The co-star of such popular movies as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Groundhog Day" portrays a Type A businesswoman who's a lot to handle for her new assistant -- a teenager (Erica Dasher) thought to be older, and secretly trying to finish high school while keeping up with the job -- in the ABC Family series "Jane by Design," premiering Tuesday, Jan. 3.
"I've worked with many strong women in the fashion industry, and it does take a certain personality. It's a really demanding job. One of the things I like about this character is that she's very much like a man, yet she's a woman. She's very feminine, but many women are as powerful as men have always been. The working world is very tough."
While viewers should find MacDowell humorous in "Jane by Design," her alter ego clearly takes herself seriously. "I think the best comedy comes not from when you're intentionally trying to be funny," says the actress who's also marking 25 years as a L'Oreal spokeswoman, "but when you're funny just because you are funny." As the premiere episode suggests, MacDowell doesn't necessarily have to be on the "Jane by Design" set, since the world traveler she plays often communicates with her office via a video connection. Still, in the early going, MacDowell has spent more time at the show's Los Angeles studio than she expected.
"The set is beautiful, and we have great clothes, so it's always fun to dress up every day. Most important, though, is the writing. The scripts are very well-written.
"I think television opens you up to a bigger world than movies can, because you're going into people's homes," MacDowell adds in considering ABC Family's viewership. "Also, it's nice for me to be kept in the eye of young people who might not know my previous work."
MacDowell would have been seen last season on Fox's "Lone Star" had it not been canceled after just two airings. She says her "Jane by Design" character became a much bigger part than initially planned, and if that were to mean a move to the West Coast for her, she'd be fine with that.
"My kids are gone now, so I don't really have any true reason to stay in Asheville," she says of her North Carolina home base of many years. "I'm happy to go anywhere to work, and it would be nice to be in L.A., because my daughter is going to be there." Actually, that daughter -- Rainey Qualley -- will be Miss Golden Globe 2012 when the Hollywood honors are handed out Sunday, Jan. 15, on NBC.
Also seen in the recent movie remake of "Footloose," MacDowell is glad "Jane by Design" gives her a new character to be identified with. "People who remember me from Groundhog Day' might think I'm a totally sweet person," she muses, "so it's nice to do something different. I'm really enjoying the comical piece of this. Because I've been around a lot of women like this one, I find her amusing."