News Column

Bluffton resident Simone Griffeth talks about long acting career, role in 'Savannah'

September 8, 2013


Sept. 08--Simone Griffeth answers the door on a Wednesday morning, her hair is tied in a yellow scarf to protect it from the early September heat and humidity.

"Doesn't my hair look FAAAB-ulous?" she jokes as she greets her visitor with a smile and a hug.

A photographer waits in the luxurious living room of Griffeth's friend, Rona Livingston, while Griffeth fixes her hair and chooses an outfit for her photoshoot.

She emerges photo ready, her thick head of white-blonde hair falling to her shoulders, red-lined lips matching her red Calvin Klein dress. Age has been kind to Griffeth. At 63, she has skin that women in their 20s strive for, her face is without wrinkle or crease, her teeth are perfectly white.

Sitting down on a white, faux-fur lounge chair, Griffeth slips off her rhinestone-studded flip flops and puts on a pair of strappy, spiked Ralph Lauren heels.

"How many times have I put heels on for a show and taken them off the second the cameras were off?" she says.

Posing is second nature for Griffeth. She knows what stance will make her legs look longest, what angle shows off her thin waist, which smile comes across as natural and how to look away from the camera and come back fresh to the lens.

"I'm more comfortable with my left side," Griffeth says as she maneuvers around the room's furniture, adjusting her pose.

None of this is new for the Savannah-born, Bluffton-raised actress whose career starring in films and television has taken her around the world.

Her most recent film, "Savannah," a historical drama filmed and set in Savannah, is based on the true story of Allen Ward, a socialite turned duck hunter. Set in the early 20th century, Griffeth plays Mrs. Stubbs, the mother of Lucy Stubbs, the love interest of Ward, who is portrayed by Jim Caviezel of "The Passion of the Christ."

"It was really interesting because Mr. and Mrs. Stubbs were actually real people," Griffeth said. "It was really lovely playing characters from that time period because all my grandparents were from Savannah, living in that time."

Griffeth's career has returned to the Lowcountry, where it all began. At 15 years old, she starred in a Gulf Oil commercial, riding a horse bareback on the sand dunes of the beach at Port Royal on Hilton Head Island.

She went on to study drama at University of South Carolina before moving to Los Angeles at age 21. There, she starred in national commericals for Coppertone, Christian Dior, Ford, Maybelline and many others. Those paid her living expenses, along with acting, singing and dancing lessons at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where she learned from acting coach Milton Katselas, who was considered legendary.

Her friends were those with similar dreams, most of whom she met at the playhouse -- among them Anne Archer ("Fatal Attraction"), David Carradine ("Kung Fu") and Tony Penghlis ("Days of Our Lives").

Griffeth lived on the ground floor of a Spanish home in the Whitley Heights neighborhood of Hollywood Hills. She and friends would eat dinner and sip wine on the terrace, listening to the performers at the Hollywood Bowl across the street, the music echoing off the hills. On a clear day, she could see the ocean.

During her acting career, she worked alongside some of Hollywood's greats. While on the set of "Death Race 2000," the 1975 action film in which she played the female lead, Annie Smith, she remembers her co-star telling her about a boxing film he was writing. The next year, that co-star, Sylvester Stallone, released "Rocky."

Griffeth moved to New York City in 1977 to star in Katselas' off-Broadway production "Jockeys," which opened at the Promenade Theater. When the show closed the next year, Griffeth returned to Los Angeles, where she landed a contract with Universal Studios, which served as a vehicle to put young actors into roles.

Her roles took her from Los Angeles to New York to Hawaii for a recurring role on "Magnum P.I." and then to New Zealand to play the leading role in the crime thriller, "Hot Target."

In New Zealand, Griffeth met and fell in love with a man from Scotland, whom she married and has a daughter with. They moved to his native country, then to Indonesia with his work, and back to Los Angeles and then to Bluffton in the mid-1990s.

When they divorced, Griffeth moved back to the place she calls home, the Lowcountry, to raise her daughter.

"I wanted her to be a Bluffton girl like I was," Griffeth said. Her daughter, Savannah Foster, now lives in Los Angeles and is the marketing director for a real estate company in Beverly Hills.

Life has slowed down for Griffeth. Her mornings begin with a cup of tea on the dock of her Bulffton home on the May River that has been in her family for more than a century. She married Wayne McDonald, owner of Prudential Premier Island Properties on Hilton Head, and is now a licensed Realtor herself.

For the past six years, Griffeth has offered acting lessons, both private and group lessons for all ages. She teaches character development, scene study, camera techniques and also works with high school students on their auditions for performing arts schools. In the spring, she puts on "Evening of Characters" at Coligny Theater, where her students perform monologues.

"It's such a joy to pass on this knowledge I have spent a lifetime acquiring," Griffeth said. "Even at Main Street Theater, to see my students go from the chorus to taking leads, and some going to college and pursuing acting careers of their own."

But her own acting career is far from over. She continues traveling for auditions in Atlanta, Charlotte and Wilmington, N.C. Next weekened she will be in Charleston filming a commercial for Seabrook Island.

"I've had such a wonderful career, it's hard to pinpoint a highlight," Griffeth says. "Whatever I'm working (on), that's usually my favorite."


(c)2013 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

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