Celestially renown and loved, superstar Brooke Shields is about to release her brand-new book, “There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me,” on November 18. The book is universally appealing to all of those who have ever had “a mother.”
Professionally, Shields began her astounding career at only 11 months old, with the guidelines and control of her mom, Teri. She went on to become a runway model, appearing on covers of hundreds of magazines as well. At age 9 she launched her film career and appeared in movies such as “Pretty Baby,” “Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love,” and as an adult she graced the stages of Broadway in Grease, Chicago, Wonderful Town and Cabaret, to name a few.
Aside from graduating with honors from Princeton University, Shields survived the perils of being a Studio 54 kid and actually stayed alive, became a best-selling author and gave birth to two beautiful daughters. In the midst of her busy life and with her new book about to set the world on fire, I was honored to be able to have an overwhelmingly candid conversation with her.
I was more than impressed by her intelligence, humor and warmth. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced the comfort level I felt while interviewing Shields with anyone else. As a matter of fact, if you’re seeking a best friend, you may want to try to find someone just like Brooke Shields.
“There Was a Little Girl,” your brand-new book, comes out on November 18, correct?
Yes, it does.
What is the essence of your book?
The essence really is about the complexities that are really evident in the relationship between a mother and a child. They go through many stages. Sometimes we’re aware of them, sometimes we’re not. Some of us do a lot of work on ourselves to reconcile or understand them, but no matter what, my situation played out seemingly differently in the public eye. It was actually much more universal. The dynamic was much more universal than people would believe. Anybody who’s ever worried about their mother, anybody who’s ever felt frustrated by their mother or who’s had an alcoholic mother…we spend our lives running away from or running towards our mothers. There’s something within the context of your life – everything sort of reverts back. You know, there’s that “if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” So I think that that’s the start of it, but my mom was a very complex person. Our relationship was complex, and people really just wanted to see one side of it, or what they thought. This is my turn to just show how complicated it was.
Mother issues can be interesting. It’s a very touchy subject sometimes.
It is, and no one’s exempt really. The moms aren’t exempt, the kids aren’t exempt. I always found it fascinating in Disney movies: They killed off the mothers in every single one, or the mother kept the kid in the tower. There’s a symbol here, you know. I think it’s interesting.
So where do you think you’d be if your mom didn’t push the way she did?
You know, I’ve thought that. I’ve asked that question to myself, and honestly, I have no idea. I can’t imagine not doing what I do if I wasn’t forced to become, by virtue of my own choice, become such a survivor, because of being in this crazy business and having a mother that was so needy. I don’t know if I would have been able to endure the same or want to fight. I’m not so sure of what I would have done. I just refused to be made a victim, and that has a lot to do with the way she was as a person.
How old were you when you finally said, I’m done, I’m not doing this anymore?
Oh, I was old. I was like 28. I didn’t…it never occurred to me. Like, I joke, but we were on our way to filming “Grey Gardens.” I would have moved back to New Jersey, the house would have started to fall apart, we would have adopted more animals. I would have gone back into that co-dependent relationship, because it was familiar to me. It took until I realized that there was really no other option. It didn’t matter that I got an education, and it didn’t matter that I had therapy, and it didn’t matter that I had good friends. It was just – she was a primary concern of mine.
Brooke, how do you think that your relationship with your mom inspired or motivated you in the manner in which you are raising your own two beautiful daughters?
Well, it has made me focus on them becoming more independent than I ever was. The problem with that is, there’s also a double standard that I unwillingly set when they fight me. I think, “How come you didn’t look at me like I looked at my mother?” Meanwhile, it’s a good thing that they question me, that they push me, that they challenge me. It would be a lot easier if they were like I was.
Yeah, I didn’t question, I didn’t challenge her. I thought she was God. I had no reason to balk, I had no reason to rebel, ‘cause I thought, “She knows better, she knows better.” Although my ego would feel a lot better – my kids don’t do a great deal for my ego – it’s hard to deal with daily. They don’t affirm me dailyl; they kinda negate me daily. It’s sort of, I guess, what they’re supposed to do. They’ve gotta learn. I just didn’t learn it until I was much older.
