Whatever Happened To Madeleine Stowe?

For a period in the 1990s, actress Madeleine Stowe was a major Hollywood star. The California native, who began her career on network television in the late 1970s, rose to fame on the strength of '80s-era hits like the comedy "Stakeout," but hit her stride as both a performer and a box office draw at the midpoint of the 1990s with such blockbusters as "The Last of the Mohicans" and Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys," as well as critically acclaimed independent and arthouse fare like Robert Altman's Oscar-nominated ensemble drama "Short Cuts." But by the end of the 1990s, Stowe had virtually dropped out of movie audiences' view, and within a few years, was all but absent from the film and television business.

The reality behind the ebb and flow of Stowe's acting career is less anchored in the success or failure of any particular project than it is with her desire to provide a normal life for her daughter, May, with husband and fellow actor Brian Benben. As it turns out, such '90s projects made her an in-demand performer when she returned via several small-screen vehicles. Below, a breakdown of what Madeleine Stowe has been doing in the decades since.

She began her career on TV

The daughter of American and Costa Rican parents, Stowe grew up in Los Angeles and came to acting after training for years to become a concert pianist. She began performing at the Solaris Theater in Beverly Hills, which brought her to a talent agent who booked her in episodic series like "Baretta" and the live-action "Amazing Spider-Man" during the 1970s. Stowe soon graduated to television miniseries like 1978's "The Nativity" (which cast her as the virgin Mary) and 1981's "The Gangster Chronicles," which introduced her to actor Brian Benben, whom she married the following year.

Stowe made her feature debut as a waitress targeted by an escaped convict boyfriend (Aidan Quinn) in the 1987 Richard Dreyfuss/Emilio Estevez comedy "Stakeout," which led to additional feature work in comedies like "Worth Winning" and Tony Scott's 1990 thriller "Revenge" (unrelated to her later ABC series of the same name). Stowe's early film roles were largely ornamental — girlfriends and femme fatales, even in high-profile projects like "The Two Jakes," Jack Nicholson's 1990 sequel to "Chinatown" — but she always seemed to bring a bit more to such characters than the script provided, and her hard work would paid off with a string of more nuanced characters in critical and box office hits.

She briefly became a movie star in the '90s

Stowe's film career took off in the early '90s with a starring role opposite Kurt Russell and Ray Liotta in "Unlawful Entry"; a critical and audience hit in the summer of 1992, it was followed that same year by an even bigger success in Michael Mann's period action-drama "The Last of the Mohicans," which cast Stowe as a determined British colonel's daughter kidnapped during the French and Indian War. A supporting role as the wife of a philandering cop (Tim Robbins) in Robert Altman's ensemble drama "Short Cuts" followed in 1993 and a lead as a blind musician in Michael Apted's thriller "Blink," also from '93, solidified her star status, as did her turn playing a psychiatrist treating reluctant time traveler Bruce Willis in Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" in 1995.

Unfortunately, the success of these films was tempered by an equal number of flops, including the 1994 thriller "China Moon" (which was actually filmed in 1991 but shelved for three years) and the critically panned Western "Bad Girls," with Drew Barrymore and Andie MacDowell from the same year. Few moviegoers saw the indies "The Proposition" with Alan Rickman, or "Playing By Heart," which boasted an impressive cast featuring Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie, and Dennis Quaid. While the big-budget John Travolta film "The General's Daughter" was a box office hit in 1999, it took brickbats from reviewers.

She focused on her family

As Stowe's movie career began to wane, she relocated with Benben — a star in his own right, via '90s TV efforts like "Dream On" and "The Brian Benben Show" — to a ranch in Texas in the late 1990s with the intent of focusing on raising their daughter. 

She told People in 2011, "I never thought, 'I'm retiring,' but I didn't feel that 'thing' revving in me. I was much more focused on May." Stowe continued to act during this period, but after a string of failures, including the Sylvester Stallone actioner "Avenging Angelo" in 2002 and the 2003 horror film "Octane" — her last big screen feature to date — she stepped away from screen roles for the next three years.

Stowe made sporadic returns to acting during the early 2000s. She starred as a woman struggling with Parkinson's disease in the TV movie "Saving Milly" in 2005, and appeared as a psychiatrist on "Raines," a short-lived crime series from Graham Yost ("Justified") in 2007 featuring Jeff Goldblum as a detective whose hallucinations of homicide victims helped him solve their murders. But it would be another two years before Stowe would not only return to acting on a full-time basis but also find her comeback vehicle on TV.

She was involved in charity work

In addition to her on-screen work, Stowe has been involved in numerous charitable organizations that have brought hope and relief to individuals around the world. She was a founding member of Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ), a non-profit group launched in 2009 by Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis to provide education, healthcare, and humanitarian aid to the poorest communities on the island of Haiti. APJ built the Academy for Peace and Justice, which was Haiti's first free secondary school, and helped to expand the country's film school, which eventually became the Artists Institute.

Stowe, who was joined by such fellow stars as Nicole Kidman, Olivia Wilde, Penelope Cruz, and Clint Eastwood on its board of directors and advisory board, visited the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010 and teamed with other volunteers at the General Hospital morgue to help bury the bodies of unclaimed victims. Despite the grim work, Stowe kept a blog detailing much of it for People. "I'm pierced by the Haitians' vibrant will to live," she wrote. "My heart quickens. In four short days, mine and my companions' notions on just about everything in life are about to be rearranged."

