Brooke Shields Is Changing the Narrative for Women of Any Age

CUL PS Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields. Guy Aroch

"I've never had a problem being an open book. It's just how I've lived my life."

If you think about it, purely based on her 40-plus-year career, Brooke Shields is the perfect podcast host because she has a story for everything. "This is a new world for me, and I'm really enjoying it. It's such an honor to be this age and still being asked to do the thing that I love to do." With Now What? Shields, after "so many decades" on the other side of the interview, "having no problem answering questions," is now the one asking them. "I've never had a problem being an open book. It's just how I've lived my life." Part of what inspired the podcast was her lifestyle brand Beginning is Now, which focuses on empowering women of every age and size. "We need to find a way to at least change the narrative around all of this." Despite her incredible work in these new areas, she hasn't totally turned her back on Hollywood. With many projects in the works, she'll next be seen in the HBO Max holiday film Holiday Harmony (November 24). "I like doing those kinds [of movies]. I love comedy. I'm happy when I'm doing comedy. It's in my blood."

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Congrats on the new podcast, Now What?

Thank you. It's so exciting. I just interviewed Gayle King.

I start every morning with Gayle King! What inspired you to do the podcast and how was Gayle?

I mean, I was actually a little nervous. Just because she's interviewed me and she's always on that side. She was delightful. What inspired me was starting this company [Beginning is Now] and then going through a very dramatic injury and really having to learn how to walk again and being afraid for the first time, seriously afraid. I really asked myself the question now what? Now what am I going to do? Will I ever walk again? Dance again? It was such a pivotal moment for me. I started thinking about all of the people that we hear their stories, and many of them we don't know, they don't necessarily have to be successful, but everybody goes through these "now what?" moments. They're pivotal moments in their life, where they're thrown something unexpected. It could be tragedy, it could be loss, it can be something good, it can be not getting into that college, not getting that job, losing that job, whatever the thing, divorce. There's so many different things. What is it that makes people get back up again? When they ask themselves, now what? This is not what I anticipated, this is not what I'm ready for, now what do I do? And all you do is sort of bring that up to people and they will just tell you their story.

That's so true. When trauma impacts your life and forces you to go in a new direction, it's powerful.

It's interesting, because you can go to therapy, you can do all these things to sort of think you are getting to know yourself—and I'm for sure a supporter of that—but you still haven't put yourself to the test. And when something big happens, it's how you respond that really reveals a great deal about your character that you don't necessarily even know enough to look into.

I feel like you're a perfect podcast host, because you've experienced it all, you have a story for every situation.

Which is so wild because my producer will sit there and she'll say, "What the hell was that story? Where do you get that from?" I've been doing this version of whatever it is you call what I do for 57 years, and it's put me in and out of such a mixture and a myriad of different experiences. But what's interesting is having spent so many decades on the other side of that, having no problem answering questions, pushing and getting people to [answer questions] has been really a huge learning curve. It's not in my nature to push people to discomfort, and that's not the goal, obviously, but to not let people get off the hook so easily. I've never had a problem being an open book. It's just how I've lived my life. But it's been really interesting.

And feeling uncomfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's how you know something is real.

Right. That's how I've made most of my Broadway decisions. I've always been, what are you going to do? You're going to do this to yourself? Okay. But the feeling of triumph is such a gift. Making other people feel uncomfortable is definitely uncomfortable for me. But I'm getting there.

The only thing I've ever really been good at is talking.

Well, I fill silences, which is a problem. In the beginning, I was not only asking questions, I was answering them for them. [Laughs] I want to give them an out.

You've got to let them lead the way a little bit.

I've gotten much better at it.

And these conversations you're having, they're so in line with your lifestyle brand, Beginning is Now, which is now moving into apparel. Why was this important for you?

While I was doing something with QVC I got to really learn a lot more about sizing. You can't just take the cut of one thing and make it bigger, there's so many different variables to it. So that's been important. We never set out to be an apparel company, and we really aren't, but I wanted the perfect pair of leggings and I wanted the perfect sports bras. So I said, "Well, I've been working out forever. Why don't we do that?" And people have really loved it. The inclusivity piece has been so across the board for us. I've been doing so many different speaking engagements and interviews and with the podcast and being interviewed, once you start the conversation with women over a certain age, it doesn't matter who you are, how you were raised, where you live, what socioeconomic, what ethnicity, what size...It absolutely is this leveling experience, to feel a part of a community that nobody is excluded from. That has been such a joy, it's been such a revelation to us because it's what I wanted, but to see it come to fruition has been very nice.

It's so important, to feel included in a brand when it's so easy to feel excluded.

