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Brooke Shields on Life at 58: ‘There Are So Many Moving Pieces’

The model-actress stars in a rom-com, ‘Mother of the Bride,’ streaming on Netflix in May


VIDEO: Brooke Shields Felt Beauty as a Kid was a ‘Burden’

There was a frenzied span in the early ’80s when Brooke Shields was arguably the most famous, most talked-about, most gushed-over female in the universe, a Kardashian-times-10 megastar. She was an Ivory soap baby at 11 months and continued to model for the agency of Eileen Ford, who created a children’s division just to bring on Shields. After a small part in a horror movie, she was cast at age 11 in her second film, as a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby, where her nude scene sparked outrage. At 14, she became the youngest model to nab the cover of Vogue; starred (shipwrecked and scantily clad) in the titillating blockbuster The Blue Lagoon; and twisted her body into a pretzel in those sassy, controversial Calvin Klein jean ads. The following year, 1981, she graced the cover of Time as “The ’80s Look” and, just before her 16th birthday, embodied unbridled teen passion in Franco Zeffirelli’s initially X-rated film, Endless Love — another box-office bonanza.

“She was just being projected into some other stratosphere,” recalls childhood friend and actress Laura Linney, in the illuminating 2023 documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields. “She represented a femininity of that time. There was a sense she was the woman of the future.”

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According to Brooke’s mother, Teri, a former model and makeup artist, the stratosphere was always her daughter’s fate. “She looked at me and said, ‘This baby is going to be a star!’ ” Brooke says, with a wistful smile. “This baby was going to be her savior.”

We’re sitting in one of Brooke’s favorite cafés, blocks from the Greenwich Village home she shares with her husband, Chris Henchy, and her two daughters, Rowan, 20, and Grier, 17. Sipping alternately from a steaming mug of bone broth and a mysterious frothy green concoction, Brooke is analyzing her life and career like a therapist — in fact, she just got off the phone with one, she tells me, so she’s in the mood for a self-reflective interview.

At 58, it’s all still there — those fluffy eyebrows, the pillowy lips, that beautiful cascading mane of chestnut-colored hair. Other than a little crinkle around the eyes when she energetically emphasizes an important point in conversation, Brooke remains hauntingly as we remember her from those glossy magazine covers and 50-foot movie screens.

But she is not that sexy woman-child today. Surprisingly, Brooke insists she never really was. “That world was fake to me,” she says. “It wasn’t my real life. It wasn’t me.”

Brooke began dismantling that image in 1983 when she ditched superstardom to attend Princeton University. But the postgraduation years were a dark period, she says. A fickle Hollywood had forgotten all about the woman of the future. That bleak period coincided with her moving on from her overprotective, alcoholic manager-mom (who divorced Brooke’s businessman father, Frank, when Brooke was 5 months old) and was capped off with a sexual assault by a powerful film executive, a secret she revealed publicly for the first time in 2023.

Picking herself up from all that trauma, Brooke pivoted. In 1994, she honed her thespian chops on Broadway, singing and hoofing in Grease and later Chicago and Cabaret, winning over critics there too. Her 1996 guest appearance on Friends as Joey Tribbiani’s stalker fan drew raves, and she gravitated to a new niche — comedy. Her sitcom, Suddenly Susan, allowed Brooke to be her funny, dorky, real self, and America liked that: She received two Golden Globe nods and, in 1997, a People’s Choice Award. “It wasn’t like she became funny,” says Susan costar Judd Nelson in the Pretty Baby doc. “No, that was always there. We just didn’t get to see it.”

She found love, marrying tennis great Andre Agassi in 1997. The union only lasted two years, but she’s not regretful. “I think we get into different relationships for different reasons,” she says thoughtfully.

And if you do believe in fate — and real-life Hollywood meet-cutes — she met writer-producer-director Henchy (Spin City, Entourage) soon after, when her dog wandered off on a studio lot and Henchy returned him. They married in 2001.

“He makes me laugh,” she says. “I think I always knew that I needed solid and normal. And he’s a very, very good dad. He goes to every basketball game, every volleyball game. And the kids love being around him too.”

On cue, Brooke whips out her iPhone to proudly show photos and videos of Rowan and Grier. “They’re very old-souled children,” she says adoringly. “Personality-wise, Rowan’s like a golden retriever puppy and Grier is like an Abyssinian cat.”

