|Brooke Shields has a little one on the loose. She is in the middle of lamenting that her eldest daughter, Rowan, has gone upstate to a weeklong summer camp and has barely missed her -- “She was sobbing and clinging to my leg when she got in the car to go, and now she doesn’t have time for me when I call,” Shields says -- when her younger daughter, Grier, bursts onto the scene and demands to speak with me on the phone.|
“Now, sweetie,” Shields says, directing her attention back to Grier, “you go start the bath, and I will come and finish it. Go get the bubbles going, and I will be in there.” The lure of bubbles does the trick: Grier pads out of the room and to her waiting bath (and nanny). “Wow,” Shields says, sounding like every mom around the world who is shocked when her child listens to her. “I can’t believe that actually worked. That never works.”
When I apologize for interrupting Grier’s bath and the precious mother-daughter bonding time Shields cherishes, she waves me off. “You know, my publicist called me and she was like, ‘I am really worried about you. You are doing too much.’ I said to her, ‘But you guys forget that I asked for this.’ Nobody wanted a piece of me for a few years, and I didn’t like the way I felt. So I still can say no at certain times, but right now, it feels good to be wanted -- not just for my ego but also that I am able to provide for my kids.”
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“This really is the Gemini in me,” she says. “I was always the one doing my homework in the back of the car. If anything, I don’t know how to stop and relax. That has been the biggest lesson the kids have taught me. The 10 minutes of not doing my e-mail or organizing my closet but just sitting with them before the car picks me up … I am all of a sudden appreciating the moment with them, and it is rejuvenating to me.”
Would she have been the same parent 10 years ago that she is today? “No,” Shields says without hesitation. “I had a lot of growing up I needed to do before I could just allow them to be who they are instead of trying to control them. Control was how I survived. I knew nothing less than that.”
That Shields is now content to let her children thrive on their own might also be because she spent so much of her own childhood under the watchful eyes of everyone from directors to agents to her own mother -- rumored to have been a stage parent who would give Joe Simpson a run for his money. If you’ve at all kept up with pop culture for the past, oh, 30 years or so, much of Shields’s story is already familiar. But let’s play catch-up anyway.
Having worked as a child model practically since infancy, Shields broke into the public consciousness at the age of 12, playing a child prostitute in Pretty Baby, which premiered amid accusations of child exploitation and pornography. Two years later, in 1980, she was moored with Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon and became every teenage boy’s fantasy. That same year, she refused to let anything come between her and her Calvins in an infamous Calvin Klein ad campaign. Endless Love, a film about teenage obsession, quickly followed that, but by 1983, Shields was ready to take a break from Hollywood. So she enrolled at Princeton University, where she studied everything from French literature to pottery.
College proved a haven for her, and jumping back into the fickle arms of Hollywood wasn’t easy. Despite her previous success, the former Vogue cover model was offered less-than-stellar parts. Eventually, she headed to Broadway, where she blew the lights off the boards with her able voice and skillful dancing in musicals such as Grease and Chicago, surprising critics with her talent. Finally, in 1996, she earned a hit TV show, the comedy Suddenly Susan. But after only four seasons, Shields was once again out of work. And once again, she put her head down, reassessed her situation, and plowed ahead.
Along the way, she married and divorced Andre Agassi and then met and married Henchy, with whom she has the two aforementioned daughters. And now, it seems that all roads have led here -- to contentment, security, wisdom, and success in a business as fickle as they come.
When I ask her if she feels like she’s defied the laws of Hollywood by refusing to be written off or pigeonholed, she pauses to consider that. “It actually isn’t surprising, because I have always looked to the positives of the future,” she says. “The truth is that I have never written myself off, and I think that is the most important piece of the whole puzzle. I never allow myself to be stopped.”
Her headstrong determination is just one of several qualities that she shares with her Lipstick Jungle character, Wendy Healy, a top-of-the-pack movie-studio executive. In the first season, viewers watched Wendy struggle with the delicate balancing act that so many women, Shields included, engage in: juggling children and career, ambition and self-doubt, marriage and friendship.
“When I read the actual hard copy of the book, I just immediately identified with her,” Shields says of her character. “I appreciated her strength and also the dilemma that she never really thinks she is good enough at any of it. Yet she is just so smart that she kind of still keeps going.”
