ARTICLE MICHAEL MARTIN
PHOTOGRAPHY HEDI SLIMANE
THROWBACK 2008: V54
HER YEARS INSIDE THE HOLLYWOOD STAR SYSTEM HELPED BROOKE SHIELDS REALIZE THAT CONTROVERSY LOVES COMPANY AND EVERYONE LOVES CREDIT. EARLY FAME DIDN’T DESTROY THE GORGEOUS AND SUPREMELY TALENTED ACTRESS—IT MERELY GROUNDED HER FOR THINGS TO COME
Debuting in the late ’70s, a decade that never lacked for decadent imagery, Brooke Shields stood alone, the original urban debutante. Outlandishly beautiful—strong eyebrows, pooled eyes, full lips—she seemed womanlike from a very young age, a forbidden fantasy in a decade where nothing was verboten. Her first photo shoot, at 11 months old, was with Francesco Scavullo. Later shot by Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon, she booked countless campaigns and covers, becoming the youngest person ever to make the cover of Vogue at age 14.
Nearly everything she did from the age of 13 to 16 was greeted with a collective gasp: the 1978 Louis Malle film Pretty Baby, in which she played the 12-year-old child of a prostitute who consents to the auction of her daughter’s virginity; the teen romance Endless Love, wherein the director reportedly had to pinch her big toe to get her to simulate orgasm; The Blue Lagoon, the story of two mostly nude cousins in love on a deserted island; the iconic Calvin Klein commercials in which the 15-year-old Shields contorted suggestively in skintight denim.
The most shocking element of the story is the denouement: Shields turned out not to be a train wreck. After graduating from Princeton and enduring a few fallow years, she reinvented herself as a comedian. A widely praised guest spot on Friends led to her own sitcom, Suddenly Susan, which led to Broadway turns in the musicals Cabaret and Wonderful Town, which led to a glowing New York Times review. She still has a knack for controversy, as evidenced by her public tussle with Tom Cruise over her postpartum use of antidepressants. (They’ve since made up, and Shields attended his wedding to Katie Holmes.) Now she’s starring in the NBC series Lipstick Jungle as a power-suited NYC film executive juggling career and family. Ultimate fantasy symbol then, ultimate fantasy symbol now. In all media, she still cuts a striking figure.
You’ve modeled basically since infancy. What’s your first memory of being in front of a camera?
BROOKE SHIELDS I’m not sure if it’s because the story has been told to me so many times, but I have semblances of memory from my first shoot. I remember the environment at Scavullo’s studio. I was 11 months old, but I remember it was the first time I was in a room where I was part of the lights instead of with the people around them.
Working with the Scavullos, Avedons, Warhols of the world—how do you look back on that now?
BS Only now do I look back on them as iconic. But when I remember my perspective at the time, these people were people I knew intimately, so I don’t think I looked at them the same way I do now, artistically. To be on the cover of Interview was to spend time with people I saw every day. I had respect out of love, and now I have respect for their careers.
Warhol was notoriously aloof. How did you get him to warm to you?
BS I was so young that I didn’t pose the threat that an older person would. I was like a pet. I used to make Andy laugh. He’d shake his head and say, “Oh, Brooke.” I loved to go over to his place and see how they were doing all the paintings.
What do you remember about Avedon at work?
BS I remember the separation between on set and off set was like this iron curtain. Once you went in there you were in a sanctuary. And people just jumped. I’m sure his assistants got scared and people cried, but I thought it was funny. I remember that I managed to get away with getting the Polaroids. He thought nothing about giving them to me. Anyone else couldn’t get them. I think, in hindsight, he respected my professionalism, and I remember wanting his approval so I worked harder.
Why were you so professional so young?
BS There was no room for me to have any tantrums. Everyone else was such a larger-than-life personality: the Polly Mellens of the world; the photographers were the stars. And my mom was sort of the crazy one. I was so young that I wanted to be accepted and liked. As a child, that worked for me. I’m sure that caused years and years of therapy later, but that’s another story. Something about being born and bred in New York, where people have to be at the top of their game to succeed, instilled that professionalism in me by osmosis.
You’re the youngest person to be on the cover of Vogue. What did that do to your head at the time?
BS Absolutely nothing, because I had no perspective on it. I still had to take off all the clothes, take off all the makeup, give it back, and go do my homework. It didn’t behoove me to carry that title to school, because it wouldn’t make kids want to be friends with me. Now I’m much more impressed with that title. Then I don’t even think I knew it. The crowning glory for me then was getting a Seventeen cover. The first cover try I did, I didn’t get it. I was told I looked too old.
When you were a kid, did you think you’d still be in the business now?
