LOS ANGELES -- Madeleine Stowe is so good at being bad on ABC's "Revenge" she could delay a dream project one more year.

Set to direct her first film -- a romantic western called "The Unbound Captives" -- Stowe has a brief window of opportunity in the spring to get it done. "We're dealing with weather issues and everything has to fall right," she says.

If that doesn't happen -- because she has to keep on shooting the drama -- she'll have to regroup.

Nerve-wracking? Yes, particularly since Stowe left the business to write the screenplay.

"The story really appealed to me," she says. "It's a love story about a very specific piece of history."

Stowe based the screenplay on tales she heard while living on a ranch in Texas. "Comanches were abducting white women and the women didn't want to come back. It's set between 1859 and 1867."

Perplexed about how to write the story's violence, Stowe called on her husband, actor Brian Benben, to help. "He's into American Indians, their habits and society. He knew the mechanics, so I asked him to help."

Naturally, the two had disagreements. "We fought constantly...it was a horror show," Stowe says with a laugh. "Finally, I'd write something on my own, then he'd write something on his own."

The script was purchased and Stowe was encouraged to direct. Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Robert Pattinson were signed to star. And then? "Revenge" entered the picture.

Not really looking for an acting job, Stowe realized there was a twist to the story that could be quite fun to play. "It had the potential to go really deep and psychological in a Hitchcockian way."

Her character -- the queen bee of the Hamptons -- has plenty of dirt in her background and a connection to the young woman bent on revenge.

"I can believe that this person would be doing these things," she says. "It's easy for me to slide into her."

Clearly, "Revenge" is a guilty pleasure, she says. "It's farfetched. But 'The Count of Monte Cristo' is farfetched."

That provides relief from the directing assignment -- easily one of the biggest show business challenges she has faced.

"I've worked with a lot of great directors and learned a lot from them -- from Michael Mann to Robert Altman to Terry Gilliam to Tony Scott. I think I can bring something to this that others wouldn't."

While starring in films like "The Last of the Mohicans," "12 Monkeys," "The Two Jakes" and, yes, a film named "Revenge," Stowe never just concentrated on her part. "I always looked at everybody's roles. If I didn't feel passionate about them I didn't want to do it."

That global view helped her accept the idea that she could be a director. "I'm a bit of an anomaly," she explains. "I have a very strange idea and how I want to spin it. It's a western. No woman has directed one before. So it will be interesting to see how it all works out."

Stowe has hired Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll to shoot it. The film will be produced by Charles Roven, one of 'The Dark Knight's" producers.

"I've done the storyboards and I've talkd with John. I'm very opinionated, but I know there are many ways to approach it."

That prep work? It takes place between scenes on "Revenge."

While her character is scheming, she's plotting.

"We are dealing at a particular time right now in American history where I think the average American is going to want to see the takedown of the rich," she says. "Revenge" is set in a world that's "sunny and bright...yet there's a whole subterranean world, which makes a really interesting story."

Audiences have responded -- "Revenge" was picked up for the whole season. That gives Stowe a sense of economic comfort but it also nudges her film.

"It's such an impenetrable world," she says of "Revenge." "Don't we just want to watch people misbehave? That's what it comes down to -- bad behavior and trying to find the redemptive qualities of this bad behavior."

And the film? "Just when 'Revenge' happened, the movie started coming together again. I didn't think I was drawing from my own life, but when you look at the screenplay, you'll see.

"My husband says he always saw me more as the male figure, so we'll see how it turns out."





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