Born in Gaffney, SC, MacDowell was raised by her father, Marion, an executive at a lumber company, and her mother, Pauline, a music teacher. Her parents divorced when MacDowell was just six years old, which left her mother depressed and alcoholic. Forced to grow up rather fast, she learned at a very young age how to take care of herself and worked minimum wage jobs at McDonalds and Pizza Hut in order to help the family. Meanwhile, she graduated from Gaffney High School and sought higher education at Winthrop College in nearby Rock Hill, only to drop out after two years. In 1978, MacDowell moved to New York and signed on with Elite Model Management, which led to another move - this time to Paris - where she began her modeling career in earnest, posing for the likes of Vogue, Armani and Bill Blass. Tragedy struck in 1981, when her mother died from a heart attack brought on by chronic alcoholism. Despite the personal setback, MacDowell's modeling career began to heat up with a series of notable billboards in Times Square and national television ads for Calvin Klein. The attention she received from the ad campaign opened the door for an acting career, through which she gladly stepped.MacDowell made the leap from model to actress with her feature debut as Jane in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984), a leading role that cast her opposite Christopher Lambert's Tarzan. In what should have been a triumphant professional moment, MacDowell suffered the indignity of having her voiced dubbed over in post-production by Glenn Close because producers thought her Southern accent was inappropriate for the role. Critics had a field day with her performance, some of whom were downright cruel in their assessment of her looks and acting ability. Undeterred, MacDowell was finally heard in her next film, director Joel Schumacher's Brat Pack flick "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985), where her performance as a high-class doctor pursued by a law school student (Emilio Estevez) proved that her talent was more than skin deep. She took a break from acting to hone her skills at the Actors Studio before returning to the screen four years later for her breakout performance as the sexually repressed wife of Peter Gallagher in director Steven Soderbergh's acclaimed "sex, lies and videotape" (1989). While the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and helped launch Soderbergh's career, MacDowell was also hailed for her revelatory performance, which earned her Best Actress prizes from the Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, but no Oscar nomination - a snub decried by several critics.In the next decade, MacDowell hit her stride on the big screen with fine performances in light entertaining fare, using her patented down-home charm to great effect as a socially-conscious American woman who enters a marriage of convenience with a French composer (Gerard Depardieu) in "Green Card" (1990). She also fared well playing a spoiled socialite more in love with her Henry Moore statue than boyfriend (John Malkovich) in "The Object of Beauty" (1991). Unlike her co-star Bruce Willis, MacDowell somehow managed to escape unscathed from the notorious bomb that was "Hudson Hawk" (1991). That same year, she delivered a tour-de-force performance in a segment of "Women and Men II" (HBO, 1991) called "A Domestic Dilemma," playing the embittered alcoholic wife of Ray Liotta, a part that was radically different from her preceding nice-girl roles. Similarly her performance as the distraught mother of a hospitalized little boy was one of the highlights of Robert Altman's acclaimed panoramic ensemble drama, "Short Cuts" (1993). MacDowell was in fine form as the nice, but uncompromising producer to Bill Murray's smug television weatherman in the popular romantic-comedy "Groundhog Day" (1993), perhaps one of her most recognized performances. Meanwhile, she enjoyed another whimsical success opposite Hugh Grant in the blockbuster British import, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994), though her well-regarded performance was overshadowed by Grant's newfound star power.MacDowell next starred in "Bad Girls (1994), a quasi-feminist, but ultimately shallow revisionist Western about a group of prostitutes who take the law into their own hands. She admittedly joined the project for the money; not surprisingly, it failed to enhance her image. She regained her charm as an adored mother stricken with cancer in Diane Keaton's comedy-drama "Unstrung Heroes" (1995), and as the confused wife of an overworked man who clones himself to make life easier in "Multiplicity" (1996), a project which rejoined her with "Groundhog Day" director Harold Ramis. She fared less well as a mysterious woman claiming to be an angel expert who is visited by an unkempt celestial being (John Travolta) in "Michael" (1996), and as Bill Pullman's unhappy wife in Wim Wenders' "The End of the Violence" (1997). Although "Shadrach" (1998) seemed like a perfect opportunity to break the mold in playing Southern white trash, the weak script and slack helming by first-time director Susanna Styron - who adapted her father William's near plotless story - granted her little room to flourish. A problematic script also doomed her debut as executive producer of the romantic comedy "Just the Ticket" (1998), in which she co-starred opposite producer Andy Garcia but failed to exhibit the charm and charisma of her best work.After realizing her dream of acting alongside Miss Piggy in "Muppets from Space" (1999), MacDowell appeared as the supportive, eagerly accommodating Hollywood wife of a blocked screenwriter (Albert Brooks) in the actor's tepid comedy, "The Muse" (1999). She next appeared in the oft-delayed and over-budgeted flop, "Town & Country" (2001), playing the beautiful daughter of an Idaho gun lover (Charlton Heston) who has an illicit affair with a down-and-out New York architect (Warren Beatty). Making a rare turn to the small screen with the marriage drama "Dinner with Friends" (HBO, 2001), MacDowell followed with the somber drama "Harrison's Flowers" (2002), in which she played a woman who travels to Yugoslavia to find her husband (David Strathairn), a photojournalist who has been reported dead. Following a rare guest spot on television with an episode of "The Practice" (ABC, 1996-2004), MacDowell played an American expatriate in charge of a British private school who carries on with a former student (Kenny Doughty) 15 years her junior in "Crush" (2002). Next, she was a woman tormented by the ghost of her husband (Tim Roth) in the supernatural thriller "The Last Sign" (2005), before playing one of the loyal clients of Gina Norris (Queen Latifah), who introduces her cutting-edge hairstyles from Chicago to Atlanta in "Beauty Shop" (2005), a spin-off of the popular "Barbershop" franchise.Turning back to television, MacDowell starred in "Riding the Bus with My Sister" (CBS, 2005), playing the self-absorbed, fashion photographer sister of a mentally challenged woman (Rosie O'Donnell), whose care she is now responsible for following the death of their father. Following a voice role as Etta the Hen in the animated "Barnyard" (2006), she was number two in a line of six in the independently financed black comedy "The Six Wives of Henry Lefay" (2008), starring Tim Allen. She next appeared in the low-budget thriller "As Good As Dead" (2010) opposite Cary Elwes and Frank Whaley, before returning to the small screen to star in a pair of Lifetime movies, "Patricia Cornwell's At Risk" (2010) and "Patricia Cornwell's The Front" (2010), in which she played ambitious district attorney Monique Lamont, who reopens a 20-year-old murder case in order to further her own political ambitions. After appearing in an episode of the short-lived series "Lone Star" (Fox, 2010), MacDowell continued to star in smaller indies, like the seriocomedy "Happiness Runs" (2010) and the sports drama "The 5th Quarter" (2010). A small role as the preacher's wife in a remake of "Footloose" (2011) was followed by a supporting role in the short-lived teen comedy-drama "Jane By Design" (ABC Family 2011-12). In 2013, MacDowell took the lead role in the small-town TV drama "Cedar Cove" (Hallmark 2013-15), based on the novels of best-selling author Debbie Macomber. She next appeared on the big screen in the comedy sequel "Magic Mike XXL" (2015).