Amanda’s Second Act

Amanda Peet strikes a pose after getting a flu shot at Walgreens; photo by Stuart Ramson for the UN Foundation

Flu season doesn’t typically evoke glamour or glitz—and facing the needle for a shot at the local pharmacy isn’t an occasion that generally inspires a cheery disposition. Yet, on a warm fall day, accomplished actress and ambassador to the United Nations’ Shot@Life campaign Amanda Peet arrives at the Walgreen’s flagship store in the Empire State Building, ready to receive her own flu shot and do her part to spread awareness about the amazing Walgreens’ Get A Shot Give A Shot initiative. In partnership with a Shot@Life, Walgreens (which includes the Duane Reade chain), has agreed to donate vaccinations to children in developing countries by matching every vaccine purchased in their stores with a vaccine donation for the UN’s effort.

Peet winces a bit when her shot is administered, but she’s quick to crack a smile afterward and jump right into the cause at hand. “The benchmark we’re hoping to hit is three million shots for kids in developing countries who don’t have access to vaccines—polio and measles in particular,” the mom of two says proudly. “So it’s important to think of it as a community effort and to think of yourself—if you’re a mother—as a ‘global mother.’”

While movie and TV buffs know the 41-year-old actress from her comedic turns in films like “The Whole Nine Yards” and “Saving Silverman” as well as from her television work, which ranges from “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” to a recurring role on “The Good Wife,” her off-screen life has brought plenty of new adventures in the last few years. For three months of the year, Peet and her two daughters—6-year-old Frances (“Frankie”) and 3-year-old Molly—land in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The purpose of their journey? To join Peet’s husband, the novelist and screenwriter David Benioff, as he shoots “Game of Thrones”—HBO’s lauded adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels—of which he is a showrunner and co-creator.

Quietly, and now publicly, Peet—a native New Yorker and Columbia University alum—has also been exploring her writing and will make her Off-Broadway playwriting debut later this month with “The Commons Of Pensacola,” which focuses on a mother-daughter relationship after the mother loses her luxurious New York City life and moves to a one-bedroom condo in southern Florida. Though Peet herself does not act in the Manhattan Theater Club production, the cast does include fellow actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner.

Between acting, writing, and traveling the world as a mom and childhood health advocate, how does Peet juggle it all? “You make it sound so cool,” she laughs warmly. “I have a friend, who’s a mother, who said to me: ‘Strive to be mediocre.’ So that’s my parenting recommendation.” But after chatting with Peet—first, post-flu shot at Walgreens and then a few days later for a longer, more introspective interview—I’d have to differ. Despite her modest jests, there’s definitely nothing mediocre about this born-and-raised New Yorker and loving mom.

You’ve been very vocal about your activism with the UN’s Shot@Life campaign. Did becoming a mother inform your opinions?
When my daughter Frankie was born, a lot of my friends weren’t vaccinating their babies and they thought I was crazy because I was vaccinating. My brother-in-law is an infectious diseases researcher and pediatrician at [the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia], and through him I learned why it was important and critical, to vaccinate Frankie and Molly. It started to feel frustrating that there didn’t seem to be enough people coming out in support of vaccines, so I decided to do so.

Amanda Peet steps out in Times Square to support childhood vaccinations; photo by UN Foundation

What’s the big message you’d like to convey to parents about vaccines?Every 20 seconds a child in the developing world dies from a vaccine-preventable disease. Since we have the medicine, it feels infuriating that the only problem is delivering these medicines to people in need…[So] come to Walgreens and get your flu shot, because it’s good for you and it’s good for children elsewhere.

You and your husband are actually both native New Yorkers. How did the two of you meet?
On a blind date. We always fight about whether we [connected right away] or not. I always say that it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth date that I was smitten with him and I go on about what went wrong on our first four dates, but he always rolls his eyes and says: “You loved me from the get go.”

Was motherhood always something that you had in your life’s plan?
Yes. When I was single in my early 30s, I was like the bird in Are You My Mother? Except I was going on dates saying: “Are you my baby-daddy?” I was a lot of fun to date, I can tell you that.

What have been some of the biggest surprises about motherhood and marriage?
I’m surprised at how much closer I am to my husband now than I was when I married him—and how much easier and more amazing our relationship is… I’m a child of divorced parents, so maybe I thought it was going to be this linear thing where it got less and less exciting over the years. So far—knock on wood—that hasn’t happened.

