Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Liane Bonin
November 15, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

In ”The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (in theaters), Faye Dunaway plays a manipulative royal mother-in-law who demonstrates that girl power was intense long before the Spice Girls (think Evil Spice). ”It’s the cliché that men did all the thinking and the fighting back then,” says the 58-year-old actress, who developed her own reputation as a formidable behind-the-scenes diva back in the ’70s. ”But there have always been female standouts, from Queen Elizabeth to the Borgias.”

Despite dismissive reviews, Dunaway hopes that female viewers will be fired up by Joan of Arc’s story, if not to conquer the English for God, then to pursue dreams that don’t involve battering rams and swordplay. ”Joan has such a single-minded purpose and belief in herself, I think it’s a metaphor for any goal you want to attain,” she says. ”It’s about listening to your own voices, to who you are and what you believe.”

But if those voices tell teen wannabes to move to Hollywood, get an agent, and land a series on the WB before they’re old enough to vote, Dunaway suggests changing the channel. The stage-trained actress (who is currently adapting Terrence McNally’s play ”Master Class” for the screen) feels that too many pretty young things have skipped essential steps on the road to becoming a movie star, leading to some less-than-stellar performances. ”You’ve got to learn how to act, and you can only get that on stage,” she warns, adding, ”I think it’s so important to get a good liberal arts education, like Matt Damon did at Harvard. You can have talent, but it won’t be unleashed until you learn what you’re doing. Otherwise, you just end up pretending. A lot of young people miss that. They can get it the first time, but they just can’t cry on the 38th take because they don’t know how to reach those emotions.” What, you mean Jennifer Love Hewitt actually STOPS crying by the 38th take?

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