Rita Wilson is a beloved gem of a woman who has managed a healthy, celebrated marriage for over 20 years in a town that loves to attack happiness. She’s a mom of four beautiful kids who all adore her. She’s a revered producer, celebrated actress on Broadway and the silver screen, dedicated philanthropist, accomplished writer who contributes to such power publications as Harper's Bazaar and the Huffington Post, where she's an editor-at-large. She wears so many hats it’s staggering, but the fact that she wears them all so well is what truly bowls me over. For all those reasons I have found her to be deeply impassioned, influential, and motivating, which is why I set my sights on interviewing her.
What annoys the hell out of me about articles, as the writer and the subject, is that there is no way to interpret tone. So much of Rita’s charisma and warmth is in her tone and I hate that you’re missing that, so let me set it for you. Throughout this interview I could feel her smiling through the phone. There’s a steady unwavering in her tone of speech that conveys patience and strength. The rhythms of her sentences are rife with self-deprecating chuckles as well as long introspective pauses, which allow her to craft her thoughts into potent, impactful messages.
And on that note, let’s begin.
Jillian Michaels: Given all that you have accomplished in your life, I wanted to start out by getting a little background on how you came into all these roles you play personally and professionally, found your passion, and so forth? In essence, give us a little insight into the making of a powerhouse.
Rita Wilson: Awww… thank you. Well, I am very proud to be the child of immigrants. I am a first-generation American. My mom is Greek, and my dad, who passed away about a year and a half ago, was Bulgarian. My parents actually met in New York after the war and then moved to Los Angeles after getting married.
I learned from my parents, particularly my dad, a great work ethic. He worked so incredibly hard despite not knowing how to speak English, coming to this country with nothing. He was a bartender, but managed to buy a home and support our entire family without any debt. I learned from him you work hard. You don’t buy anything you can’t afford. Take care of the people who take care of you.
JM: What age were you when you thought to yourself, I want to be an actress, and why? It seems out of the blue given your background.
RW: It was completely out of the blue. The only thing about it that made sense is that when my parents moved to the States, they moved to Hollywood because my mom’s sister lived out here. When I was 14, it was my very first day of high school, Hollywood High School. I was walking to one of my classes and these adults asked if they could take pictures of me. I knew that it was okay because they were there with the school's principal. So I said “all right.” They took pictures of me, and it turned out those were all people from Harper's Bazaar magazine, which is so ironic because I write for them now. Turns out, they were looking to cast real people mixed with models in an issue they were doing to celebrate 18-year-olds getting to vote.
JM: So this all started as serendipity?
RW: Yeah, total serendipity. When I realized I could do it, I thought, “Oh! This is cool!” Then Nina Blanchard [modeling agency] signed me and I started modeling. Now, in high school I was also a cheerleader, and a girlfriend of mine had an audition to play a cheerleader on The Brady Bunch. She said to me, “Listen I don’t know how to cheer, I’m really bad at it. Would you teach me?” So I said, “Sure,” and I taught her. Then she asked me to come with her on the audition. So I did, and I was sitting in the waiting room and we were practicing cheers. It turns out there were two parts. The casting people came out and said to me “Are you here to audition?” I said "No." They said, "Do you want to audition?” and I said “Okay.” So I didn’t get her part, but I got this smaller part –
JM: (rudely interrupting) Pat Conway! (the name of the character Rita played). Yes, I have seen this episode of The Brady Bunch. I still love that show.
RW: Yes, Pat Conway! Which got me my SAG card, making me a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which meant that now I could do commercials. I got my first commercial on my 18th birthday, and it was for Peter Pan Peanut Butter. And from there I got another agent and just started doing a lot of TV work. It was great. I loved it. But up till this point I had never had any formal training.
JM: So this really and truly started out as fate for you. It honestly seems that you were literally guided into this career. Given that, what part do you think fate plays into our ability to find our true calling?
RW: Uh! I think about that all the time, Jillian. I always like to ask people, “What’s the thing that you loved to do as a kid?” because I think whatever you loved to do as a kid you should probably be doing as an adult. We are unfiltered and unfettered at that age, and you do something because you love doing it. When I think back on that, for me it was always music and singing.
While I was acting and modeling I still had regular jobs, and one of them was working as a ticket taker at the Universal Amphitheater, so I could watch the concerts. And everybody came through there at that time. It was the '70s, so I saw Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac — I mean you name it, I saw them. I used to look up at the stage and just ache. I thought, “I want to do that! How do you get up there?” But I wasn’t in a band and I didn’t play an instrument. I had no clue at all how to pursue it.
So… I don’t question where my path led me, because I went with the flow. I thought, “I love what I am doing and I am good at it.” So I stuck with it. But I couldn’t… didn’t know how to break into the music thing. I just didn’t know how to do that.
To read more of the interview, visit EverydayHealth.com.
Image from everydayhealth.com.