BS I’ve never known anything but the business. It never occurred to me not to be in the business. It’s sort of as if I was never not naked. You were at the opening night of Studio 54. What do you remember from that?
BS Even on the opening night, my whole experience at Studio 54 was to go to the early part of the party, dance with whoever would dance with me until I was completely sweaty, and then go home because I had to go to bed. I never saw the debauchery. The first time I went up to that fourth-floor office was when I did Cabaret, and my dressing room was that actual office. Were you aware of the controversy swirling around Pretty Baby and the Calvin Klein ads at the time you did them?
BS If you separate the actual making of the movie with Louis Malle and the actual filming of the commercials with Dick and Calvin, those actual moments felt creatively important. But the reaction to them was always a shock. The reaction never seemed proportionate to what we set out to do. The controversy was frustrating because it took away from the beauty and the creativity of it, particularly Pretty Baby. I thought it was a shame. And then there were the Calvin Klein commercials.
BS People were obsessed with that one line in one commercial. Which they misquoted—repeatedly. That was shocking to me. We were walking around the stages, feeling like we were doing something new that had never been done before. But it seemed that no matter what I did after that, controversy would follow. Have you revisited your old movies?
BS I have not. Someone’s in my house archiving everything, and I’ll pass by now and then, and he’ll say “Hey, wanna check this out?” and I’ll take a look. The only one I’ve had a desire to watch again was Pretty Baby. Has the explicit nature of those movies come back to haunt you?
BS It’s always coming back, but I’m not disturbed by it. When I was doing those stories, I wasn’t uncomfortable because of the creative environment I was in. It never felt sordid. I’m from New York, I was born and raised in Manhattan, I’ve seen sordid. I’ve seen all walks of life and how they can disintegrate. And these movies never felt sordid or compromising or dirty in the doing of them. They felt compromised when people talked about them. The Blue Lagoon was a sensation. What do you remember about making it?
BS I remember living for four straight months, day in and day out, in a hut. When you got sick, you used herbal remedies. We pushed the clock back so we could have more daylight, and at 4 a.m. every day I had to get painted from head to toe because I lost all the pigment in my skin from being out of the sun for so long. Our whole world became each other and we were so isolated that we thought we were really, really living that life. It was the experience of four straight months of not wearing shoes. It was such a shock to go back into civilization. The movie was almost secondary; it was this extraordinary experience, and then out of it we got a movie. Most of the press at the time depicted you as an exploited pawn.
BS First of all, my personality was always too stubborn and too independent to be a pawn. I realized that if you played the game a certain way and didn’t compromise internally, you can get far. In the press, my mom became the bad guy. And she went along with that—she was the drinker, the big personality, the loud one, the mama bear, the lioness. She was the one who would take the brunt of it, and I got to ride the other part. The good part was that my naiveté was still preserved, because I never got the brunt of it. The bad part was that later on I was ill-prepared for the ugliness and negativity that people had sheltered me from.
Your mother was excoriated in the press.
BS Yes, she was the quintessential stage mother insofar as people used to get pissed off because they couldn’t get to me and do what they wanted with me, because she was just too difficult to get past. Today I think, my God, I never would have survived any other way. I would’ve been eaten up and spit out. I would’ve been destroyed. I’ve read the press as well. Yes, she was the crazy one, but somewhere in there I was safe. And I don’t know if I can say that today for many of these young people. I don’t look back with regret about how I felt during those times. I look at the set of Pretty Baby, and yeah, now I know there was wild stuff going on. But on that set, I was cared for. I was protected. I remember going to work every day and wanting Susan Sarandon’s nod of approval if I did something well.
Having had your own mother-as-manager challenges, what do you think of today’s Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus controversies?
BS Times are so different. I didn’t have any siblings. I didn’t have to share. There was controversy, but it was me and my mother against the world. The access with the Internet, and the amount of money out in California—there’s something about being in New York. We were encapsulated. And I never missed school. I never was not in a regular educational system. That had a huge effect. I think parents today have to be even more vigilant. It shocks me what’s out there, and how innocent we were twenty, thirty years ago.
Musicals and TV comedy enabled your comeback. Did you always have that in you?
BS Humor has always been my strongest defense. When they wanted someone to be on that Friends episode after the Super Bowl, I knew internally I could do it. It was a matter of waiting for someone else to have the idea. In this business, it’s all someone else’s idea. You wait, and you do it, and then give them all the credit. “You’re so great for discovering me, thank you!” Works for me—as long as I get to do it, I don’t care who gets the credit. If there’s any recipe for longevity, that’s it.
Makeup Christian McCulloch (Tim Howard Management) Hair Didier Malige (Bryan Bantry) Printing Pascal Dangin for Box