Brooke Shields Rides The Wave

At 58, the Hollywood icon is taking the reins as rom-com queen — and she’s finally basking in her wins.

by Evan Ross Katz

Brooke Shields doesn’t care if you underestimate her — she learned that lesson a long time ago. In 1994, she went to Broadway for the first time to take over the role of Rizzo in that year’s Grease revival. Back then, she was in an in-between phase of her career. Shields had spent the last few years returning to acting after putting Hollywood on hold to attend Princeton, but she hadn’t yet booked the title role of Suddenly Susan, the NBC sitcom that kicked off her second act. When friends came to see her, they often gushed to her about her performance — and expressed a little surprise at how good she was. “In a way, the lower the expectation, the better I’m going to be,” Shields says. “That’s also been an MO for me my whole life. I’ve always had that little tool in my shed that says, ‘It’s OK, you don’t have to think much of me.’ I’m going to use that. I’m not having to do anything for you. I get to do it for me.

Shields is explaining this over lunch at B’artusi, a chic Italian spot not far from her West Village townhouse. We’re the first people to arrive at the restaurant, where I go in for a handshake before she pulls me in for a hug. Outside of photoshoot clothes and in everyday glam, Shields still has the aspirational elegance that makes you think: Oh — this is a movie star. She’s meeting me to discuss her starring role in the new Netflix rom-com Mother of the Bride, out May 9, in which she gets to flex the comedy chops she says were “always a part of me, but never asked of me” until her ’90s sitcom work, or her early 2000s stint in the Broadway musical Wonderful Town. Of Shields’ many roles, the latter is not top of mind for most people, but to her, it’s a defining one. A self-described “laugh whore,” Shields relished in hamming it up for the audience each night, something performers are often told to rein in. “I would get backstage and look at the stage manager like, ‘Don’t! Do not tell me! I know what I did. I milked it, but they loved it.’” (So, too, did critics. The New York Times called her “an unpretentious delight.”)

“There’s a thing that happens with comedy. It’s like a wave: You get it, and then you get it again, and sometimes, you even get a third, but you’ve got to be really careful ’cause then you could take a dive,” Shields, 58, continues. “That period of time was just such a source of pride and levity and also being really in the pocket of what I love to do — what I do the best out of all the stuff that I can do.”

David Koma bag (worn as top), talent’s own earrings

Is there any doubt about all the things Brooke Shields can do? She has been a fixture of American pop culture for five decades now, most notably as an actor (starting as a child star in films like Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, and Endless Love) and a model known for her work with Richard Avedon (who shot not only her controversial Calvin Klein ad campaign in 1980 but also a whopping five Vogue covers with her that year alone). She’s an author of two bestsellers — about postpartum depression (2005’s Down Came the Rain) and her relationship with her mother, who also battled alcoholism (2014’s There Was a Little Girl) — and she just turned in a manuscript for a new book. (She’s keeping the subject to herself for now.) She’s a producer, a podcast host, and the founder of Beginning Is Now, a wellness and lifestyle brand focusing on women over 40, which officially launches this summer.

Since the beginning of her career, however, Shields has watched as people have tried to tell her story, and in doing so, often robbed her of her agency. Take, for instance, the 1977 New York magazine cover featuring Shields and her mother Teri who managed her early career: “Brooke is twelve. She poses nude. Teri is her mother. She thinks it’s swell.”

Givenchy coat and earrings, Intimissimi bra, Naked Cashmere briefs, Graff necklace and ring, Luar arm cuff, Falke stay ups

How does she feel about being profiled? “I had this naivete for almost decades,” Shields says. “I thought, ‘Oh, they’ll see me. They’ll get it.’ I learned very early on that my hope and intention to be as open as possible, to be like a golden retriever puppy and be my weird, quirky self, was usually going to come back to bite me in the ass.” One might think this would result in a withdrawn Shields, or perhaps a world-weary one. “I’m not, though,” she says. “That’s the one thing I won’t ever be, because then you’re acting from a place of fear, and that’s more dangerous. I may be armed, but I’m not guarded.”

Which is a little remarkable, given the intense and often invasive scrutiny she’s experienced. This is the Brooke Shields who, at 12 years old, was described in High Times as “a sultry mix of all-American virgin and nascent whore.” The Brooke Shields whom Time called the face of the 1980s. The Brooke Shields who had an undercover security detail trail her at Princeton. The Brooke Shields who was so famous she counted Michael Jackson as a bestie.

David Koma bag (worn as top), talent’s own earrings

Things quieted down when she started college in the fall of 1983 — “I was kind of in no man’s land. The obsession with me was waning” — but then in the ’90s, she met and married tennis pro Andre Agassi. The pair became a tabloid obsession, catapulting her back into the limelight. That coincided with Suddenly Susan, for which she picked up two Golden Globe nominations during the show’s four-season run. Then the phone, again, stopped ringing. “But it’s always sort of gone like this,” Shields says. “The strange thing to me is that right when I start to think, ‘Oh, I'll disappear,’ another wave comes. That just seems to be my trajectory.”

“I may be armed, but I’m not guarded.”

The latest wave? Rom-com leading lady. Over the last decade, Shields’ acting work has mostly been on television — Jane the Virgin, Law & Order: SVU, and a trio of Hallmark mystery films. Then Netflix came calling. Not unlike Lindsay Lohan, another former child star who found recent success on the streamer, Shields took to romantic comedies, first with 2021’s A Castle for Christmas and now Mother of the Bride. She stars as Lana, whose daughter (played by Miranda Cosgrove) enters a whirlwind engagement with the son of Lana’s college flame. There’s a version of this movie that could have easily centered on Cosgrove’s character and flattened Lana, but Shields instead gets ample room as a lead to play with all the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. (And also enter a love triangle with Benjamin Bratt and Chad Michael Murray, so there’s that.)

