With Oklahoma Still in Mind, Suzy Amis Takes a Rocket to Stardom

updated 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Actress Suzy Amis sits on a plush settee in the lobby of New York's Algonquin Hotel with her bare feet tucked under a flowing white gown and her red hair tumbling over her bare shoulders, which are shaking with laughter. A stranger wielding a large envelope had just maneuvered his way to her table, mumbled something about her Alice-in-Wonderland looks and dropped off a script that he guaranteed would get her an Oscar. Fame seems so unreal, reckons the glamorously wholesome stunner. Time to get back home for a "mom fix." Explains Amis: "It's so relaxing just watching her cook breakfast."

With the added recognition that her latest flick, Rocket Gibraltar, is bound to bring, ex-model Amis, 26, may be needing a lot of those fixes in the future. Her ingenuously exuberant portrayal of Aggie Rockwell, the youngest, tartiest daughter of a 77-year-old patriarch played by Burt Lancaster, makes her a standout in the ensemble cast. But Suzy is daydreaming about hometown Oklahoma City—and the old brass bed she slept in as a child. "My riding saddle is on one end and my sombrero's on the other," she says wistfully.

Reveries about security are appropriate. Amis' recent trajectory has been steep enough to give any cowgirl the occasional blues. Suzy hasn't stopped since she left home at 17 and hit Manhattan like a prairie tornado. Eileen Ford, who had received Amis' photo from an Oklahoma-based scout, signed her up her first day in the city. Three days later she was in top fashion photographer Bruce Weber's studio.

"Suzy," says Weber, "looked like she'd come right off the farm."

Exactly so. Amis is the fourth child of an upper-middle-class family of six—three boys and three girls. "Big Dave" Amis, 58, a construction company owner, and his wife, Susan, 57, raised their brood in a home right on a golf course. They spent weekends and summers on a farm 90 miles south, went to a Methodist church on Sundays, fox-hunted afterward and kept a pet tarantula named Teddy. "I was a tomboy," says Amis. "My mother would make gumbo chili, and I'd get pounded playing football with my brothers."

That was hardly preparation for fashion-world hardball. Fierce homesickness set in when Suzy's modeling took her to Europe. "I hated it," she says. "But I learned to speak French and Italian and saved enough to buy an apartment in New York. Then I quit."

And, sans training, dove straight into acting. In 1982 Amis was cast as Michael Caine's demure daughter in Blame It on Rio. On discovering the role required a topless scene, however, she reluctantly turned it down, feeling that "the train had come by and I couldn't get on it." She got back on track with a bit part in 1985's Fandango, starring newcomers Kevin (Bull Durham) Costner and Sam (Tempest) Robards. Subsequent performances, like her 1986 Broadway debut as a teenage sexpot in Fresh Horses, which earned her a Theatre World Outstanding New Talent Award, may have been better for her career, but Suzy danced off Fandango with Robards, now 26, the son of actors Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall. Today he's her husband.

"Sam claims he fell in love with me the first time he saw me, but he sure didn't tell me that until three years later," Amis grins. After Fandango, when Sam started calling from his next movie locale in Israel, Suzy knew something was up. Two years later, with both of Sam's parents in attendance, the couple married in a small ceremony on the Amis family back porch. Technically, Robards and Amis now share Suzy's antique-studded two-bedroom Manhattan apartment, but because of their different film schedules, they're rarely at home together. They have pledged to rendezvous every three weeks.

Robards is now in Los Angeles, preparing to star in CBS' new series TV 101, debuting in November. Amis will next be seen as Harry Dean Stanton's alcoholic daughter in Twister, due out next February. On the more distant horizon—how does that saying go about taking the girl out of the farm? "Sam and I are looking for a ranch in Colorado," says Amis with a luxuriant smile. "I want some horses—and I'm always thinking of children."

—By John Stark, with David Hutchings in New York

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