Kelly Rutherford has had a year full of seismic emotions. She welcomed her second child, Helena, now 6 months old. She’s ended a troubled marriage. And she’s continued her starring role as Lily van der Woodsen on “Gossip Girl,” the hit TV show about a group of privileged Upper East Side teenagers that’s now in its third season (it airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW network). But despite her many life changes and hectic production schedule, the longtime actress—whose other career highlights include roles on the TV show “Melrose Place” and in the movie “I Love Trouble” with Julia Roberts— prides herself on living in the moment. It’s a quality Rutherford credits to her kids, and at our cover shoot, I saw what she meant. Standing tall in a gorgeous Marc Jacobs dress and fabulous Christian Louboutin shoes, the actress was at once Grace Kelly-like in her beauty and presidential in her polish. But it was a spontaneous aside with her son that left a lasting impression: Amid the chaos of up-dos and re-dos,
Kelly stepped away from the cameras to join Hermes, 3, as he knelt
before a bowl of colorfully wrapped sweets. Together, mother and son
spoke in whispers, holding the bright candies up to the light. As the
boy’s tiny hand rested on his mother’s knee, Hermes had the look of a
child who’s been heard and listened to—despite the busy day that
unfolded around him. Just as she balances these small moments, Rutherford does her
best to balance her dual roles of TV star and mom.
Tell me how your career started. I came to New York when I
was 17 to study acting, and I was here for a couple of years. My acting
teacher told me that if I wanted to get out there and act, I should go
to L.A. It was good advice.
You started so young. Where do you think that courage
came from? I had a working mother who was supportive of her children. I
saw my mom as being very brave. She taught us that anything was
possible, and she was always there for us. So I had a landing pad. It
wasn’t like I had to go and figure it out and nobody was going to be
there for me. Plus, I just always had a desire to take care of myself
and be independent from a very young age.
You’ve played a
number of strong and memorable roles on television. How do you relate
to your current character, Lily van der Woodsen, on “Gossip Girl”?
I relate to her in that she has a very strong sense of family—taking
care of her family, making decisions about her family. Also, she doesn’t
know everything and she admits that. I think that’s the wonderful thing
about motherhood—that you are just always figuring it out. Just when
you think you’ve got things down you’re like: “Wait a minute, I didn’t
expect this, what do I do?” Thank goodness for friends and the support
you get from other mothers.
What do you think of
Lily’s parenting style?
I think she’s relaxed. I think she loves
her kids, respects her children. She has certain expectations of them.
And yet, once she’s over the shock that maybe they don’t want to do
exactly what she wants, she loves them anyway and gets on with it and
You have a lot of kids on the show. Can you
tell us about the onscreen family dynamics?
I parent a lot of
them now that Lily and Rufus (Matthew Settle) have married. It’s a
little bit like “Eight is Enough.” I’m parenting my two kids, Serena
(Blake Lively) and Eric (Connor Paolo); and two step-kids, Dan (Penn
Badgley) and Jenny (Taylor Momsen). It’s a full house, and I think a lot
of people can relate to that—how’s everyone going to get along? How are
you going to do the finances? Who’s going to take whose room?
What have been some of your favorite moments on the show so far?
first season there were great scenes with Caroline Lagerfeld and Blake
Lively that I love—one where we were having tea with three generations
of women—it was great! I also love my wedding to Bart Bass filmed at the
garden at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. I wore Vera Wang
and Van Cleef & Arpels. It was so beautiful. Also the scene where my
son Eric told me he was gay was very well-written. He is always the
voice of reason for Lily.
As a mom, do you have any qualms
about how any subject matter or storyline on the show is handled?
No, I don’t. I think it’s very present. I don’t think there’s a show
that’s more timely. In my mother’s generation there was Woodstock,
Haight-Ashbury—there were so many other things going on that were
probably crazier than “Gossip Girl.” We’re just speaking to our
generation and our time, right now.
What do you think of
how some parents worry that the show is exposing their kids to issues
they are too young to handle?
Parents have different
relationships with their kids. And some relationships with their kids
are open, and some aren’t. I’m sure there are some young people who
aren’t doing what the kids on the show are doing, and some who are doing
a lot more. That’s the wonderful thing about this show. I think it’s
opened up a conversation between parents and kids—mothers and daughters
especially. Parents can say, “Are you really doing that?” Also, when
parents or kids on the show make a mistake, there are repercussions, and
you see them. There’s always a moral to the story somehow.
Can you tell me about your own kids? How old are they and what
are they like?
Helena is 6 months and Hermes is 3. They’re both
very focused and very aware and very attentive. Hermes is incredibly
sensitive and verbal and loving. He’s very expressive and has so much
energy, as 3- year-olds do. But he’s somebody who, if you really sit and
talk to him and explain something, he gets it. I mean, I like to be
listened to, too—it’s really just a way of feeling loved. When I feel
heard, I feel loved. And I think that’s the way it is with children. I
think they act out less when they’re really heard and attended to. They
just want to know that you’re present.
What is a
typical working day like for you?