Area dress

“Lana knows enough that she doesn’t want to get shut out, so she has to pivot if she still wants to be in her daughter’s life and be a part of it,” says Shields (who has two daughters with writer-director Chris Henchy). “You learn that as a mom, because you can put such an iron fist down that you’re left out of all of it. Once they start leaving you, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Cosgrove says it was easy to find her chemistry with Shields. “She’s so carefree and effortless, and she made me feel so comfortable from the first time I met her,” she says. Early on in production, while on location in Thailand, they bonded during a trip to an elephant sanctuary, and Shields later took Cosgrove out for a joint birthday celebration and included her in family hang time when Shields’ older daughter, Rowan, came to visit. “She’s so humble even though she’s led such an extraordinary life, and I think that’s such a rare quality to find,” Cosgrove adds. “She’s extremely warm and hilarious, and I’m just really glad I got a chance to get to know her.”

David Koma bag (worn as a top), COS pants, talent’s own earrings

It’s clear Shields loved making this movie. “I’ve watched the trailer like an old movie star on a loop in my house,” Shields says. “Everybody that comes in, I go, ‘You’re watching the trailer. Watch me be funny, damn it!’” If she seems especially at home, it might also be a credit to screenwriter Robin Bernheim, who wrote Netflix’s Princess Switch films and has worked on projects with Shields as far back as a 1992 episode of Quantum Leap. With Bernheim, as well as director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday), Shields gets the best of both worlds: a rom-com that offers all the comforts of the genre without feeling like just a throwback.

“You worry sometimes that ‘old school’ can mean hacky,” Shields says. “References need to be smarter because audiences are smarter. So [the film is] taking whatever those tropes are and being willing to update them so that you don’t expect certain things.”

“Right when I start to think, ‘Oh, I'll disappear,’ another wave comes.”

Shields finds Netflix’s promotional language around the film a little funny. “They’re not calling it a premiere. They’re making us say it’s a screening,” she says. “To me, it’s a premiere. It’s a big screen. I’m not in my living room — it’s a premiere!” Shields’ manager told her that she only needs to walk the carpet and introduce the film at the event, presuming she’d want to bounce early, as many actors prefer to do. “I was like, ‘OK, yeah, sure,’” Shields recalls. “And then I looked at my assistant and was like: ‘I want to see me on the big screen!’ Also a room full of people laughing. I was like, ‘Why would I want to deny myself that?’”

Gucci jacket, skirt, and necklace, Misho earrings, Bulgari watch

That’s the only real reward in her eyes. “Everybody in this business deals [in hype],” she says. “Like, ‘This is going to be the biggest movie for Netflix!’ And you just want to go, ‘Hey, I’ve already won.’” The only thing she can control is whether to keep going. “You have to keep chasing. And you hope that in your gut, you don’t feel like you’re a greyhound running after a rabbit that you’ll never get.”

Shields would love to do more rom-coms. “I think we need them. I feel really strongly about what I can contribute in them and using whatever goodwill that has been building over the years to get it out to people.” She wants to use the Brooke Shields name brand for good. “We always joke that ‘Brookeshields’ is one word, it’s a thing,” she says. And it’s a thing that can get butts in seats on Broadway, or eyeballs on her new film when it’s going up against attention-span juggernauts like Challengers or Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. “That’s mining celebrity appropriately to give this movie the best opportunity it can to be seen by the most people. My version of being my own boss is not putting myself in a position to be heartbroken again.”

Givenchy coat and earrings, Intimissimi bra, Naked Cashmere briefs, Graff necklace and ring, Luar arm cuff, Falke stay ups

I ask if she’s referring to last year’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, the two-part documentary that revisited Shields’s journey from child stardom to adult fame and the media exploitation she faced along the way. Though the film received plenty of critical acclaim after debuting at Sundance, it didn’t exactly redirect her career amid a recent wave of docs reexamining Hollywood’s mistreated or misunderstood.

“It’s hard not to [be heartbroken] when there’s so much hype surrounding a documentary,” she explains. But hype doesn’t always translate into your agent’s phone blowing up. “I had to keep pulling myself back,” she says of her expectations. “‘Was the message what you hoped it would be? Do you feel proud about it?’ It made me nothing [financially], but I have to be able to look at it for what it is and have that be enough, sigh of relief, and now say, ‘What’s next?’”

David Koma bag (worn as top), COS pants, talent’s own earrings

She’s trying to enjoy the waves more. “I spent so much time not celebrating my successes for fear of being... gloating or vanity or something,” she says. “Nobody else was going to do it for me. I don’t want to miss out on that anymore. A very smart woman, who I’ve known for years, said, ‘It’s OK to be your biggest self.’”

Her phone rings. It’s her assistant. She’s due home now for another interview. “Oh, shit, I’ve got to go,” she says. She finishes her thought. “It doesn’t mean you have to look down on anything, but you can just feel where you’ve earned it, you know what I mean?” She picks up her bag to head out the door. A sigh of relief. What next?

Top Image Credits: Calvin Klein top, Alaïa pants, Graff earrings, Casadei shoes

Photographs by Caleb & Gladys

Styling by Tiffany Reid

Set Designer: NO Studio

Hair: Sky Kim

Makeup: Mark de los Reyes

Manicure: Mamie Onishi

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Video: Rebecca Halfon, Marshall Stief

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

Editor in Chief: Kathy Lee

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert