Ali MacGraw on Her Natural, Beautiful Life

The Unstoppables is a series about people whose ambition is undimmed by time. Below, Ali MacGraw explains, in her own words, what continues to motivate her.

You know, I’m a strange old bird at this point. I live north of Santa Fe, kind of in nature, and I’m very involved with the community. I’m blessed to be in good health. and I know so many people who don’t have that choice. I have a life that makes me happy.

Looking back, it seems so strange that — overnight, at 30 — I became a “movie star.” I’m relieved I got out of that often exciting, often terrifying decade alive. I’d been working since I was 14, but I hadn’t gone to school for acting. I was chosen to be in “Goodbye, Columbus,” and then everything exploded with the stupefying surprise of “Love Story” — this cost-nothing project nobody expected to be a success.

Ms. MacGraw rocketed to fame alongside Ryan O’Neal thanks to the surprise success of “Love Story.”Credit…Film Publicity Archive/United Archives, via Getty Images
Ms. MacGraw also starred with Steve McQueen, who she would go on to marry, in “The Getaway.”Credit…Silver Screen Collection, via Getty Images

Suddenly I was carried into a place I had never imagined. Before the movies, I’d been a photographer’s assistant. I’d had a job working as an assistant for Diana Vreeland, as the girl who did the trivial stuff. I was around people, like her, who have never been equaled in their vision and passion for history and astonishing imagery.

I’d also had amazing parents who worked hard their whole lives but who gave us a home that was filled with amazing books and art stuff and left us with inspiring values. So when this freaky moment of stardom suddenly came along, I did the best I could.

I failed and failed and got my share of deservedly horrific reviews in conspicuous vehicles. And, believe me, I didn’t feel like I was being misjudged. Unlike a lot of people, though, I did not swallow the Kool-Aid. I’m reasonably intelligent. I behaved well. But I would have preferred to have been good at what I was applauded for.

Credit…Simbarashe Cha/The New York Times
Credit…Simbarashe Cha/The New York Times

I’m grateful I had all that, but I live a very different life now. I don’t care at all about being seen in the latest piece of clothing or knowing the latest song. I don’t feel diminished by not knowing those things. I did it all and was looked at, and that was for another time.

Current and upcoming projects: Featured alongside Penélope Cruz and Margot Robbie in a Chanel J12 watch campaign; is an ambassador for a variety of animal welfare and educational rights groups in New Mexico, where she lives.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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