From Tarzan's mate to Gerard Depardieu's leading lady - that's the amazing range of Andie MacDowell's fast-rising movie career.

The South Carolinian made her film debut in 1984 opposite Christopher Lambert in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle." The movie didn't do much for either performer, and MacDowell's career languished until last year's "sex, lies and videotape." The film brought prestigious offers, including one from Peter Weir ("Witness," "Dead Poets Society") to co-star opposite Depardieu in "Green Card."Touchstone Pictures released "Green Card" in limited engagements before year's end in time for Academy Award consideration, and the movie will open nationally Jan. 11.

Weir wrote, directed and produced the story of a Frenchman (Depardieu) who lacks a green card to take a job in the United States. The solution: get married to an American. MacDowell needs to be married in order to rent the "perfect apartment" in New York. Voila!

MacDowell, a rare beauty whose screen presence belies a basic shyness, admits smpression. Any time you want to make the proper impression, you usually don't," she said with a laugh.

"I left that meeting going over every word that I had uttered, every movement that I had made. I guess it worked. I got the job."

Her first meeting with Depardieu was easier: "Gerard said in an interview that I was nervous, and I was. I was more nervous meeting with Peter than with Gerard. He's very charming, you know, and you can see immediately how easy and comfortable he is with himself."

About the language problem: "I can get by in French. I would say that Gerard speaks better English than I speak French. We did all right. A lot of times he would speak French to me, because I can understand it. Peter speaks perfect French."

Andie MacDowell was born in the small mill town of Gaffney, S.C., and grew up on both sides of the border between the Carolinas. The urge to act came early.

"Even as a child I loved to entertain. I loved to make people laugh. I used to put on shows in my garage. I danced in front of the TV - `Look at me! Look at me!' A little bit of a ham, I guess. I did theater when I was in college," she said.

"My mother, who is no longer alive, was very happy that I wanted to act, and she gave me great confidence. She sustained me. My father, I think at the beginning was a bit frightened, only because of the possibility of danger that I was going to the big city. He had plans for his daughter: he wanted me to be a nurse, get my education, marry a doctor and have children. Now he seems very proud that I'm happy."

MacDowell did go to the big city, where she studied in a repertory theater. Playing Jane to Lambert's Tarzan seemed like a starmaking turn, but it wasn't. Her only memorable role afterward was an unobtainable love in the yuppie melodrama "St. Elmo's Fire."