Fit for Office
Geena Davis finds her inner jock and campaigns to get girls moving.
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
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?