At home, she is a down-to-earth mother and wife: While Chris cooks dinner, she likes to relax, watching TV, doing puzzles, needlepointing. But she also stays busy outside the home, particularly with her nest about to empty. She is starring in a rom-com, Mother of the Bride, streaming on Netflix in May; working on a book about aging; and launching a digital platform, Beginning Is Now, to provide beauty and wellness advice to women over age 40.

“There are so many moving pieces,” Brooke says, taking a deep breath. Here is her side of the story.

spinner image Actress Brooke Shields sitting on a sofa
Photo by Ari + Louise

What was it like to be so famous as a tween and teen?

It only became clear to me how famous I was when we went out. If we went to Studio 54 or the Cannes Film Festival, there would be hordes of people and paparazzi screaming my name and sometimes rocking the car, and I’m like, “This is nuts.” It was like facing a firing squad. My mom would say, “You’ve got to get out of the car first. They’re not here to see me.”

Strangers feel close to you, and it can be overwhelming. Suddenly, you’re responsible for every fan’s experience. But because I have zero shared experience with that person, it could be overwhelming, and created a huge, shocking sense of isolation, like, “Oh God, I’m really so far away from everybody.”

But you seemed so mature dealing with all that.

I was a thoughtful kid — I really did see things deeper. And I didn’t want to lose my cool on camera during interviews, because then they win. There was one interview where this woman asked me the same question three times. I finally said to her, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I don’t think you want my answer. Because I keep answering it and you keep asking the same question, wanting a different answer. But I have no other answer because this is my truth.”

I’m also a champion compartmentalizer; it was the only way to stay buoyant. Whenever a director would say “Cut,” I’d go separate, compartmentalize and often just leave — go to my regular school, or to my dad’s, and be in a completely different world.

College was a real wake-up call for you.

Yes. Because early on, this one professor was looking at me, saying, “Shields, what is your hypothesis on this?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” That was such a revelation because no one had ever asked for my opinion. They didn’t need me to have an opinion in Hollywood; they just needed me to do what they said. But that professor got it, he saw it.

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After I graduated, I just assumed I would go do another movie a year. I was like, “I’m smart. They’re going to love a smart actress.”

But when I returned it was like night and day — I wasn’t starting at zero, I was starting at negative 10. Up until then, my film career really hadn’t been about my acting. But after I finished college, I could not find film roles, and the Brooke doll was being sold! It was hard for the industry to understand what I was. Was I a model? Was I an actress? Was I this, was I that? It was a very difficult time for me.

Then came the sexual assault by a Hollywood executive. How did you cope?

I’m not naming the person, because then it will be about him. I want it to be on my terms. It’s a universal problem. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it, it’s still happening. I was shocked and then surprised, then fearful, then dissociated, going like, “OK, what can I do to get out of here? What needs to happen so that I can leave?” But the most crushing and embarrassing thing was that a part of me felt validated. My career was not in a great place, and it’s so sick, but my brain was telling me, “Oh, you’re cool,” because he picked me at that moment. It’s mind-blowing. You feel such shame.

It would be easier if the person had jumped out of the woods and had a hood over his face.

With the help of Andre Agassi, you “broke up” with your mother as manager. One friend said in Pretty Baby that it was going from one controlling relationship to another.

It was a transition that I needed. I wasn’t strong enough to separate from my mother on my own. I kept falling back in.

With Andre, it also felt good to feel smaller than another, because he was so famous and number 1 in the world. Everywhere we went, he had tons of bodyguards. I could sit back because it wasn’t my world. He was the first one out of the car when we arrived at events. It was a real kind of respite.

After the assault, I was mad and sad, like, “I cannot live without performing. I can’t. This is not fair. You can’t take this away from me.”

I needed to find ways to do it. I studied, studied, studied and took serious acting classes. And I replaced my mom with a real agent.

My mother kept calling it a divorce. And I was like, “Oh Mom, I’m still your daughter, but if I’m going to do this, I have to do this on my own. I’ll make my own mistakes.”

But that meant I didn’t need her, and then who was she if I didn’t need her? Empty nest to my mother was like death.

spinner image Brooke Shields sitting on a stool with her chin resting on her left hand
Photo by Ari + Louise

In the ’90s came Friends, Broadway gigs, Suddenly Susan — and a comedian was born.

Friends was really big. It was such a validation of my instincts because I was told not to do a [crazy] laugh in the scene. And then they screamed across the room, “Put it back in, Shields!” In that moment, I was like, “I have this, up here.” [Points at head.] All of those years doing Bob Hope USO specials! I knew better. Not about a lot of things, but about that. And that’s how I got Suddenly Susan.

