Gossip Lady: “Gossip Girl’s” Kelly Rutherford Talks About Motherhood, a New Movie and Returning to Primetime
Kelly Rutherford, 44, has made a name for herself through roles on film and television, spanning more than 20 years. Best-known to television audiences as Lily van der Woodsen on the hit show Gossip Girl, Rutherford played the sophisticated, fashionable, matriarch on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for six seasons culminating in December of 2012. To her older audiences, Rutherford is probably best known for her role as Megan Lewis-Mancini on the final three seasons of Melrose Place.
After a public, bitter international court battle with her ex-husband and father of their two children, the actress has been forced to fly back and forth from her home in New York to Europe to see her kids since last year when a judge ruled Hermes, 6, and Helena, 4, should live full-time with their father, businessman Daniel Giersch, in France.
Despite the setbacks, Rutherford has become an advocate of multiple women’s and children’s charities including StepUp Women’s Network and Healthy Child Healthy World.
Between playing her favorite role as mother and filming the new CBS legal drama series Reckless, Rutherford will star in the upcoming Lifetime movie A sister’s Nightmare, alongside Natasha Henstridge and Gossip Girl co-star Matthew Settle. The movie, which premieres Saturday, September 7 at 8 pm ET, centers on an intense sibling rivalry and dark family secrets. After fifteen years of hospitalization for being criminally insane, Cassidy (Henstridge) is finally released and reenters the life of her younger sister, Jane (Rutherford). But when a dangerous rivalry and past familiarities return, Jane is unable to prove her sister is still harmful to society and takes matters into her own hands to protect her family.
Amidst spending time with her children in France, Rutherford made time to talk with FireDownbelowOnline.com about motherhood, her new movie and her return to television.
FireDownBelowOnline.com: What was the hardest part of making this film for you?
Kelly Rutherford: I think that playing the type of mother I did is very different from what I had just played [in Gossip Girl], which was a woman who made different choices. It was exciting and challenging at the same time. Playing a police officer was fun though.
How did it feel to reunite with Matthew Settle?
It was so much fun. I told him, “You gotta camouflage, dude,” [Laughs] “We gotta put you in glasses or slick your hair back or something different.” We both just tried to look very different [than our characters on Gossip Girl]. [Laughs]
What was it about this role that attracted you?
I think it was being able to do something very different than I had done before. I had been playing the same character on GG for almost six years so it was nice to do something in contrast to that character.
A part of the storyline of your movie involves sibling rivalry. I was wondering what type of relationship you have with your siblings and the type of relationship you see in your children?
I have a great relationship with my brother but of course when we were younger, we annoyed each other, just like my kids do at times. I think it’s the amount of time you spend together, whether you want attention. It’s also about learning to communicate with each other and create boundaries, which takes a little while. My mother always taught us to really love each other. Even though there were times we didn’t like each other, we always loved each other and were there for each other. It really helped. I was just saying to my kids, “You may not like what he or she is doing right now and that’s understandable but it doesn’t change the fact that you love them.”
You mentioned that this character plays a different type of mother than you are and that you’re used to. How did you get into character?
It wasn’t easy. It was a strange role for me in the sense that – “Lily Van der Woodsen” was a lot of fun and a different type of mother than we’ve seen on television – and this mother in My Sister’s Nightmare is much more neurotic and dealing with different issues. [Her issues don’t revolve around] who to love; she’s dealing with family and her upraising, the sibling rivalry that wasn’t handled correctly. This character had a lot more work that needed to be done. [Laughs] But Natasha was incredible and Peyton [List] was incredible, so it made it very believable for me.
What major differences were there between your role in this film and Gossip Girl?
The clothes for sure. I had to be in a police uniform with my hair in a pony-tail and no make-up. It was fun and liberating in the same way. After playing a glamorous character, it was fun to play the opposite. Shake it up a little bit.
Tell us more about your plans to return to primetime?
The show is called Reckless, which is going to air on CBS. Right now, I’m doing a few episodes but we’ll see what happens. I love primetime and it’s a great show! So, I’m excited to be a part of it!