Many of our readers are new or expectant mothers. Were there any surprising challenges you faced when you first became a mom?
I had a postpartum depression with Frankie. That was the biggest curve ball of my parenting experience… [But] reaching out to other moms who would talk about their ambivalent feelings, or their scary feelings, was incredibly helpful and made me feel less ashamed. There’s just so much shame associated with it and there’s such an incredible, acute feeling of failure that you’re not in this blissed out state. It was hugely important to hear from other people—including Brooke Shields and her book [Down Came The Rain]— who would tell you “I felt the same way” or “I would walk around the city crying.” It was very hard for me because I was blind-sided. I was convinced that I was born to be a mother and that it was going to be really easy for me… [Also], Ayelet Waldman’s book—it’s called Bad Mother—felt deeply personal to me. Parts of it are very funny, but it exposes the mixed bag that motherhood can be. It doesn’t mean that your character is defective if you’re having trouble handling some of the aspects of being a mom.

You and your family have been known to split your time between different locales, including NYC, L.A., and overseas. How do you make it work?
It’s mostly between Belfast and L.A. right now because “Game of Thrones” shoots in Belfast… It’s not easy, but the girls go to school in Belfast. They go to this little daycare called Over the Rainbow. It’s adorable and amazing… [More generally], I try to think a lot about the ’70s and how my sister and I turned out okay and about the benefits of benign neglect and of just letting your kids run around and not be entertained and spend a rainy day just dealing with boredom… I remember long car rides without movies! Now I get so panicked when I can’t find the iPad for one of our long flights and I think: “How did my mom do this?”

Both your and your husband’s parents still live in NYC. What do your girls love to do here in when they visit?
They like the Museum of Natural History. And once when I was doing a play at the Lucille Lortel Theater, Frankie’s favorite thing was to come with me. The stage rotated on an enormous plate, and she used to ride the “turntables”—that’s what we called it…  [So] she thought my work consisted of sitting around on a turntable with furniture on it.

Your own play, “The Commons Of Pensacola,” opens this month. What can you tell us about it?
It’s about a woman who has been divested of her assets, who at one time was very wealthy, and who goes to Pensacola, Florida, to live in a condo by herself and then gets visited by her daughter on Thanksgiving. And all hell breaks loose. A lot of people will say that I was riffing on Ruth Madoff…I guess it came out of my interest in what happens to family members of notorious people.

Amanda Peet poses with Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker; photo by 2013 Bruce Gilkas/Broadway.com

Did you have a particular motivation for switching gears from acting?I think turning 40 was a big moment. I started to realize that I needed another outlet. I had written in college and tried to write for many years, but everything I wrote was not decent enough to show anyone outside of my family. In the last couple years—being over in Belfast and having the girls—I started to feel like I needed something that I could do at home, so I started getting much more serious about [writing]. Also, I think being married to David really made a difference, because he was so encouraging and really brave in being brutal in his criticism… [But mostly], when I think about my daughters and think about them seeing my work and forgiving me—or not—for being away from them, it seemed like I had to take a shot at something with a little more depth than doing four scenes in a movie where I’m somebody’s wife.

Do you have any new acting projects coming up?
I’m really excited because I’m doing a show with the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay Duplass. They have a new show called “Togetherness” on HBO. We start shooting in January… Melanie Lynskey and Mark Duplass play husband and wife, and they have a couple kids and are living in L.A. [My character], Melanie’s sister—who’s sort of a drifter and a slightly misguided woman—comes to stay on their couch at the same time the children’s godfather gets evicted and also comes to stay on their couch. So we’re basically like hobos living on their couch. Who may or may not fall in love with each other.

Since you mentioned that you value David’s creative criticism, I was wondering whether the two of you see eye-to-eye on parenting styles?
I think I’m far more neurotic than he is. I’m very lucky because he is very attuned, but he’s also more mellow than I am. It’s actually a really wonderful combination. He’s on it, psychologically, but he’s not a worrier…we’re a very good team in that way.

Do you and David have any rules to ensure quality time as a family?
We don’t have any rules about it. Somehow it just works. Today, David sent [the girls] the most boring movie from the “Game of Thrones” set in Croatia where he was just standing in front of a donkey and talking about how the donkey was an actor on set that day. My girls are just eating their breakfast, nonplussed… But deep down, it makes a difference, and it matters that he does that.

What are Frankie and Molly like right now?
They are very cliché first and second children. Frankie is very cautious, very plan-ful, and Molly is just super id. From when [Molly] could talk she would say: “Mommy, I want you.” She’s very what-you-see-is-what-you-get… They’re both very imaginative and both can play alone and go on about some story they’re creating for themselves. Sometimes my kitchen seems like a lunatic asylum with several people talking out loud to imaginary people.

Is Frankie enjoying first grade?
She is! She goes off to school with bells on her toes… The idea right now in first grade is that children should be writing as much as they can and not worry about the spelling. So Frankie’s written probably more books than George R. R. Martin. They’re incredible. The spelling is really interesting and heartbreakingly adorable. I know that I’m going to treasure them for the rest of my life.

The Commons of Pensacola” opens on November 21 at The Manhattan Theater Club.

Cover photo by Mark Abrahams / Trunk Archive