11 Quick Questions for Ali Wentworth
Comedian gets serious producing new documentary, ‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’
The much-buzzed-about documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, which explores Shields’ sexual objectification as a child model and actress, debuts April 3 on Hulu. The film is produced by the company BedBy8, which was created last year by comedian-actress-writer Ali Wentworth, 58, and her husband, ABC News chief correspondent and Good Morning America anchor George Stephanopoulos. Wentworth discusses why she chose this project, how it has affected her parenting and the empowering lessons she wants her daughters to remember.
1. What’s behind the name BedBy8?
Because that’s all George ever says. [I’ll ask him,] “Do you want to go to dinner, or do you want to do this?” [And he’ll reply,] “Yes, but I have to be in bed by 8.” Our daughter Elliott said, “You have to name your production company Bedby8 Productions because that’s all he ever says.”
2. What’s it been like working with your husband?
It's actually great. When you marry someone, you don't know what kind of husband they're going to be. When you have children with someone, you don’t know what kind of parent they're going to be, and he’s been fantastic all along. I knew it would be great to work with him, and it is. We stay in our lanes. He doesn't try to be funny, and it really works that way. Both of us know our strengths and weaknesses.
3. Why did you choose this Pretty Baby project with Brooke Shields?
She’s a friend of mine, and over the years she's told me all these stories. I kept saying to her, “My God, you should either be in rehab or dead. I can’t believe you went through all this.” And then, as an older woman looking back at the movies she made, I couldn’t believe at 11 years old her mother and the people around her let her do that. I started talking to her and I said to George, “She would be an unbelievable documentary, particularly now with social media, where this whole generation of girls is being totally sexualized.”
4. Watching the doc, one does wonder how Brooke survived it all.
She’s an incredibly strong person. I think that she used disassociation a lot to kind of get her through. I think she made the great choice later on in life marrying Chris Henchy and … saying, “I want to have a normal life.” You have to want that. And she’s kept her integrity and her kindness and her politeness. She just doesn’t take anything for granted, and she’s grateful — grateful for all of it, good and bad, because it has led her to where she is now.
5. It’s a challenging and charged subject. Were there people who didn’t want to participate?
I wanted Susan Sarandon to talk to us, but her schedule or her inability to talk — we couldn’t get her to. She was there on the set of [the 1978 film] Pretty Baby with this 11-year-old girl, and I was just curious if she had any kind of maternal instincts with Brooke. Or did she try to protect her, or was she threatened by her? But we didn't get to talk to her.
6. After making this documentary, what do you feel is the most important lesson for your daughters [Elliott, 20, and Harper, 17] and for all young women?
One of things I was talking to them about since they were young and asking for a phone was more about, as girls, soon to be women, having agency over their own life, and also their sexuality. The sexy, sexy pictures — all that stuff, that’s not where their worth is. I try to promote much more of what's going on with them inside than having to show off their exteriors. That's a big conversation in our family: By the way, you can be a swimsuit model, but it’s about having control over all aspects, being empowered in every way.
7. You also just wrapped up the first season of the ABC-Hulu show The Parent Test, where you and a parenting expert evaluate different family scenarios and give advice for raising kids. What’s your parenting style?
I thought I was a helicopter mom, but then I realized that there's not just one style. It's like you have a toolbox and you pick lots of different styles that work for you. So I thought I was pure helicopter, but then I realized, no actually, I've got a little bit of a lot of these things. Also, you’re a different parent to each child, because every child is different and needs a different kind of parenting. I'm less helicopter with my younger child because she’s fiercely independent. Sometimes I think she’s being raised by free-range parents.
8. You played Jerry's girlfriend in the classic Seinfeld episode about the “Soup Nazi.” What are your memories of working on that show?
I remember that I was offered a part to do something with George Costanza, and I was working on something else and I couldn’t do it, and I thought, Oh God, did I just lose my shot at being on Seinfeld? And then they came back later and said, “We have this episode we just wrote called ‘The Soup Nazi,’ and we want you to play Jerry’s girlfriend.” I was so happy, because if you’re an actor in Hollywood, you want to be in Seinfeld. And then when I read the script, I was like, Oh my God, I have to make out with Jerry. I was a little nervous, and of course I bought a case of Tic Tacs on the way to the set. I had such a great time, because by the time I did The Soup Nazi, it was just such a well-oiled machine. Everybody knew exactly what they were doing. All you wanted to do was just keep up. It was definitely a highlight.
9. Who do you find funny?
I’ve always loved Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais and Jerry [Seinfeld]. But you know who my hero is? Goldie Hawn. I love her. I love every movie. It never gets old to me. There's something about her when she giggles or laughs — it just makes me happy.
10. On your Instagram account, you describe yourself as an actress, author, producer, podcaster and chocolate chip cookie maker. What’s the secret to a great chocolate chip cookie?
I use sea salt, not regular salt, and sometimes I sprinkle a tiny bit on top while they're baking. And sometimes I do that thing where you drop the pan to get them really flat during the baking process. They are so good my bestie Mariska Hargitay calls me up from her set on [Law & Order:] SVU and she’ll say, “Bring me some cookies.” And I do it.
11. It looks like from your social media you’ve got close girlfriend relationships.
Mariska and I FaceTime every day. The great thing about being older and having work and family is that we may not see each other all the time, but we definitely check in. And if someone is sick — or like right now, I’m in Boston with my mom in the hospital [after breaking her hip] — all these women check in all the time. … It's great to have that built-in scaffolding that you know you can rely on.
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