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9 Things Donna Mills Says to Try Right Now

The ‘Knots Landing’ star, 81, explains how she stays active and why she took a break from acting to become a mom at 54

Donna Mills photographed in Fall 2022 for AARP
Amanda Friedman

Keep moving

I started out as a professional dancer. That kind of discipline helps you in every area of life. Usually if people get a little tired, their attitude is, I’m done. But if you grew up dancing, you know that being tired, being in a little pain, that’s just the process. So you just keep going, you go through it. I play tennis five times a week, for two hours at a time. I am lucky enough to have a clay court, which is so much easier on your joints than cement. I also have a small gym in my home, so I work out with light weights, use my Peloton, do a lot of stretching on my ballet barre. And let me tell you, it’s not always fun. Like almost everyone my age, I have arthritis, and it hurts sometimes. But this is where discipline comes in. I’m not Superwoman, but I do always see the bigger picture.

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When searching for joy, don’t be afraid to take a detour

I was single, I was 54, and I wanted to be a mother very badly. It was not a tough decision at all to adopt. For the first couple of years, I could take Chloe [now 28, a model and an executive at Soho House] with me. I truly believe she was meant to come to me, she was meant to be my child. I wanted her to have a normal life. So I stopped working for many years while she was in school, and it was for me exactly the right thing to do. I didn’t want to be apart from her.

Every ‘no’ brings you one step closer to a ‘yes’

As an actress, of course, I’ve been rejected a lot. But my theory has always been that if you do 20 auditions and you get one job, you’re doing well.

“At age 60, 70, later, you have so much more to contribute than you ever thought possible — don’t just sit down and say, ‘I’m done.’ ”

—Donna Mills

Keep in touch

I’ve kept up with a lot of people, including ones I used to work with. Joan Van Ark and Michele Lee are still dear friends 40 years after we starred in Knots Landing. Sometimes we even do “An Evening With the Ladies of Knots Landing” together for the fans. Some show up wearing that dramatic eye makeup like my character, Abby!

Know your character

I have to say, back in the Knots Landing days, a lot of women were really standoffish to me in real life. I couldn’t figure out why for a long time. Then I realized it was my character. They thought I was going to take their husband!

Leave yourself open to love at any age

I met [actor and producer] Larry Gilman at age 60. I lucked out. Before him, I kind of went for the bad boys. But when I met him, I just knew I was going for the not-bad boy.

Open your ears and heart

We have a big hill behind our house. Larry wanted to build a vineyard up there. And I was just like, no, you’re crazy, the vines will dislodge the hill. I was worried. It was one of the few fights we ever had. He didn’t listen to me, and it’s good he didn’t. The vines solidified the hill, and now we have our own commercial vineyard. And it is just beautiful.

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Eat green and clean

During the soap opera years, I never ate pasta, sugar, bread, ice cream, cookies or any of that kind of stuff. I would have maybe half a glass of wine. Now I eat, but I’m still careful. I’m not a vegetarian, but I grow, pick and eat a lot of vegetables.

Don’t think: What have I done? Think: What can I do next?

I’m in my third act and was recently cast in a new movie as a vicious, sadistic grandmother. And that’s what I really want next, a whole series — like Succession, which I love ­— where I can be evil to my heart’s content!