Her knack for projecting submissiveness may have had something to do with John Duigan, the Australian director who cast her in her first movie, Flirting, when she was just 17 and he was 40. That was the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that continued into her mid-twenties. Duigan cast her in his movies August King and The Leading Man and, by Newton's account, called the shots offscreen as well. "My life was dictated to me for a while," Newton says. "The film industry can be a pretty toxic place if you are a young person. And I was preyed upon."

The formidably articulate actress can't think of a single good word to say about Duigan; she just calls him a pig—more than once—and leaves it at that. Their entanglement left her with a deep understanding of the predatory potential of the director-actress dynamic. "Some people's dysfunctions are masked by that dynamic," she says. "You know the stories, without naming names. It's terrible. And no one can protect you from that."

At age 30, Newton is now in what she calls "a stable position." She married the British screenwriter Oliver Parker in 1998, just before filming Demme's adaptation of Beloved. The two live in a rambling house in Queen's Park, a shabby-gone-latte district of northwest London, with their daughter, Ripley, now 2. (Yes, Ripley is named after the bitch-slapping feminist hero of Alien.)

Newton has just finished a five-week shoot of Shade for Damian Nieman, a first-time director who also brought on Gabriel Byrne, Melanie Griffith, and Sylvester Stallone. She likes to slalom between small, credible, quick-hit jobs like Shade and high-profile, big-payday films. She even had her chance at a franchise—set to star in Charlie's Angels, she had to drop out when she got pregnant; Lucy Liu stepped into her karate-kicking spike-heeled boots. "I actually haven't seen the first one, but I was in the hairdresser's and read they were doing a second one and I thought, Shit! That would have been money in the bank. Anyway, I'm sure they are really glad that I didn't do it."

Oh, the curse of fecundity.