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Eric McCandless/ABC Family

Though Andie MacDowell’s new film stretches her creatively, the former model’s current TV role makes her feel right at home.

It was in 1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape that Andie MacDowell cemented her transition from model to actress. The brunette beauty with the cascade of curls — who at age 20 braved a move from her small South Carolina hometown to the Big Apple — had signed with Elite Model Management, appeared in Vogue, walked the runways of Paris and posed for some of fashion’s most respected photographers before landing the role that set her on a new career path. “Back then, there was a lot of negativity about models trying to act,” MacDowell recalls. “After [my first film] Greystoke, I cut way back on modeling to really study acting. It was not an easy road, but Sex, Lies, and Videotape changed my life completely.”

In the years since, while serving as a L’Oréal spokesperson, she has racked up an impressive list of movie credits, including Green Card, Groundhog Day, Four Weddings and a Funeral and the 2011 remake of Footloose. In this month’s Mighty Fine, she co-stars opposite Chazz Palminteri (as well as her oldest daughter, Rainey Qualley). The dramedy features the Golden Globe–nominated actress as a wife and mother who must cope with her husband’s extravagant behavior after he relocates the family from Brooklyn, N.Y., to New Orleans. MacDowell describes the project as “very emotional and very dark.”

On the lighter side is MacDowell’s ABC Family show, Jane by Design, a Devil Wears Prada–meets–Ugly Betty hybrid in which she portrays Gray Chandler Murray, a demanding, high-powered fashion-house executive. “It’s fun to play a character so hard and extreme,” she says. “I grew up in this world and know what it’s like.”

Now 54, MacDowell keeps her body — and mind — in shape through regular workouts and yoga, enjoying a confidence that she says comes with age. “I’m not trying to prove anything anymore, and I don’t need to be validated all the time,” she says. “I just try to be gracious and thankful and keep it all in perspective.”