I read that you are currently becoming an activist for other mothers dealing with children’s custodial issues. Can you tell me more about some of the outreach or organizations you’re involved with?
A lot of [my activism] was just coming out publicly; letting people know that they’re not alone. This isn’t just happening to moms in the middle of nowhere. This is happening all across the board and to people that you wouldn’t think it would happen to. I think we all feel sort of alone in the process and I think when someone comes out publicly about their personal life, it helps other people realize they’re not alone. It certainly helped me when people reached out to let me know what they were going through. Obviously, as this plays out, I’ll be able to do more.
Speaking of custodial issues, there’s controversy about gay parents raising children. I wondered if you had an opinion on that?
I think it’s hard for anyone to raise children. I think you can’t really base it on whether someone is gay or straight, if someone’s going to be a great parent or not. Let’s face it, there are gay parents that are great and gay parents that aren’t great. Just like there’s straight parents that are great and straight parents that aren’t. I think it has less to do with whether you’re gay or straight but with how much you’ve worked on yourself so that you can be present for your children. The more generous we become – which sometimes comes with age – the more we can be present and patient with our children and not put our stuff on them. Which is what we need to do for the next generation, is to do the healing on ourselves so that we can be better parents. In my opinion, I don’t think that has any bearing on whether you’re gay or straight.
What is your best advice for the working mom, worried about juggling a career and children?
I tell you what, it all goes by so fast that we don’t have time for guilt. A lot of it is being there when you are with your kids. To be present is my goal. I think we need to enjoy the time we’re at work and set it up so that our children are attended to and happy. When we’re with our kids, make sure we’re where we want to be and not feeling like we need to be somewhere else. In my case, I waited to have kids because I worked a lot and traveled a lot. Now when I’m with my kids, I do my best to work around them to be able to be with them as much as possible.
With all the technologies out there – phone calls, texts, Twitter, email, etc.. – how do you not let that bleed into your family life?
Actually, it’s more of a role-reversal. I have to to get my kids to give me my phone back. I can’t get them off the games on my phone. I have to be like, “Can I check my Instagram?” I have to be the one to say, “Hi. Remember me? Can we spend some quality time together?” They’re only 4 and 6, so I can only imagine… [Laughs]
Are there any activities that you’ve found you can do together that allow you to connect with them?
We actually do so much offline. Right now, we have all sorts of workbooks that prep them for the next school year. You can get them at local bookstores. They offer you a review of the last year so they’ll go into school feeling a little more confident and a kind of rehearsed on what to expect. So, I’ve been working with them on that. We do a lot of fun thinngs. We go to the park all the time, swimming and sometimes Hermes just wants to go to the market with me to have “mom time.” We do everything from going to ballet classes together or reading/working on workbook together. We have a ritual of picking a movie to watch in the evening and curling up with a snack before bed. When you’re a parent, you realize every day is a new day and brings different things. You just have to be able to live in the moment a lot.
So many parents go through what you’re going through – children having to be shuffled back and forth between two parents. What would be your advice for divorced parents on how to not lose it and keep it together for the children?
It’s not always easy, that’s for sure. I think the biggest thing is to stay positive in regards to how you talk about the other parent. You should be honest but say things in a way that your children can understand. Children really pick up on – especially mine – whether mom’s ok. And as long as I’m ok, they’re ok. If I lose it, where do my kids have to look to for strength? It’s important for me to stay strong and healthy. You just have to get though it because it goes on for awhile and at the end of the day, it passes. The priority is the kids. When they have questions, I sit down an answer them. I try to be as kind and respectful as possible and let them know that I don’t always have an answer but that the one thing they need to know is that they’re loved. Whether they’re with their dad, enjoy that moment, whether they’re with me, enjoy that moment.
What did you learn about yourself through motherhood?
I’m still learning about myself. I have learned what it’s like to love beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before and to care about someone beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. To be a better person, to be a better example – of course I’ve always tried to do that – but now especially when you have little eyes looking up at you. [Laughs]
What: A Sister’s Nightmare
When: Saturday, September 7, 8 pm ET on Lifetime
Photos courtesy of KellyRutherford.com