The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Wednesday, October 18, 1995            TAG: 9510180038
                                             LENGTH: Long  :  237 lines


SHE'S NO demi-diva any longer.

Demi Moore, 32, is the current super-diva and arguably the most powerful woman in the film industry.

For the upcoming film ``Striptease,'' she's being paid $12.5 million - the highest salary of any actress in history. She's currently in theaters as Hester Prynne in ``The Scarlet Letter'' and opens Friday in ``Now and Then,'' which she co-produced. On top of all that, she's married to superstar Bruce Willis (whose own salary has reached $20 million a picture).

``Are you trying to say I'm at the top?'' Demi Moore queried, tilting her head mischievously to the side. ``If so, then I have to be aware of the fact that I can't stay there. They've always said that getting there is easier than staying there. Personally, I don't think I'm there, but I did hear the other night that I was a question on `Jeopardy.' The telephone started ringing off the hook. That's really making it. Now, if only I could get into the TV Guide crossword puzzle.

``This is a business of ups and downs. People build you up just for the joy of tearing you down. But I have to stay somewhere, don't I? I know my barriers. I know my goals. I set out with a desire and a passion to be an actress. It carried me through - even when I had to deal with all my insecurities.''

We haven't heard much about those insecurities. In the industry, she's nicknamed ``Gimme Moore.'' She's known to get her way.

Terry Hughes, who directed her in the flop ``The Butcher's Wife,'' once said: ``She doesn't take direction. You have to trick her into thinking things are her own idea.''

Reams have been written about her entourage and personal assistants, partly because she seldom does interviews.

``I feel naked,'' she announced as she finally broke her silence the other day in New York. Clad in a black satin blouse and skin-tight jeans, she was, contrary to her thoughts, not naked.

``Yes, I know I'm not considered a fine actress,'' she said. ``I'm commercial, so I'm considered a popcorn actress. I try not to look for too much outside validation. I don't count on that. Of course, all of us seek some external approval. I think it's pretty small of all these people to go on and on about us changing `The Scarlet Letter' from the book. It's my job to entertain. The goal was to do good work in a movie that people would go to see. What good is all the work if no one goes to see it?''

``My heroine, as a kid, was the Bionic Woman, because she could do everything,'' Moore said. HIGHEST SALARY

Her ``Striptease'' salary made headlines, but she says she isn't impressed by it.

``They offered me this money because they said they valued what I would bring to the project,'' she said. ``I was going to turn it down? I'll never see half of it anyway, after agents, publicists and everyone else is paid. The moment I got this salary, every other woman in Hollywood went up a notch too. I want other women to do well. I need them to do well.''

Some women, though, criticize her choice of roles. She played a woman who accepts a $1 million payment from Robert Redford in return for one night of sex in ``Indecent Proposal.'' She sexually harassed Michael Douglas in ``Disclosure.'' In the upcoming ``Striptease,'' she reportedly takes it all off.

She's already taken it all off for two covers of Vanity Fair. For the first, she was mightily pregnant, and on the second go-round, she was clad only in body paint.

``Those covers were a more daring statement than any work I had done up until that time,'' she said. ``So I had to do them. I don't feel compelled to be `politically correct.' Some people say those films are about male fantasies. I say they're more about female power.

`` `Striptease' is not a movie about stripping. It's about a mother and what she has to do. Are you saying that I shouldn't play villains because they might be a bad role model? I'm an actress, not a role model. Besides, you wouldn't ask a man to explain his roles in relation to being a role model. I refuse to be limited any more than a man is. I plan to be as much of a woman as I can be, without being a man.'' FROM TRAILER PARK TO RICHES

Demi Moore has come a long way. ``I was born on a trailer lot and I'm back on a trailer lot,'' she said with a laugh. ``So here I am. Where have I gone?''

(Her latest trailer is a multimillion-dollar dressing trailer on the set of ``Striptease'' in Florida).

Born Demi Guynes, she grew up ``a fat little dork with strange, cat-like glasses.'' She wore an eye patch to help correct a walleye, and she still has trouble with the vision in her right eye.

``I never thought of myself as sensual,'' she said. ``That's a label people have projected on me. As a child, I fluctuated between quiet shyness and aggressiveness. My father was a newspaperman, in the ad department, and we moved 48 times before I was 13. I remember being in five different schools in the seventh grade.

``I went with Bruce to his high school reunion, and he knew people all the way back to the second grade - the same people. I never even could guess what that would have been like.''

Her parents were married as teenagers and divorced when Demi was 13. Her mother moved her and her younger brother to Hollywood, where, at age 16, she quit school and began modeling. She learned that the man she always thought was her father was not actually her biological father. When she was 18, he committed suicide. She is estranged from her mother.

She married rock musician Freddy Moore, a marriage that lasted four years.

Her first movie role was in the forgettable ``Choices.'' Then she was chased by a giant slug in ``Parasite.'' Her official studio biography omits both films.

She was first noticed in ``Blame it on Rio'' with Michael Caine. She then played an aspiring blues singer in ``No Small Affair.'' Her breakthrough came in the 1985 box office hit ``St. Elmo's Fire,'' co-starring with the so-called Hollywood ``brat pack'' - a group of new young stars.

Her problems with drugs and alcohol mirrored the character she played in ``St. Elmo's Fire.'' She put herself in rehab, a period she acknowledges but doesn't discuss.

Her wedding to co-star Emilio Estevez was called off just days before the ceremony. Her comment: ``We were not ready for marriage.'' MARRIAGE TO BRUCE

Then came Bruce. He was known to be something of a rounder.

``The first time I met him was at the Improv Comedy Club,'' she said. ``I took one look and said `No way,' but that was my head thinking. Something else went `Zap.' We were married four months later.''