I deal with this. People probably scoff at this, but I deal with this. Whenever I do a photo shoot, every single time I say to them I don't fit into sample sizes, I've never fit into sample sizes, please don't bring me runway, I will not fit into it, and I won't feel good. Could you bring me clothes that fit, please? And every single time they come with racks and racks of stuff just off the runway. "Oh, don't worry about it. We'll leave it all open in the back while we take your picture." Oh, that's a confidence builder. Thank you. Thank you very much for that. I got so sick of not being told I was skinny enough as a little model. And I always said to myself, nobody should be able to have that feeling. And I have a daughter who's 16, she's 6'1...the tears for things that don't fit her. Everything is short on her. Now granted, people could say, "I'm sure you were lucky, you're tall." But for a 16-year-old, she just feels horrible. We need to find a way to at least change the narrative around all of this, and that was really important to us when we set out to do this very limited apparel.

I've always struggled with my weight, and it is demoralizing when you walk into a store and nothing fits you.

And the stupid overhead lighting. Oh, God! It makes me crazy. I learned something by doing Suddenly Susan...

Oh, don't worry, I do have a question about Suddenly Susan as well.

That was my favorite time of my life. When we were in the first season, everything was on a budget. The cheaper the clothing, the better. We were able to put together her closet, everything had to be fitted, everything had to be tailored. And I thought, you know what? People need to know this because there was no such thing as one body. But it struck me, people don't know this. Nobody fits the ideal supermodel or runway body stuff. I've been tapped and tailored and cotton stitched, because there's no one body type and it struck me as an important conversation to have.

Before I get to Suddenly Susan, I have to ask you about Holiday Harmony on HBO. Do you love holiday films as much as I do?

I love rom-coms, and I love holiday movies. I even like watching the really old ones. There's nothing edgy about any of it. It's not dark. When they came to me for Holiday Harmony, I thought, do I want to do another one back-to-back [after Netflix's A Castle for Christmas in 2021]? I don't have a very big part in the movie, so I don't have to carry it. I like doing those kinds [of movies]. I love comedy. I'm happy when I'm doing comedy. It's in my blood.

Well, that perfectly brings me to Suddenly Susan. Because when it came out in 1996, I think people were surprised how good you were at comedy. Would you do another sitcom like that?

Yesterday. I'll fly anywhere and do it. I mean, listen, I hope that [multicam] sitcoms come back, they're cheaper to make for sure. I love this marriage between TV and the theater, because you're performing live. I think that's all changed because of COVID, but maybe it will come back. What I was amazed at was I had this sort of image that was always provocative or controversial, or whatever it was, it was always serious and love stories. And all the while I was working with Bob Hope. Every single Christmas special in Beirut, Russia and England, Paris, doing all these shows for the military and the USO shows, it was all sketch comedy. I got the best training. But still, people weren't putting two and two together, which was fine. And then when Friends came along and I was given the opportunity to be to play a character, they didn't want me to be crazy in the beginning. They didn't [want] me do the laugh and wouldn't let me really do the licking of the fingers and all that stuff. Finally, after doing the first pass—you do each scene twice—from the other end of the stage Marta Kauffman said, "Put it back in." It was in that moment that I thought okay, this is me now, this is what I want to do and it really set the precedent for Suddenly Susan and even Lipstick Jungle. Self-deprecation was important for me. To be someone who was considered glamorous or looking a certain way and then fall on my face, or make fun of my height or make fun of something else, have me not be polished and put together was something that hadn't really been. That was always what I did in school and with my friends, but the self-deprecation in it was what was appealing to people because it sort of demystified it. Like, I don't take myself so seriously, nor should you.

After #MeToo started, many of your old interviews came up, highlighting how the media spoke to you as a child and often sexualized you. How do you think you were able to not let that impact you negatively?

I think if I didn't have my mom so avariciously protecting me, I would have had a different trajectory emotionally through that part of the business. But she was so protective of me that I did maintain a certain naïveté, which allowed me to find joy in the actual work and in the traveling and the experiences. Being in those situations where Barbara Walters is asking me what my measurements are, or the sort of lack of respect for a young person, didn't insult me or hurt my feelings, but what it did was just made me lose so much respect. I remember thinking, "Here we go again, I thought these were supposed to be the smart people, but I guess not." My mom would say, you have to let them get the question out before you answer, because I got so used to answering the same old question. So I didn't feel scarred by it, because I didn't look up to this type of a person. I can't remember what his name was, but one of the nighttime—not Carson, [he] was always so sweet, Letterman was always so sweet to me, those are the good guys—but they would flat-out lie. They would say, "oh, I don't watch [or] read those magazines" or whatever, and the magazines would be right there. They thought I was an idiot, and they thought that they could speak to me condescendingly and speak down to this little girl. I just would think, now you have no idea what you're talking about. I just spent four months doing this project, I lived it day in and day out, I may be 15, but I'm so far ahead of the game than you are even in this line of questioning, you know?

Listen to H. Alan Scott on Newsweek's Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott