The actress and beauty icon talks about her new Netflix film, the online community she started, and what she’s learned about motherhood
Is there anything Brooke Shields can’t do? Dubbed America’s Sweetheart when she was just a kid, she has found success as a model (the youngest cover star in Vogue history), an actress (a career stretching from the controversial Pretty Baby when she was just 12 to her Golden Globe–nominated run on NBC’s Suddenly Susan to five turns on Broadway), a fashion designer (she has a QVC line, Timeless), a writer (two best-selling memoirs), and, if that’s not enough, a mom to two teenage daughters.
Now she has added CEO to that list. This fall, she launched Beginning Is Now, an online platform and lifestyle brand for women looking for “a chance to learn, a way to grow, an opportunity to embrace our ever-evolving selves.” Really, Shields, who is 56, was looking for a community.
“I’m not a guru—I don’t covet being the center of it all,” she says, calling from her home in Manhattan’s West Village. “But I want to be a member of a place where I feel like-minded.”
She’s also spreading some seasonally appropriate joy with A Castle for Christmas, a new Netflix rom-com in which she plays a successful author who heads to Scotland to escape some bad press, and while there decides to buy a castle from a disagreeable (but dashing) duke, played by Cary Elwes. It’s the kind of feel-good film you crave at the holidays, complete with an unruly dog, a group of supportive and quirky friends, plenty of cozy cashmere, and, of course, love.
I just watched A Castle for Christmas, so I have to ask: Do you believe in love at first sight?
I sort of do, in a way, because I do think you have to initially, immediately, unequivocally feel something. Whether you believe it or not, or whether you follow through on it is one thing, but there has to be something that you initially feel—even if it’s extreme hatred. [Laughs.]
Yeah, I was reading in your first book, Down Came the Rain, that you met your husband on the Warner Bros. lot in 1999, and there was an immediate spark, but you weren’t ready for a relationship at the time.
Yeah, and I tried setting him up with a friend of mine! Because there was something about him that chemically ignited in me.
And in this movie, if I met Cary Elwes outside of a castle in Scotland, I think I’d fall in love at first sight too.
Yeah, if I fell into Cary Elwes’s arms, I think I’d be like, “Ohhh… hi!”
He’s just as dreamy as he was in The Princess Bride.
And this is his first rom-com since then, which is really so sweet. I love these kinds of movies. But what’s really lovely about what Netflix is doing is that they’re writing stories for women who are independent women. Yes, she falls in love, and that’s great—that’s a perk—but she’s independent. She’s not looking to be saved by a man or anything. She’s taking a step for herself.
Speaking of taking a step for yourself, congrats on launching Beginning Is Now. Thank you!
I think I’ve been in the passenger seat for so many decades—and have loved it—but I couldn’t sit in that position anymore. It’s the riskiest thing I’ve ever done, but I believe in it so much that I had to make this a next chapter in my life. And the pure fear of it and the learning curve of it is what the message of the brand is—which I have to remind myself when I get scared or when things become a little bit challenging. It’s the very message of Beginning Is Now: embracing new chapters, not being afraid to fail, and moving forward in a bigger way.
What was the catalyst for it?
I was walking on the beach with my best friend, and I said to him, “After all these years, I’m actually feeling more confident, sexier. I’m less complicated. I don’t worry about the same things. I’ve raised my kids. I’ve had multiple careers. I’ve done all this—why am I being told it’s over?” I feel as if I am not represented out there. And listen, I don’t want to be in my 20s, but I want to be exactly where I am in this era and feel like I’m just beginning. I know so many women who, after 40, decided to change completely. Forget kids—it has nothing to do with being with or without children. They hit a certain moment, and they’re like, “Nope, I want to do this,” or, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and there’s this big shift that happens. And then all of a sudden, we’re kind of put out to pasture? All the most incredible women I know are over 40, and I wanted that community, because I refuse to believe I’m the only one that’s pivoting. I mean, I wanted children, I had them, I raised them. And now I’m saying, “OK, what now?” That’s what precipitated me diving head first into something that I had no knowledge about.
What’s the ultimate goal?
Actually, I want to be able to make product. I want to be able to produce purposeful products in the beauty sector, in the sleep sector, in all these things that I talk about with my girlfriends. It’s not kumbaya; it’s not like, “Oh, let’s come and be in a love circle.” No, it’s like, “Let’s change the rhetoric about menopause.” Let’s go like, “F*** yeah. Here I am.” There’s this whole bracket [of women who are ignored]; you’re either in your 20s or you’re in Depends. I want to create a community. That’s what I started out doing, and the community amassed very quickly, but what I’m realizing is this community wants solutions to specific things. I want to gather the best information that I can and come up with purposeful product and stuff that I wish was out there for me—nutrition-wise, movement-wise.