And onstage, it all clicked in a way that was the best use of me. I had such a feeling of accomplishment every single night, like: “Yeah, I did that! And I did it again, and I found a new laugh! And I did it again, and they’re standing up for me!”

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Whatever happened to the rules-obsessed child you were?

Yes, all my life I’ve been the conscientious one, asking, “What are the rules?” But I’ve learned to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. My husband tells me that all the time, and I’m like, you know what? That’s a new channel for me, and I like it.

I recently turned down a project, and it was hard for me because I don’t back out of things. But it was giving me such anxiety. There were other things I needed to do — get a foot operation, write a book, get my company off the ground.

I felt such relief saying no.

spinner image Brooke Shields smiling with her hands playing with her hair
Photo by Ari + Louise

Brooke Shields Through the Years

1966
Modeling debut at 11 months is shot by the legendary photographer Francesco Scavullo.

1977
Cast in Pretty Baby at age 11, she’s dubbed “the next Lolita” by the media.

1980
Plays a shipwrecked beauty at 14 in coming-of-age film The Blue Lagoon.

1987
Graduates from Princeton with honors and a degree in Romance languages.

1996
Suddenly Susan debuts, and she wins a People’s Choice Award.

2003
Daughter Rowan is born after infertility struggles, followed by severe postpartum depression. Daughter Grier is born in 2006.

2024
Stars in Netflix rom-com Mother of the Bride.

2024
Expects to launch Beginning Is Now — a digital platform for beauty and wellness advice for women over 40.

How does your parenting compare with your own upbringing?

From the time my girls were little kids, I spoke to them as human beings and made my best effort to switch it back around. “What do you think about that, or how does that make you feel?” They’ve never felt judged by me, whereas I felt judged all the time.

My dad was tough because he didn’t acknowledge anything I did. We would take family photos, and he’d turn to me and go, “No, don’t pose.” And I’d be like, “I’m not!”

And then my mom would be, “Stand up straight, do this. No, no, do that, smile. Don’t do this.” It was always like that. And I wanted to be a good girl. And if I wasn’t a good girl, what would that mean? The worst thing she could say was, “I’m disappointed in you.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, I’ve done it now. …” That, I think, was a function of her alcoholism. There was an edge to it.

But I’m a safe zone for whatever the girls say, feel, think, do, even if it’s wrong.

The empty nest looms, right?

When we left Rowan at college a couple of years ago, our whole world shuddered. I didn’t expect that. And now with Grier’s departure this fall, you can already feel it in the household, the anticipation of it shattering our souls. We’re all dealing with it in different ways.

Grier’s trying to find ways to hate us so that it’s easier to leave and individuate. And Rowan just spent four months in Florence. And you find yourself not knowing who you are if you’re not predominantly Mom. You don’t realize how much of your life is occupied with … get them into preschool, get them into this, get them into that, do this, do that. It’s all about them. And then, all of a sudden, silence. Nothing. Who am I?

As you inch toward 60, what are your thoughts on aging and the camera?

You have to change the narrative. It’s an affront to people if Brooke Shields gets older. You can’t grow up, you cannot age. It’s disappointing to them that I don’t have the same face I had when I was 16.

But it’s been so liberating for me not to worry about it all the time. The pressure of being skinny is just so exhausting. I like food, and I like tequila! [Laughs.]

If I have a job to do, I know that I’m going to look better if I’m a little fitter. But I also look younger when I have extra weight. What was it Catherine Deneuve said? “At a certain age, you have to choose between your face and your ass.”

How is Beginning Is Now going?

It’s going! We’ll be creating a platform for women over 40 so they can age joyously and with confidence and vitality and say, “We don’t have one foot in the grave, people!”

But founding a company is not for the weak of heart. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. It’s hard to ask for money, especially from men who have already left their wives who are my age and are on to the younger model.

But I’m getting a kick out of wowing them with how much I know. And it’s very empowering because I’m not doing it in a snotty way. I’m just owning the power that I’ve learned I have.

Brooke Shields photographed by Ari + Louise in New York City on January 26, 2024. Wardrobe stylist: Anatolli Smith; hair stylist: Sky Kim/The Only Agency; makeup artist: Mark De Los Reyes/Canvas Agency; set and prop stylist: Viki Rutsch/Exposure NY; producer: Elise Connett/143 Productions.

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