Do you recall any funny adventures that you and your mom had while you were growing up?
Every possible time we left the house it was an adventure, whether we were in the city or whether we were going to a dude ranch. We were this little mini Thelma & Louise. Sometimes we found ourselves in less than stellar situations, and then found ourselves in unbelievable situations. And they ran the gamut. I had this belief that as long as we were together we were invincible.
In a way that kind of saved me, because there was no fear. I had very little fear. All of that was ‘cause she was such a “larger than life” figure.
You have done everything: You’ve survived Studio 54, you’ve modeled, you’re an actress, you’ve done television, Broadway, you’re an author, a mom. You have played with Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson and so forth. Is there anything you haven’t accomplished yet that you still want to achieve?
There’s so much creativity. I want to design. I love interior design. I love being a part of that creative process, and I’d love to do it on a fuller scale, but recently, just in certain areas, I’ve been trying to go into homes because I love it; it’s fun. The way my mother and I grew up, she collected, and I just learned it and enjoyed it. I also think that the reason that I bounced around so much is basically, I went to work where there was an opportunity for me. It wasn’t as if it were a part of a big plan, where I said, “I’m gonna cover all my bases and make sure I was going to go into different mediums.” The mediums became cooled off to me. I could pine and sit and do nothing, or I could find an open window somewhere where I could be creative. If that meant going to Broadway and shifting a focus to that or not doing movies, but doing television work, or write a book… It was because people were not inviting me to do the things that I wanted to do, so I had to create my own opportunity. But easier said than done. You gotta go to people, and when they want me, OK, that’s where I’m going to go. So I think that it’s a matter of not getting lost in what you think the plan should be. Ask yourself what makes you the happiest: performing, creating, working, whatever it is. Whether you’re selling a character on stage…my goal is to make people laugh as much as I could doing “Suddenly Susan.” I knew what I wanted to be, and then I tried to find who was offering it to me in any capacity. I feel as an actress I’ve just begun. Now I’ve had to sort of change my paths so many times, and now I’m thinking, OK, another television show. I don’t know what it’s gonna be. I’m excited!
Do you have a favorite role that you’ve done?
“Wonderful Town” is the best thing I’ve ever done. I felt it was absolutely written for me, my humor, my ability. I feel like I’m one of the performers, especially on Broadway who can do all categories well enough. The package itself is what I’m proud of. I find my comedy is most enjoyable for me. Being on television and being an actress just gives me such joy.
If you could pick two celebrities to be your parents, who would you pick?
I don’t know. See again, I go back into the big picture of sort of as a parent kind of thing, because if I had any other self-actualized healthy person as a parent, I think I would have faded away a little bit more. I loved my mom and my dad so much. I would definitely pick educated, like school-educated parents who had the ability to delve into discussion, just sort of worldly. My mom never – she read the news and the post – she never would discuss anything political. She shied away from all of it. She had opinions, but I think I would have chosen to have more cognizance of world affairs and politics.
Do you spend a lot of time with your children?
I do, actually – more than I’d like sometimes. They drive you crazy. It’s unbelievable what they’re capable of. I really do, and I’m watching them grow, and it’s really nice. Sometimes I forget what a luxury it is until I start working again. As much as they can make me crazy, it’s the little tiny things that I revel in. Our bus trips in the morning are just – always something gets revealed, and I really haven’t had that kind of luxury with time in my life. But, you know, I spent a lot of time with my mother. It’s funny for me to have kids who are comfortable sleeping over at other people’s houses, and they want to. I just didn’t ever want to be anywhere but glued to my mother. That created its own anxiety for me. And this is the reverse. My older one doesn’t want me to walk her in anymore.