It depends. I just had two
weeks off, so I took my son to school every day. I picked him up from
school—we’d have lunch, we went home, we hung out
with my daughter, we went to the park, did lots of art projects. And
then on the days that I work, sometimes the nanny will take him and pick
him up, and I’ll be home in the afternoon. They’ve been very respectful
of me on the show; I’m not working too many crazy hours. Occasionally,
it happens where I’ll work a really long day. But my kids get it.
Sometimes my son will say, “Mommy, why do you have to go to work?” And
I’ll say, “Because I have to buy the toys, sweetheart, and the Crumbs
cupcakes. Because that’s what Mommy does.” But I do have three to four
months off per year.
I understand you split your time
between New York and Los Angeles. How do you manage that juggle?
Lots of activities help. And with Hermes, when he was little, I was
nursing exclusively, so when we would take off, I’d nurse and he’d go to
sleep for about half the flight. It was fantastic. I haven’t traveled
that much (since Helena was born). I really like to stay in one place
more now—especially with two kids—so I haven’t been traveling back and
forth to L.A. so much. I’m pretty much in New York eight months of the
What do you love about being a parent?
There are so many favorite moments each day. Just hearing the word
“mama” still warms my heart. Or when my little girl laughs and holds on
to me and my son puts his hand on my cheek and tells me things like, “I
like you,” or asks questions and we really take the time to get what he
is after. I love finding ways to explain things—words and examples that
will create understanding. I guess because I waited to have children, I
really see them as little buddhas—here to teach me things— and mainly
how to listen and be the best mother for each of them. Not that I don’t
need a massage or to just take a nap sometimes!
What’s one surprising thing you’ve learned so far about
Mothers learn to be so spontaneous, so goofy, so in
the moment, so present. I think that’s the only way you’re going to
survive without both of you being in a ball crying on the floor. I’ve
learned to [take everyday moments]—whether it’s [snack time] or nap
time—and create an opportunity for something fun.
You’ve been living through a very public divorce from your
husband. How have you shielded your kids? And what advice would you give
to other single moms?
It’s been tough, it’s been a journey. You
may want things to be amicable to protect your children, but not
everyone feels that way. So it has been very challenging—to go to work,
to be with your kids and make it okay. I knew I needed to stay strong,
so I made that my priority. I realized that this will pass eventually,
and that my focus was to protect my kids. I think the way to survive
anything difficult is to figure out ways to stay positive. Look to the
future and say—‘Okay, this is this moment, but I can still go to the
park with my kids, we can still cuddle up and watch Diego.’
Whenever you’re going
through a challenging time— particularly being as blessed as I am having
two beautiful, healthy children, having a great job in this economy,
having a family to support me—it helps to ask: How do I give back and
share? I don’t think I would have known what to give if it weren’t for
this experience. Now I speak at events. I’ve become a spokesperson for
certain things (see sidebar), and it’s not something that I would have
ever thought I’d be doing, but it’s a door that’s been opened. Maybe
it’s the blessing-in-disguise in all of this.
Right On (RED) Kelly Rutherford Has
Joined The Fight Against AIDS By Teaming Up With Bugaboo And (RED)
Most people are
familiar with (RED) largely because of its high-profile founders—Bono
and Bobby Shriver. But (RED) is about more than just big names. The
organization, founded in 2006, has raised $137 million to date for the
fight against AIDS in Africa, which it funnels through The Global Fund,
one of the world’s leading financiers of AIDS-related programs. In just
two years, (RED) has touched the lives of over 2.5 million people and
helped raise awareness about the epidemic worldwide.
But (RED) isn’t a charity;
rather, it’s a savvy business model. (RED) partners with private
companies who typically offer to donate 50 percent of their profit from
products they’ve created exclusively for the initiative—i.e. the (RED)
iPod nano by Apple—to buy and distribute antiretroviral medicine to
those dying of AIDS in Africa. Just a few of (RED)’s noteworthy business
partners include Gap, Starbucks, and American Express. “We have found a
way to harness the power of multiple brands to join in one movement,”
explains Julie Cordua, the communications director for (RED).
The latest company to
partner with (RED) is Bugaboo—and Kelly Rutherford is one of the new
partnership’s spokespersons. What’s noteworthy about Bugaboo’s
involvement, however, is that the company is donating 1 percent of its
overall revenue to (RED). Thus, while Bugaboo has created (RED)-branded
strollers and accessories, customers can purchase any Bugaboo product
with the knowledge that they are contributing to the fight against AIDS.
“They’re very unique in that they’re the first company to turn their
entire company (RED),” says Cordua.
Even in this uncertain economy, (RED)’s
business-minded method of giving back has proven a smart move. While
charitable giving rises and falls, (RED)’s mutually beneficial
partnerships with for-profit companies form a stable, longterm cash flow
into The Global Fund. This is critical, because as Cordua points out,
“Once HIV positive individuals go on anti-retroviral drugs, they need to
be on those drugs for the rest of their lives.”
—Elisabeth Frankel Reed