One charity had a personal connection for Stowe

In addition to her work with Artists for Peace and Justice, Stowe was also a spokesperson for "Lights, Camera, Take Action on MS," a campaign that promoted awareness about the neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS). The subject was personal for Stowe, whose own father, civil engineer Robert Stowe, was diagnosed with MS in the 1960s, when information and treatment were still limited. As a result, she, her mother, and her two siblings became her father's full-time caretaker, which took its toll on the family. "Our whole lives became [about] anticipating my father's every move," she told Brain and Life in 2015. "It can leave you with a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder. I had all the symptoms and realized what it's from."

Treatment for MS has improved considerably in recent decades — the "Lights" campaign was sponsored by Genzyme, a drug company that manufactures MS medication — and Stowe wanted to support others whose loved ones were struggling with the disease. She hosted live events in various cities throughout 2014 and 2015 to promote the campaign's efforts to connect people through online outreach groups and other efforts. "With my family, it was more than just survival mode, but now that new treatments are available and there are all these sources of support, it's really important to do more than just survive," she said. "Do everything you can, be aware as you can, and talk to as many people as you can."

She landed a huge hit with Revenge

Stowe made occasional returns to acting in the 2000s, most notably in the aforementioned "Saving Milly" and the 2009 Lifetime movie "Christmas Hope." But her real comeback happened in 2011 when she landed the role of Victoria Grayson, the scheming head of a highly dysfunctional New York family, on ABC's "Revenge." The series, based loosely on the classic Alexandre Dumas novel "The Count of Monte Cristo," pitted Victoria and her family against Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp), who sought to bring down the Graysons for sending her father to prison and his eventual death.

Stowe told Variety as part of a 2021 oral history of the series that the network needed some convincing in regards to whether she could play a character as ruthless as Victoria. 

"I think that Mike [Kelly, the series' creator and Season 1 showrunner] always wanted me to do it," she explained. "For some reason, the network was afraid that I couldn't be mean, that I didn't have that dark streak or something." Stowe, however, knew that she could summon up the character's dangerous side. "I just threw caution to the wind, and I did it, and they cast me." She remained with the series until its cancellation during Season 4 in 2015.

TV has kept her busy since Revenge

The success of "Revenge" led to other acting opportunities for Stowe. After the ABC series ran its course in 2015, she appeared in the syndicated series "12 Monkeys," though her character wasn't a reprisal of her role in the Terry Gilliam film. In the Season 2 episode "Memory of Tomorrow," she played a woman sentenced to a psychiatric hospital for murdering members of her family. The crimes were committed in an attempt to save them from the destruction of time, which occurs as part of the series, and she provides a crucial piece of information to Aaron Stanford's James Cole on how to stop the collapse of time. That same year, Stowe also served as a guest host for Turner Classic Movies.

In 2019, she returned to series work on "Soundtrack," a Netflix series starring Paul James as a man attempting to rebuild his life and Stowe as his wealthy mother-in-law. The musical drama, which featured new takes on songs by classic and modern pop artists, only lasted a season, but Stowe's return to the TV fold was announced in 2023 when she was cast as a recurring character on "Welcome to Derry," a prequel series to Andy Muschietti's two-part adaptation of Stephen King's "It."

TV also brought her many awards

Stowe's performance and glamorously malevolent presence on "Revenge" netted her a number of awards and nominations from critics and fan groups, including nods from the Golden Globes, TV Guide Awards, ALMA Awards, and GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Critics, all in 2012 alone. TV Guide nominated her a second time for best villain the following year as well. These laurels added considerably to the awards and nominations that Stowe had already received at different points in her career.

She shared a Special Volpi Cup from the Venice Film Festival and Special Golden Globe Award with the acclaimed powerhouse cast of "Short Cuts" in 1993 and 1994, respectively, and also won a Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her performance in Robert Altman's film. Stowe also earned ALMA and Blockbuster Entertainment Award nominations for "The General's Daughter," a Women's Image Network Award, and Imagen Foundation Awards nominations for "Saving Milly"; she won best actress from Sci-Fi Universe magazine in 1996 for "12 Monkeys," and that film also earned her a best actress nomination from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

She experienced a terrifying home invasion

Stowe experienced a frightening real-life event that felt like a plot element from one of her films when she was assaulted during a home invasion in 2016. TMZ reported that the actress, who played a woman held hostage by a burglar in 1992's "Unlawful Entry," was sleeping at her home in September 2015 when she was awakened by the sound of someone running through her master bedroom. 

Stowe — who, TMZ noted, was not wearing clothes at the time of the home invasion — went to find the source of the noise and discovered an armed man in her bathroom. He reportedly pointed the gun at her neck and demanded, "I want all the valuable [sic], I want something."

According to law enforcement reports, the man made off with a jewelry collection estimated to be worth almost $75,000. TMZ added that police arrested the burglar in January 2016, during another robbery. He was later charged with several misdemeanor and felony charges, including burglary, trespassing, and sexual battery, to which he pled not guilty. Stowe was awarded a protective order against the man in May of that year.