PEOPLE AT THE SUPERMARKET THINK I’M their neighbor,” says Penelope Ann Miller, lamenting the lack of attention. Her days of anonymity, though, may be numbered. Miller, at 29, has won critical raves for an impressive body of work ranging from Awakenings to Kindergarten Cop. Then there’s the current hit movie Carlito’s Way, in which she bares her own impressive body. But in the end it is Miller’s disregard for Hollywood convention that sets her apart. Consider her response to rumors that she and costar Al Pacino had a torrid romance during the Carlito shoot. Miller doesn’t issue denials or coy quotes about “close friendship.” Rather, the 5’7″ actress shrugs her taut shoulders and says, “It’s not a secret and I’m not ashamed of it.”
Perhaps Pacino wishes she were—at least a little bit. After all, for the last two years the 53-year-old star has had a relationship with film director Lyndall Hobbs. Pacino doesn’t want to talk about his costar, but to hear Miller tell it, their chemistry was unstoppable. “Al,” she says, “is a very passionate person, and he brought out a certain womanliness, a sexuality, a passion in me. I think I always knew I had it in me, but he brought out a real fire.” The only thing they were worried about as a couple, says the never-married Miller, was “upsetting the atmosphere on the set. We really wanted to keep the relationship discreet for the sake of the movie.”
As she shows a reporter through her two-bedroom, Santa Monica beachfront town house, Miller is clearly a woman with romance on her mind. One of her favorite places to shop, she says, is the Victoria’s Secret catalog. One of her favorite places to read—the balcony next to her two-story bookcase—is also, she notes, “a good place to snuggle.” Then there’s her cluttered bathroom. “People make fun of the way I love creams and lotions,” she vamps. “I’m just such a girl.” Perhaps only her mother fails to see the star as a sensuous woman. “Penelope,” says Bea Ammidown, 55, “has a very nice handwriting.”
Miller has, in fact, always been more drama queen than everygirl. One of three daughters, she was born in L.A. to actor Mark Miller, prime-time pere in the ’60s sitcom Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and Ammidown, a former fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and a goddaughter of Aristotle Onassis. Barbra Streisand and Jane Fonda were occasional dinner guests at their home, and Penelope’s sister Marisa celebrated her second birthday on Onassis’ yacht.
But life was not always idyllic. Her parents divorced when Miller was 10, and by the lime she reached high school, she was, she says, ducking classes, drinking and staying out till nearly dawn. By 18, she was living in New York City, studying drama and flopping all over waiting tables. “I was the Lucille Ball of waitressing,” she says. “I kept serving the wrong food.”
Professionally, though, she was making the right moves, graduating from deodorant commercials to a Broadway role in 1985 opposite Matthew Broderick in Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues. She had romances with both her costar (“my first real love”) and an understudy, Woody Harrelson (“fun, but it wasn’t serious”), and in 1988 she and Broderick reprised their roles in the screen version of the play. In 1990 she and Broderick again starred together, with Marlon Brando, in The Freshman. Later that year she played opposite Robert De Niro in Awakenings and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop.
Miller claims she was the one who taught Schwarzenegger to kiss on-camera. “If you’re just swallowing each other up,” Miller says, “you don’t see anything. I asked him to grab me and hold me and then go in for the kiss.” Her student, she says, learned quickly. “He was like [dropping her voice a few octaves] ‘Oh-kay, Puh-nul-uh-pee.’ ”
At the opening-night party for Carlito’s Way at New York City’s Plaza Hotel, Miller looked every inch the femme fatale, dancing to salsa music in a skimpy black halter gown. Pacino, with Hobbs, steered clear of his costar but can’t entirely distance himself from the romance. Not with Miller showing a reporter a picture of the two of them visiting her aunt and uncle in Bedford, N.Y., last April. “[The relationship],” she says, “has certainly continued past the movie.” Not, however, that she’s planning on being the clingy type. “I’ve come to realize that if two people are meant to be together,” she says, “it shouldn’t be such a struggle. I’ve learned to have more faith, not wear my heart on my sleeve so much. And sometimes to let go.”
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles