New stage in the life of a star wary of the media spotlight

A blonde big-haired woman draped over Tom Cruise and a motorbike: itwas an image that defined the 80s.

In that heady decade, Kelly McGillis starred in three of Hollywood's biggest movies: Witness with Harrison Ford in 1985, Top Gun in 1986 and with Jodie Foster in The Accused in 1988. It was an impressive hat-trick.

In the two decades since, McGillis has followed an interesting career path. For the past 20 years she has appeared in tabloid news stories more regularly than she has appeared on screen. The media has been fascinated with three things in particular: while publicising The Accused in 1988, there was the revelation that she was raped in her New York apartment before she achieved stardom, in the Nineties it was the weight she gained after her most successful roles and last year it was her coming out as gay.

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The attention has made for a woman who is guarded and sharp when it comes to talking to journalists.

It's not that the 52-year-old is unfriendly. More that she knows exactly what she is willing to discuss and what she definitely doesn't want to talk about. The parameters are set even before our meeting – personal issues are off the cards.

McGillis is in Leeds with Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, a Terrence McNally play which was turned into a big- screen version in 1991 with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer in the title roles. A clearly guarded McGillis says she barely remembers the film and hates comparing herself to other people. She's much happier talking about her own performance.

"I'm having a great time doing it, finding it really interesting, I learn something every time I do it. I really loving seeing the audience's reaction," says McGillis.

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The fact that a bona fide movie star is touring England with a little play (it is being staged in the smaller of the West Yorkshire Playhouse's two theatres) is far more surprising it seems to audiences than to the star herself. McGillis is at pains to emphasise that the blonde woman on the motorbike with Tom Cruise is a world away from who she is today and she had good reasons for taking the part. "I was asked and I wanted to see England, so there," she says. "Also I wanted to make some money, so there's the truth."

In the two-hander, McGillis plays waitress Frankie who goes on a first date with chef Johnny and ends up in bed with him. They then try to decide if they should have a relationship – he is keen, she is not.

McGillis says: "I think that it's about people's brokenness and their humanity and their struggle with their brokenness. I don't care if we want to admit it or want to show the world, we are all broken in some way.

"I think what's interesting is watching these two people struggle with that.

"It starts off sexual and then they work out how to have a

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relationship, and if they even want to have one, afterwards. I find that very modern. It's very dysfunctional, but I think it's how lots of relationships happen. So, welcome to the sexual liberation."

It seems a perfect moment to ask about her own sexual liberation. Having been married twice, with two teenage children, she came out as gay last year, in an interview for a lesbian website.

Alas, McGillis wants to keep this interview strictly professional. The only thing that seems left to ask is, how does it feel to go from being at the very top of Hollywood to appearing in a small theatre in Leeds?

A massive pause.

"That is a really complicated question," says McGillis.

"I don't define myself by what I do or what I've done. I'm an actress and I act when I want to – and when I don't, because I have to pay the rent.

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"I have to tell you that whole period of my life (the success of the Eighties) I can't take any credit for. People hired me to do a job, I had nothing to do with it.

"I guess I just see myself as a regular person. I don't even know how to wrap my mind around that stuff because that's not who I am, that's not what I am.

"I clean my toilets and clean my house, go to the grocery store. I'm just a regular person."

n Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, to February 20.