I spent the afternoon in New York last week with long distance friend, mom, and actress Denise Richards.
We chatted over tea and scones, and then I decided to ask her some questions and find out what it’s like to be a single, working mom in the spotlight.
Denise was candid, honest and sincere about her life. I give you our interview…
Erica Diamond: Denise, can you tell us a little about your upbringing. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be an actress? When and how did you get that lucky break?
Denise Richards: I grew up in a small town outside outside of Chicago. I grew up very differently than how my girls are growing up today. My mom was a stay at home mother. We were actually a Nielsen family – we were your all around typical American family. Family of 4. Very close. My father, my sister and I were part of a father-daughter group called The Drifters. My mom had dinner on the table every night at 6 o’clock. Everything was about family growing up.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to act. But growing up in a small town, I didn’t think it would be possible living in Illinois. My dad was tired of working outdoors in the cold winters, and decided to move us to California. From there, I started modeling, then getting into acting. I started taking acting lessons, and landed a few guest spots. I was lucky- I was able to support myself even with those little jobs.
My big break was Starship Troopers – it was so cool. My first movie in a movie theater! From there on in, I became a working actor.
(Denise in Starship Troopers)
ED: Breaking into Hollywood can be an uphill battle. Were there ever moments where you felt as though your dreams were impossible? How did you stay positive and motivated in your career?
DR: There’s always that little word called REJECTION. It happens to everyone. There were many times that I got discouraged when I didn’t get a role, but I loved what I was doing so much, it was this love that kept me motivated. I had a passion for acting, and I wouldn’t give up.
To this day, I love being on set with filmmakers, the actors, the crew. I love working. It has always been my passion that has kept me motivated through rejection. When you have a passion for something, you MUST keep at it. It sounds very simple, but I know it to be true.
ED: What does being a single woman and mom mean to you? What advice can you offer to other single, working moms when life gets overwhelming? How do you balance it all?
Denise Richards and daughters Sami, Lola and Eloise (c/o People Magazine)
DR: I think moms, single or not, put a lot of pressure on ourselves trying to balance it all. It’s NEVER going to be perfectly balanced- the sooner you know this, the sooner you can relieve some of the pressure you put on yourself. When you’re working, you will miss some moments with your kids. When you’re away with your husband, you’ll miss some moments at work. When you’re with the kids, you’ll miss moments there too. I think it’s about prioritizing, not about balancing. It’s more about juggling, in my opinion, than balancing. Keeping things running as smoothly as possible, and managing all those balls in the air as best as you can.
The secret to balance for me, is about living and being in the moment. Otherwise you’re simply never enjoying life – when you’re with your kids, you’re worried about work, and so on.
About being a single mom- I don’t think of myself as a single mom. I just think of myself as a mom. I think even if you have a nanny (depending on your financial situation), or grandparents to help out, at the end of the day, you’re the one raising your kids. And that’s a tough job. My children are my priority and I want to be the one raising them. The best gift you can give your child is your time. We don’t get these moments back. When my girls were babies, there were incredible jobs that I didn’t take, because I didn’t want to miss all those moments. Life is always about making choices.
ED: You are known world-wide as a sex symbol, and you’ve been ranked as one of the most beautiful people alive. How do you deal with such close scrutiny of your body? Describe your relationship with your body and with food, and do you have any tips for staying in the shape that you’re in?
DR: I have been lucky enough to be thin my whole life. But I take good care of myself and I think clean living makes a difference. I’m careful what I put in my body, I try and stay out of the sun. I’m lucky that I didn’t feel the pressure to be thin in this business- I can probably credit good genes for that.
But, after my mom passed away, I gained 10-15 pounds, which was a lot for my frame. And I think it was TMZ that posted my weight gain (it was splashed all over the Internet), and I was shocked! I had never experienced such scrutiny and cruelty about my body. The tabloids had no idea everything that was going on in my life, and it was really mean, and very hurtful. I try to never read things in the media, but “Oh look at fat Denise,” was difficult to read.
During this grieving period, was the first time I experienced emotional weight gain. I don’t even think I changed my eating habits- the weight just stuck to me ‘cuz I was so grief-stricken over losing my mom. But after some time, I decided to buckle down– I wanted to feel better emotionally and get back to the way I looked physically, so I started getting back into my pilates routine, and being really consistent. I started to feel better.