Not letting fear hold you back seems to be a big focus for Beginning Is Now. What have been your biggest fears over the years, and how do you overcome them?
I think you constantly have to. I’m not Zen in any way. S*** happens, and you have to figure out how you’re going to not let it undo you, right? Sometimes it’s just day-to-day stuff that’s really hard to overcome. People say, “Oh, have a positive body image.” “Oh, OK.” Well, that’s not easy for anybody! Do you know what I mean? I recently had a very bad accident…
Yes, I read that you broke your leg and then developed a staph infection.
And I remember asking myself, “OK, in this scenario, what do you have control of? Because there’s about 90 percent of it you have zero control of, and you just have to stay alive. What is the piece that you do have control of?” “OK, I can learn how to walk again.” It sounds dramatic, but it was exactly what I had to say to myself. So I look at everything—going to college, having children, getting married, getting divorced—all of it is kind of terrifying, because it’s uncharted territory. But you always have a choice to try. And that’s what I mean, that’s what I try to tell my kids—and believe me, I have to remind myself multiple times every day. So I think that overcoming fear is less about not being afraid and more about not letting yourself be done in.
For me, there’s so much fear in being a mom and making sure I’m raising my kid the right way. I know you just sent your oldest daughter off to college—obviously, there’s excitement there, but there’s also fear in letting go.
Listen, the only time I’ve ever regretted having children was now, because the pain is so bad. [Laughs.] You cannot believe it when you watch them go away! And if you have done a modicum of a good job, they want to go. They’re happy, they’re fine. Now I’m getting texts that say, “Sorry I haven’t been in touch.” I’m like, “I gave birth to you. You lived in this house. And now you don’t call?” But, I mean, maybe it’s a luxury to be afraid that you’re not parenting right. Whereas back in the day, when you were in a village, you weren’t afraid of your parenting skills; you were just worried about keeping your kid alive! That’s it. You procreated, you kept the population going.
That’s hilarious. And true.
So I think it’s a bit of a luxury when we go, “Oh, am I messing my child up?” And “Oh, this group says that, and this book says that.” Guess what? Nobody’s figured it out better than anybody else. I can only take care of my own kids. And they talk to me. They give me information, because I’ve made them feel like I’m not judging them. They’re experiencing things for the first time in their lives. If I can give them anything, it’s, “Oh, hey, that happened to me, and this is what I did. I’m just laying it out there. You are a different person than me…” It took me a while to realize my children were different human beings than I am. You have children, you think they’re you, and they’re so not. But also, I’m their mom. You’re the only mom they have. The first line of my [second] book is, “Even decorated soldiers’ last words are often calling for ‘Mommy.’” We have one mom, and it’s a pretty extraordinary position to be in, whether you wanted it or not. I think that’s the responsibility: to just be present and listen. Let them talk to you. So often we’re like, “We need to teach them,” instead of, “Well, what do you think?”
I’m halfway through the memoir you wrote about your mother, There Was a Little Girl, which is incredibly moving. You make it clear you loved her unconditionally, but you also acknowledge her failures. Was writing that book an emotional experience for you?
Yeah, it really was, but it also felt so good to finally have my truth out there, after decades of people having their opinion—which was usually negative. I was like, “It’s not a love letter, and it’s not a Mommie Dearest book.” It’s really just the complicated world of motherhood. It’s a lot of things all at once. I think that’s what people are hesitant to embrace: A mother can fail. A mother can make a mistake. She’s still your mom. You can even hate her, and she’s still your mom. And I never hated my mom; I always just wanted to heal her and keep her alive. That was my main focus.
When you’ve talked about your early career, you’ve stressed how the times were different, but do you ever look back and go, “Holy moly, times were really different”?
I’m constantly being made aware of how shockingly different it is. [Laughs.] Really, the work ethic is so different now. There’s a different sense of entitlement. I’m so glad that I started when I did, because I really respect work ethic, and I don’t see it to the same extent in this day and age. Even if you went to a great college, it doesn’t entitle you to anything. You need to work your a** off to get anywhere. For some reason, that doesn’t seem like it’s a part of the zeitgeist at the moment.
Speaking of school, I saw my aunt this weekend, and she was your eighth grade science teacher. She says hi.
At New Lincoln? Oh my God! I don’t know how well I did in science, but I tried really hard.
Well, she said you were a great student.
Oh, good! I still am. I’m still a student.
Next Up: Actor Connie Britton on Playing Strong but Complicated Women