The show follows three successful women whose lives are shifting beneath them and who are thus constantly forced to reevaluate how they define success -- something that Shields, with her ups and downs, can certainly empathize with. “We all go through stages when we try to say, ‘Okay, I am not going to do so much of that or so much of this.’ … And invariably, you come up short or you are disappointed,” she says. “We have this false perception that we accept: that women can do it all. And, yes, we need to acknowledge our capabilities. That is really important.” After pausing for a moment, she says, “But then, let us also talk about how everything comes with a price. Doing it all comes with a price. Nothing is ever going to be that vision of perfection.”
I ask her how motherhood plays into her career -- if she feels, like so many other working moms do, that her time away from the kids provides both a dose of sanity and a touch of guilt. “I am not as nice as a fulltime mom,” she says. “I am really not. I lose my patience; I drink more [laughs]. We all need to admit this. It might look horrible on paper, but you need to have something else [beyond parenting]. I wouldn’t want to just be a wife either, and I really do not want to be just an actor. Yet in our culture, we are so afraid to admit all these things.”
Shields speaks honestly, in a way that many stars (and their protective publicists) do not. There are no sound bites in her answers, no hesitations indicating that she’s weighing whether what is coming out of her mouth is politically incorrect. In fact, somewhere in the middle of our conversation, I forget entirely that I’m interviewing Brooke Shields.
Her relatability is probably a big reason she’s managed to stick around in an industry that notoriously eats its young. It’s also a big reason women hailed her as a hero when she spoke candidly about her experience with postpartum depression in her 2005 memoir, Down Came the Rain: My Journey through Postpartum Depression. Shields bared her emotional all after giving birth to Rowan. But her candor about the condition and her subsequent use of prescription medication led to a skirmish with Tom Cruise, who took to the airwaves to criticize her for it.
“I wasn’t at all prepared for that,” she says, and I can hear her exhale. “I was in my own little world, and I had a need for the book, personally. I felt that there was something quietly necessary about it. I was like, ‘What, nobody talks about this? Am I the only one? You have got to be kidding me. Come on, someone needs to blow the lid off this thing.’ ”
And blow the lid off it she did. Five years later, celebrities and noncelebs alike are much more apt to talk about their postpartum struggles than they were before Shields exposed her private battle. “I think it gave people who were struggling in silence a chance to not be alone in asking those questions. If that is all that it did, well then, that is certainly enough,” she says.
But just as importantly, writing the book freed her. “It was cathartic,” she says. “I felt like I was at least not trying to sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen, which I am really good at doing. I have spent years doing that stuff: Do not let them see you sweat, do not let anybody know, the show must go on, and all that kind of stuff. I went as deep into it as I could when it was still fresh so I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t as bad as it was.”
So now here she is, sweeping little under the rug and being rewarded with a life that is in all ways flourishing. And today, Shields seems unafraid to talk about anything. She is a woman who acknowledges how the past has shaped her, how it has left its scars, but she’s also a woman who has refused to let those scars sink in deep enough to define her. She is, along with so many other women, a continual work in progress and happy to be so.
Just before our conversation winds down, Grier reenters the room to give her mother a kiss, and Shields and I once again, as mothers with young children often do, find ourselves talking about parenting. She shares about Rowan, her child at camp, who doesn’t seem to miss her.
“She is so healthy, and she just grabs hold of everything so fully,” Shields says. “I have to remind myself that this is what I wanted for her. She feels so secure that I love her that she doesn’t need that constant reassurance.”
“Isn’t that what we want for our children?” I ask.
“I’ve had to learn this,” she admits. “I was obsessed with my mother, and I suffered because of it. … It was so hard for me to be independent. So I am watching an independent child and learning that this is the least selfish thing I can do: be okay with it. That’s what’s so amazing about it.”
“Just let them fly,” I say.
“Yes,” she agrees. “Let them fly. But they cannot fly unless you throw them up in the air. And then you watch them do it, and you think, ‘Oh, I get it. That’s it.’ ”
I can tell she’s smiling and I wonder if Shields isn’t talking just about her children anymore. She is finally flying.