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Fit for Office

Geena Davis finds her inner jock and campaigns to get girls moving.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You know her now as the first female leader of the free world, a forceful physical presence who stands up to backstabbing senators while calmly dictating international policy.

But actor Geena Davis, who is enjoying another flush of success at age 50 with her Golden Globe-winning portrayal of President Mackenzie Allen in ABC's television series Commander in Chief, hasn't always been so comfortable in her own skin. Sure, she'd garnered millions of fans for her roles in the films Beetlejuice, The Accidental Tourist --- which netted her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1989 ---and the unforgettable chick flick Thelma & Louise, all by age 35. But she could not have imagined how her life would change when she signed on to portray Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own.

"I had to play the best baseball player anybody had ever seen, and it was a daunting task," says Davis, who, despite her 6-foot frame and lanky build, had never considered herself athletic or, coordinated, or felt the slightest bit compelled to work out. Before shooting started, she turned to professional coaches and trainers, all of whom were pleased --- and impressed --- with how quickly she took to it.

"I did everything late and backwards. [Turning] 35 started the flowering of my athletic abilities," says Davis, who had made a profound discovery: Health is more than just an absence of physical problems. It is "that feeling of using your body," she says. "Accomplishing something physical was exhilarating."

A Way of Life

Her new self-awareness propelled her toward taking on other physically demanding acting roles. To portray a pirate in Cutthroat Island, Davis learned horseback riding and fencing. "I was hanging off cliffs and swinging from every possible rope."

And to play a secret agent in The Long Kiss Goodnight, at 40 she studied both tae kwon do and ice skating. More impressive, her pistol-shooting trainer on that film told her she had a natural ability, even suggesting that, if she wanted, she could compete. Davis nixed that idea. "You can't exactly practice it in your backyard," she quips. But while watching the 1996 Olympics, she became enamored of archery. "It's a beautiful and dramatic-looking sport," says Davis, who recalls thinking that as a good shooter, she might make a good archer.

Two and a half years later, at age 43 and having studied with a coach, she became a semifinalist for the U.S. Olympic women's archery team. At an age when many people start worrying about declining health, she was feeling better and better about herself, her body, and her appearance.

Now 50 and in better shape than ever --- even after giving birth at 46 to a daughter and at 48 having twin boys --- Davis was delighted to integrate her athleticism into her new television role. After the pilot for Commander in Chief was completed, the show's creator mused that Davis' character should be very fit. Did she have any ideas?

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