Kids, horses and a love of Vancouver— at 56, starring in a new hit show, Andie MacDowell keeps things real.

You look a lot like Andie MacDowell.” The barista, a shaggy hipster dude in his 20s, was being ironic. Of course the gorgeous woman with the wide smile, southern accent and voluminous dark hair is Andie MacDowell, the former model turned actress. He wanted her to know he knew without coming across as a crazed fan. After all, we are in Venice, Calif., where encounters with movie stars are about as rare as the smog, and locals don’t ever want to seem impressed by celebrity.

For her part, MacDowell smiles in that way southern belles have, all warmth and sunshine – clearly, it’s not a charm that fades with time – and says, “That’s because I am her.”

Innocent flirtation complete, we take our tea upstairs to the café’s lounge and settle in for girl talk.

MacDowell, who turns 56 this month, first came to our attention in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes in 1984, where famously or infamously, her South Carolina accent was dubbed over by Glenn Close. Despite that inauspicious start, her career soared when she was cast as the lead in wunderkind director Steven Soderbergh’s first film, the Sundance triumph, Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989.

Next came two huge hit comedies, Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral, the latter saw her making the king of swooning, Hugh Grant, do the swooning.

But career isn’t everything for MacDowell. A family life beckoned, too, and she found time to marry fellow model Paul Qualley and have three children: a son, Justin, 28, and two daughters, Rainey, 25, a singer-songwriter, and Sarah Margaret Qualley, 19, who recently shot a television pilot and was accepted into Tisch School of the Arts in New York. She and Qualley split in 1999 after 13 years of marriage. She later married businessman Rhett Hartzog; they divorced after three years.

Then, as is the pattern for actresses who dare to age, movie roles became scarce, which was fine because television came calling. First with Jane by Design, a comedy where MacDowell played a fashion designer with a biting edge and, most recently, Cedar Cove, the hit Hallmark series that airs on the W Network in Canada, based on Debbie Macomber’s book series of the same name and filmed in Vancouver. It’s the network’s first scripted series and garnered Hallmark the distinction of being the No. 1 rated cable network on Saturdays from 8 to 9 p.m. Its two-hour debut brought 3.8 million viewers and after wrapping in December it was renewed, not surprisingly, for a second season.

If you haven’t seen Cedar Cove, according to Hallmark’s synopsis, MacDowell plays “Judge Olivia Lockhart who is considered the community’s guiding light. But like everyone else, Olivia fights the uphill battle of balancing career with family and finding love, all the while doing her best to care for the township she calls home.”

The series is the antidote to Dexter and practically everything else that’s winning accolades and striking the Zeitgeist these days.

The series is definitely a project that makes MacDowell proud, and she understands why it resonates with her fans. “They enjoy seeing me in that kind of role. I like that [Olivia] is a strong part, and that’s important for women,” she explains. “And I like producing something that’s wholesome. There is a lot of negative and dark stuff out there, and I’m not saying that I don’t ever watch it because I do. But there aren’t enough choices to watch something to make you feel good. I enjoyed coming to work and playing warm characters, kind people, who really care about each other.”

She also loved spending time in Vancouver where she found time between filming to hike the mountain trails and walk around Stanley Park. “I loved it. It’s a beautiful city,” she says, the smile even wider as she thinks about her stint there. “Vancouver people are interesting because they are smack in the middle of a city but they act like they’re in a small town. They are outdoorsy, very relaxed and West Coast.”

If all you knew of MacDowell was what you saw on the red carpet, the big hair, perfect face, Hollywood glamour times 10, you wouldn’t assume that outdoorsy would hold much allure. But you would be very wrong. “I can do the va va voom. But I would hate to think that was something I had to do all the time,” she says, the smile fading. “My true nature is more earthy. Not hippie, I’m just like a mom. I wouldn’t want to walk around like a sex symbol all the time. That would make me really sad if that were my existence. But I know how to do it, and it’s fun to do it when I want to.”

I ask if she feels pressure to be a sex symbol at her age. The smile returns. “I don’t look at it like pressure, more amazement,” she says. “Here I am, over 50, and it is still there. That light is still there. And I wonder how long does the light last? There are other actresses in their 60s that people say still exude that energy, and I think it is an energy. We all have a human need to love and have physical contact and, up into your 80s, you’ll be kissing your husband, and it will be beautiful. And in a way it takes some pressure off.”

But there’s no denying that our culture worships youth, yet some cosmetic and fashion brands are savvily embracing the older woman. Take L’Oréal Paris. MacDowell joined the brand to represent its L’Oréal Superior Préférence colour line in 1985. And nearly three decades later remains an integral part of the company’s roster. With veteran faces Diane Keaton and Julianne Moore also in play, L’Oréal is on the vanguard of the beauty and fashion industries’ shifting attention to the boomer demographic. And in case you’re curious, MacDowell does use their products. “I do because I believe in it. My hair is really dry. I use a lot of conditioner and a lot of lotion [on my skin],” she says, explaining her beauty regimen. “People ask me, ‘What did you do?’ I didn’t do anything except live a certain kind of life and moisturize. I’m telling you, it’s all about moisturizing, drinking water and not drinking a lot of alcohol, how you eat and exercising.”

She works out with weights and does Pilates, but her true passion is aerobics. “I can do aerobics like a junkie, and it gets my endorphins going, lifts my spirit and makes me happy.”

Seeing how fit she is and how calm, she is clearly onto something. Our talk runs the gamut from her ranch in Montana, where she rides horses, to her family. It’s not only her children she worries about. She has an 88-year-old father who is suffering from dementia and she is one of his caretakers. When talking about him she becomes, not sad, but reflective, that what she’s going to say next is something she has thought about a great deal. “I think as you get older you start to value time and not waste it with silly thoughts. Like when you have the worries that go off in your head at 1 a.m. and you tell yourself that you’ll think about it in the morning but for now can you please shut up? And I think that is the greatest battle for all of us, to be able to know that everything will be all right.”

When our time together is over, she brightens and announces that she has to dash. There’s an aerobics class nearby that she can still make. We say goodbye, and she darts off down the stairs toward her happy place.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2014 issue with the headline, “Earth Angel,” p. 50.