My secret to staying in shape is consistency. When I consistently stick to my routine, that is when I feel my best. I also think you need to work out for your own body. Just because something works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. So I believe you should continue to try different activities until you find out what works for you. I have tried everything out there you can imagine- weights, classes, everything, and for me, the best thing my body responds to is pilates.
ED: Your marriage and divorce from Charlie Sheen were plastered all over tabloids for months and you endured invasive prying by the press into your personal family life. How did you maintain your sanity during this ordeal?
(Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen)
DR: I maintained my sanity by knowing what’s important, and what was important was taking care of my two babies. I knew over time it would pass. It didn’t pass as quickly as I would have liked (laughing), but I knew I had to stay focused on really blocking a lot of that stuff out and being the best mom I could be.
My kids were too little to understand what was going on during my divorce, which was a blessing. They were babies. It was all about being a mom and being there for them.
ED: What is your advice to other women who find themselves in a toxic relationship? It is not as easy as it seems, to just get up and walk away from the family unit. Women sit on the fence for months, often years before leaving a toxic relationship. Can you touch on this?
DR: I think the advice I would offer to women contemplating leaving their partner, is to answer these 2 questions- Would I want this partner for MY daughter? And would I want MY son to grow up and be like this person? If you answer no to these questions, then he is not the right person to continue on with.
About drawing the strength to leave your marriage, that is so different for every person. Everyone’s situation is different. It’s so personal for each individual and no one should judge a friend or another woman, and say things like, “She should leave her husband immediately,” or “I can’t believe you lived miserably in that marriage for so long.”
I always say, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and we don’t know the ins and outs of anyone’s relationship except the people involved. All we can hope for, is great support around us, and support to get us through whatever decision we choose to make.
ED: You speak often of your great love and respect of your mother, who passed away too young from cancer. What was the best life advice that you received from your late mother?
DR: She gave me all kinds of advice. She gave me advice on how to be a mom, advice in my career. But I think her best advice she ever gave me was the importance of living in the moment. The gift that comes with being in the moment. And she herself always lived like that. She was always that way. I also think it’s really good advice, because when you let your mind wander to the past or the future, you’re not present. You’re not there. It’s as if you didn’t experience that moment. You end up missing a lot of wonderful moments.
ED: Tell us, what are you working on at the moment in your career? And for a woman looking to break out into the media today (you were a Bond girl, my goodness), what advice would you give her?
(Denise in James Bond: The World Is Not Enough)
DR: I just finished the 100th episode of 90210 which was fun, and I’m now filming a new TV pilot called Socio.
For anyone looking to break into the business, I think many underestimate the importance of hard work. Rejection and roadblocks are part of the job, but if you believe in yourself, nothing will replace that “pick yourself up, and dust yourself off” attitude, and work ethic. If this is truly what you want to do, and if it’s your dream, then never give up and keep at it. But that goes with anything in life when pursuing your career – keep plugging away.
(Denise on Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom Anger Management)
ED: What inspired you to choose to adopt your youngest daughter? Three daughters! What is that like, a house full of girls? In fact, you’re an avid animal adopter and rescuer too. What is it about your need to rescue? My psycho babble is showing its face.
DR: I just knew I wasn’t done. And I have always wanted to adopt. I decided to pursue it on my own– I just knew that my family wasn’t complete. I think that children choose their parents- and Eloise just found me a different way. I can’t explain it. I just knew there was another soul for me.
We didn’t know she was a girl until three weeks before she was born. So, we weren’t sure if Eloise was going to be a girl or a boy. My sister has three boys, so it was so delightful to find out that I was having another girl. To have a house full of girls is the best, and I love it.
As for the animals, I have no idea where that came from. Ever since I was little, ever since I can remember, if there was a stray dog, I would bring it home and care for it, and try and find its owner. My sister is the opposite- she doesn’t have any animals. I gravitate toward the ones who are in special need of care, who have been abused, and who need medical attention.
And again, back to the adoption, there is no difference in me giving birth or adopting. AT ALL. I feel like I gave birth to Eloise.
ED: And finally, if you could offer your twenty-year old self advice, what would you tell her?
I would tell her not to sweat the small stuff in life. That everything in life has a time and place, and not to be in such a rush to do everything. There is beauty in taking your time, and enjoying each stage and phase.
And to all the people who have been affected by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy (including Denise who is in New York at the moment), my thoughts and prayers are with you.