I know that feeling; I have three kids. Brooke, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hmm, I used to think that this is the age that I looked for, but I feel that I’m hopefully hitting a different place career wise. I think in the next few years I’ll probably write another book. I have a memoir in me in my life, but I need to live another era first. I need to kind of be a little bit older.
I think you need to write a play.
Oh, that’s lovely, that’s a huge compliment. Thank you! I know I need to write a one-woman show. I mean, I wrote a one-woman show that I produced, and that was a very tough process. But I think there is a one-woman Broadway show in me. I said, “I need to get this book out first, and then to tell some of the stories,” and tell them through a presentation I think would be…I can see it, I can see it happen.
So what motivated you to write this book?
One, there was a New York Times obituary. The way it all happened was a very shocking event, and that was the first event that made me want to speak up somehow, and then the next thing that solidified it that made me go pitch the book was a situation that I endured with my 10 year old; she’s now 11. When she was 10 she wanted to get her ears pierced. Basically I was shocked at how different we were with regard to how we dealt with our mothers. The way she dealt with me was so straightforward, and I thought, “How dare you! How self reliant and confident you think you are!” And I thought, OMG, the amount of work that I had thought I had done, and I feel like it’s just the beginning. She’s a little person, and I resent when she doesn’t reflect me. I resent when she doesn’t look at me like I was God, and yet I spent the past 10 years ensuring that. It’s an interesting double standard. I realize, like, wow that double standard combined with the fact that this woman who died still ill is its demons from people for whatever their own reason is. Whatever they’re projecting, that was the reason for me to write the book. I thought, you know what, there’s something in this relationship, and I would like to share my views with it in its entirety.
And you haven’t even reached the teenage years yet.
No, I can’t even imagine.
You’re right, you can’t.
But I said to my husband when they were younger… He said, “Why are you so hard on them? Why do you badger them into saying please and thank you?” I said, ‘cause if they’re not listening to me now, when they’re 16 and I’m saying, “Oh, by the way, don’t smoke crack,” you gotta instill that, like I do with my puppies. It’s a weird fate but it’s actually kind of valid. It’s important. It’s gonna be hard enough when they’re 16, so if I don’t have any leverage, if I have no respect from them… I know people who have daughters who are horrible to their moms because they never corrected them and never told them that it was not OK.
Do you find yourself saying things sometimes that your mom would have said?
I find myself saying things that I swore would never come out of my mouth. I say, “You know what, you don’t need to know a reason why. You live in my house, I say do it, do it!” You get so exasperated trying to get them to understand, and then you realize, they’re kids. My mom never had to discipline me like that. She ducked her head a certain way and I’d jump. And it wasn’t because I was afraid of her; she always seemed that she needed me more than I did.
When she passed, did you have any feelings of like, maybe I shouldn’t have done that, or if I could do it over again?
I to this day will always do that, cause you just, you play it over and over in your head. What would she have done if I just had the conversation earlier? I don’t know why I didn’t. I don’t know why I couldn’t. It’s almost if it couldn’t have been any other way than it was. That’s the part you have to accept, because I did try, but I never got the movie moment, and I don’t know if you ever get the movie moment.
If your life was a “soundtrack” what songs would be on it?
“Count to Ten,” for sure it would be “I’m Still Standing,” “What Would Be Beautiful in My Eyes,” some Carole King in there, “You’ve Got A Friend.” There would be “My Funny Valentine.”
There’s the soundtrack for your movie.
I’d probably throw in “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Do you have anything else besides your amazing book coming up?
I’m a little premature, but I’m developing a series, hopefully soon. It’s a little early to say it, but now I’m promoting the book.
One last question, do you have a favorite color?
Yellow – not to wear, but to look at.
Anything else you would like to say?
I think that the book is geared to appeal to not just daughters and mothers, but anyone who’s had a mother. It pertains to a lot of different people, and it’s a pretty funny book. I want people to be aware that there’s humor and situations where people are gonna shake their heads. My girlfriends call me and say “one moment I was crying and then I was laughing again.” I say, “Oh, good!”