaisons with younger men, including, now, 25-year-old Ashton Kutcher from television's "Punk'd" and "That '70s Show"). Part is due to some daring choices: a pioneering willingness to take it all off (the iconic pregnant profile in Vanity Fair), the regrettable film "Striptease."
Striking a nerve
Whether through instinct, cunning or luck, she struck a cultural nerve with roles that often played to the times and stayed in the public's consciousness. From the sexy Jackie Templeton on "General Hospital" (1982-83) to the sweetly troubled pseudo-sophisticate of "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985), she morphed into the weepy lover of "Ghost" (1990), the wife swapped for money in "Indecent Proposal" (1993) and the strong-willed, ambitious women of "Disclosure" (1994) and "A Few Good Men" (1992).
"She was, for a time, a tremendous operator," says David Thomson, author of "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film." "She's always been ready to make herself a sort of icon and commodity."
The 1992 Vanity Fair cover was a "complete transaction," Kaplan says. "It was, in some ways, the ultimate publicity stunt." As columnist Catherine Seipp wrote in the online magazine Salon, "Almost every Demi Moore vehicle is less a movie than a signal for another media feeding frenzy."
In 1996, Moore publicized her part as a pole-dancing single mom in "Striptease" by stripping down to a bikini on television. She showed up at a press junket for "Striptease" with her head shaved for her next role as the tough and reviled "G.I. Jane" (1997). She publicized that movie by doing one-arm push-ups. With her beauty and rough, lived-in voice, her attention-getting breasts and muscles, Moore seemed to offer something for everyone. Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at Cal State Los Angeles, says, "Guys can find something to get turned on; girls can find something to identify with or be inspired."
According to Seipp, she was "a Joan Crawford for the '90s: the girl of humble background who through sheer force of will transformed herself into a movie star while retaining her shopgirl soul."
Still, many female audiences felt their tolerance tested by the extremes she portrayed in "Striptease" and "G.I. Jane" and squirmed in their seats. Her next vehicle, "Passion of Mind," fell flat. "She knew she'd take hits for ["G.I. Jane" and "Striptease"], and she did," says her agent, Kevin Huvane. But when she shifted her focus to raising children, he says, it was by choice -- to regroup after divorce and her mother's death -- and not due to the specter of a fading career.
Moore declined to be interviewed for this article, but Huvane says she's come back on her own terms after Barrymore and director McG created the "Charlie's Angels" role specifically for her. In the years between movies, the frenzy died down but the public's curiosity never waned. (And she did keep her hand in, acting as a producer for all the "Austin Powers" movies.) She turned down four movie offers and constant requests to pose for the cover of Vogue, he says. She agreed to appear on the July cover, he adds, only because the timing helped publicize the film, which opened Friday, and features Moore as a former Angel who finds herself back in the action.
Other Hollywood agents call her dramatic return a work of "genius" and "brilliant." The snowballing coverage of her liaison with Kutcher (a magazine cover boy himself), the guest appearances at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards and on "Will & Grace" and the widespread attention in a splashy summer movie all have succeeded in introducing her to a new generation. Being associated with a girl-power movie addresses the problem she had with women who found her threatening. And the publicity surrounding her body -- shots of her bikini scenes in "Charlie's Angels" have been in circulation since November -- shows she can still pull off the core requirement for female celebrities that has derailed many a middle-aged actress: a stunner body.
"It's as if time had stopped 10 years ago," says one agent. "She looks stunning."
Moore's team includes Creative Artists Agency and PMK/HBH, some of the most powerful representatives in Hollywood. Their efforts in launching the summer saga have been the subject of speculation and envy.
Kaplan says Moore's narrative is so strong, it's currency in itself. "It's not as though it's a cash transaction, but in the attention economy, publicity is king."
There is "a natural curiosity about what she's doing," says Stephen Huvane, Moore's publicist and her agent's brother. Some of the coverage -- one tabloid suggested a six-figure plastic surgery bill -- has been "completely fabricated," he says. And "total coincidence" is how he accounts for her suddenly ubiquitous appearances with Kutcher.
He also notes that Moore wasn't involved in most of the tabloid and magazine articles.
Moore herself has seemed coy or shy in recent interviews, a switch from her former days in the limelight. She once bragged jokingly to a writer from Premiere magazine about knowing how to stage a scene for a journalist. When the articles turned nasty, describing her as a prima donna nicknamed "Gimme Moore," she told one writer, "I take solace in knowing one thing. Nobody remembers the articles. Everybody remembers the photographs."
It's been a long time since she's done interviews, though, and Moore had an awkward time earlier this week on "Today" when she wrung her hands and switched between seemingly pat and then unprepared answers to Matt Lauer's questions about how she keeps fit ("It's about being happy from the inside out") or her relationship with Kutcher ("You should ask him").
Yet each new revelation, every new mystery only contributes to Moore's appeal -- especially for women, says People magazine Managing Editor Martha Nelson. The main reason Moore continues to fascinate is that she appears to exude "likability" and, lacking that, "authenticity" in any and all of her various incarnations.
"People sense that they 'know' her," Nelson says. "Her life has been a life that a lot of people have watched. They have followed her in her work and her personal life. And part of what makes her fun and fascinating is the fact that she has that ability to surprise us."
One surprise is that both agent Huvane and editor Nelson say Moore's core audience is made up of women who, somehow, can relate. "When she did a nude shot of herself pregnant, it made women feel good about pregnancy and their bodies. It was risque but not scandalous," Nelson says. "That's part of her charm."
Now, the publicity machine is looking to put that charm back to work. "Six years away from the limelight put a ceiling on whatever she could charge," Kaplan says. "Now with this publicity, she has a shot at asking for more money. Now she's got the attention of the moviegoers."
While opportunities abound, Moore isn't looking to book herself solid, her agent says. She's considering at least five movie offers, including three thrillers, a family drama and a drama with comedic overtones. "Ideally," he adds, "she'd love to do a romantic comedy," but her only real criteria is that "the movie is good."
Back in Hailey, Idaho, a family-oriented town in a Palm Springs sort of way, "the talk is they won't come back," says Jennifer Peterson, a local reporter for the Wood River Journal. Moore and Willis' oldest child now is in boarding school in Michigan, but the other two, according to Peterson, are enrolled locally for next year. Moore's private jet comes and goes more often now, and "lately she's been on the cell phone a lot," she says.
Like the rest of the world, Peterson, who has known Moore since her Brat Pack days, has watched her change over the years. Moore seems more intense now, she says. "She's not the relaxed person I met way back when -- so open and easy, a good girlfriend. Now she feels like a different entity. She doesn't ever seem as completely comfortable."
To the publicity machine, it doesn't really matter whether the private Moore matches the public Moore who is constantly under construction. "Either she may be the likable, fascinating, ever-morphing person whose story we love to watch, or she's just astonishingly brilliant at working her image," Nelson says. "But do you really care?"