December 18, 1989 12:00 PM

When James Woods married Sarah Owen, equestrian and boutique owner, last July, the intense character actor did something uncharacteristic: He gushed. “She has changed everything for me,” said Woods. “My whole life is different now.” The transformation even seemed to soften his screen image. In Immediate Family, Woods played the gentle husband to Glenn Close’s nerve-racked wife. “It’s a character so close to me, believe it or not, that I did no preparation. Zero,” he declared.

But while Woods appeared as an unflappable husband on film, his own marriage was fraying. Last month the actor started showing up at celebrity events alone, and on Nov. 30 Woods, 42, filed for a legal separation from Owen, 26, citing “irreconcilable differences.” While neither Woods, who was filming in Spain, nor Owen would comment on the breakup, writer Percy Granger, a longtime friend of Woods’s, speculated that the split may have been the result of “fallout from the Sean Young thing.”

Woods’s thing—read affair—with Young began on the set of The Boost in 1987, a year after he and Owen began dating. When Woods called off the affair, at Owen’s behest, he and Sarah began receiving hate mail including pictures of corpses and a mutilated baby doll. Woods blamed Young, and he filed a $2 million-plus lawsuit charging “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” (Young denies the charges; the suit was settled out of court in August.)

“It certainly hasn’t pulled us apart at all,” Owen has said, but behind closed doors the relationship was troubled. In November 1987, Owen filed a report with the Los Angeles police alleging that Woods had held her at gunpoint. (Woods was never charged.)

The air seemed to have cleared by January 1988, when Woods proposed to Owen on bended knee in a crowded restaurant. After the July 2, 1989, wedding, Woods and Owen settled into their Beverly Hills home and adopted a terrier they named Tucker. But marital bliss was not to be. “They were both under a lot of pressure at the time of the wedding,” says Granger. “Maybe that pressure didn’t abate.”

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