What did they do on the first date?

``We went to see John Goodman in a Shakespearean play, `Anthony and Cleopatra.' I took along five other guys for protection. It was kind of a group date. And, yeah, he did kiss me on the first date.''

In spite of those who predicted trouble in any marriage involving two superstars, the Willises have been married eight years and appear to be quite happy. He has tamed down. She takes no guff.

He's not upset when she poses in the nude or does sexy roles. ``He's very secure about that,'' she said. ``We live in a very puritanical world, still. In many ways, it's like the hypocrisy Hester Prynne went through in `The Scarlet Letter.' Why are we so afraid of the human body? I think freedom is much better than repression. I want my children to have the chance to know that too. This summer, we went to Europe and took the children on the beaches, where everyone from 2 to 102 goes topless.''

Reminded that her 1982 nude photo for Oui magazine is the most frequently downloaded image on the Internet, she said, simply, ``Does that mean I'm popular?'' FACING THE PURITANS

``In playing Hester Prynne, I felt that she was very close to God,'' Moore said. ``She was by no means angry. The biggest problem with organized religion is that spirituality is so often lost. Those who claim to be interpreting God's words choose to interpret for their own gain, which is just greed. They are seeking to control - to have power over the masses.

``I feel that as I face my own fears, I'm on a spiritual path. We are all of God. It's only by judgment and hypocrisy that we are separated.''

Her daughters are Rumer, 5; Scout, 4; and baby Tallulah. (Scout was named for the young heroine of ``To Kill a Mockingbird.'' Tallulah was named for Tallulah Bankhead).

Scout appears as Hester's child in `The Scarlet Letter.'' Rumer has a bit part in ``Now and Then'' and will play Demi's daughter in ``Strip-tease.''

``We were worried about her being in the film,'' Moore said. ``We'd tried to keep them out of the public eye, but she wanted to do it very badly. I told her that I wouldn't promise her anything and that I wouldn't intervene for her but she could audition with the eight other little girls who were up for the part. She got it. After all, she does look like me, and she has been around this world all her life.'' MADAME PRODUCER

Moore's production company was originally called Rufglan Pictures but has been changed to Movie Pictures because no one could spell it.

``I just didn't want to be dependent on whatever came my way,'' she said. ``We have 25 films in varied stages of development. I won't be in most of them. I want, particularly, to develop good roles for women. That's why I liked doing `Now and Then' so much. It's a coming-of-age comedy-drama with good parts for everyone.''

In it, Moore plays a disillusioned writer who returns to the small town where she grew up in the 1970s. Her co-stars include Melanie Griffith, Rosie O'Donnell and Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks).

``My husband,'' Moore said, ``makes movies that make money. I make movies that appeal to me.''

Since ``Ghost,'' however, her flicks have been making mega-bucks too. At first, Hollywood attributed the success of ``Ghost'' to Patrick Swayze. After ``A Few Good Men,'' ``Indecent Proposal'' and ``Disclosure,'' she was elevated to the A list on her own.

She and Willis worked together in the small-budget melodrama ``Mortal Thoughts.''

``We enjoyed it, but we don't really need the added tension of working on the same set,'' she said. ``It's important that we take time off and be with each other.

``I work 18-hour days usually - and that includes workouts at the gym. Feel sorry for me! Please! I know you can't, and I don't blame anyone. I'm very lucky. The work is hard when it's under way, but I have the luxury of being able to take chunks of time off in a row - like a month at a time. And I have help at home. Nannies. It's all organized.'' PURITANS AND STRIPPERS

Moore denies that she got special perks on the set of ``Scarlet Letter.''

``It was never pitched as a star vehicle for me,'' she said. ``I campaigned to get it.''

Joan Plowright, Laurence Olivier's widow, co-stars in ``Scarlet Letter'' as the free-thinking Harriet Hibbons. Plowright, one of the most highly regarded classical actresses in England, said that she had no trouble adjusting to her untrained leading lady. (Moore has never taken acting lessons).

``She is very natural and very honest in seeking where she wants to go with a part,'' Plowright said. ``We were just two actresses at work. No nonsense. I must say that she behaved very well. She was very likable. I saw none of that movie star behavior. Of course, I'm sure she's capable of that.''

``I feel I am a collaborator,'' Moore said. ``I'm not demanding anything, but I do want us all to be the very best we can be.''

For ``Striptease,'' Moore has been visiting strip joints around New York. ``Personally, I don't find stripping a derogatory profession at all,'' she said. ``I've met many of these women, and I have respect for them. They are not to be degraded because of their job. I went to the Blue Angel and I hung out in their dressing room. It's like a family.''

Did Bruce go along?

``Oh, yes,'' she laughed. ``There's been a lot of `research' in my name. He's benefiting from all this. I wanted to learn how these women think. The plot concerns a mother who is fighting to keep the custody of her child. She strips in order to pay the lawyers. It's not `Showgirls.' I haven't seen that. That's not my type film. I'm trying to escape my own stereotyping, so I'd like to escape the stereotyping of these women.''

In just a few months, she'll be seen in ``The Juror,'' a thriller co-starring Alec Baldwin.

Concerning her headlong rush, and her checkered past, she's fond of quoting the philosopher Nietzsche that that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

At the rate she's going, she might just make the crossword puzzles after all. ILLUSTRATION: Color photos

In the coming-of-age film ``Then and Now,'' Gaby Hoffmann, left, and

Demi Moore play the main character.

Moore plays the adulteress Hester Prynne, who is forced to wear a

bade of shame, in ``The Scarlet Letter.''



Demi Moore likes to portray strong women, like the business

executive she played in ``Disclosure.''