Elizabeth Hurley: The Most Resilient Star in Hollywood
Elizabeth Hurley was more famous than her filmography would suggest. She was better known for her romantic relationships and modeling work than she was for the movies she made. Hurley has spent more than her fair share of time in the tabloids. Movieline dubbed her “The Most Resilient Star in Hollywood” when she appeared on the cover of the November 2002 issue following a nasty break-up with her millionaire boyfriend who demanded a paternity test after Hurley gave birth to his son. And yes, it turns out, he was the father.
The last time Elizabeth Hurley was on the cover of Movieline, it was widely assumed she couldn’t get any more famous.
After all, she had appeared in many movies (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Permanent Midnight, Ed TV, Bedazzled), she had produced a few as well (Extreme Measures, Mickey Blue Eyes), she was the face of Estée Lander, she was splashed across the covers of weeklies when Hugh Grant was arrested for canoodling with a prostitute on Sunset Blvd., and she had become one of the most photographed women in the world, being followed across the globe to jet-set locations where she lounged with Elton John and Elle Macpherson–all the while looking tan, sexy and svelte in racy Versace numbers.
Then, in the latter half of 2001, Elizabeth Hurley again became the number one subject of tabloids and talk shows, upping her fame factor yet another notch. She hadn’t meant to. Her nearly two-year-long relationship with billionaire movie producer Stephen Bing had been going along nicely until she became pregnant with his baby and he decided to bail out. Instead of settling matters privately, Bing publicly stated that he wasn’t sure if the baby was his and he wanted a paternity test. Coverage of Hurley versus Bing became brutal in American papers, and even worse in English ones. One British daily called him “Bing Laden” and another printed his phone number so readers could ring him up and tell him what a heel he was. Like most celebrity scandals, Hurley’s seemed like something out of a movie–too awful to be actually happening to a real person. Things calmed down, though, after Hurley gave birth to Damian Charles and the test results came in–it was in fact Bing’s.
Now, several months later, the media has moved on to other stories. Hurley has moved on, too. She has just completed, promoting Saving Sara, the comedy she made with Matthew Perry, and she’s ramping up to discuss another film, the ensemble The Weight of Water, in which she plays the temptress who stirs up married poet Sean Penn. When I meet her at a Beverly Hills hotel, she looks incredible for a 37-year-old mom–she’s fit, and appears happy and rested. And she seems proud of herself for having just put her four-month-old baby to sleep.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: You look very good. Do you have a picture like Dorian Gray in the closet, that’s getting older as you stay young?
ELIZABETH HURLEY: That’s very sweet of you to say. I think I look 70 today. It takes its toll on you, being pregnant. It’s very strange when earning your living is linked to your physicality. It’s a real bind.
Q: How much weight did you gain during your pregnancy?
A: Fifty-three pounds. A huge amount!
Q: What’s your desired weight?
A: My fighting weight is 120. Though I can handle a few more pounds than that. I like being a few pounds under that, but then people tell me I’m not eating. It was bliss to eat like a ravenous wolf when I was pregnant.
Q: What do you miss most about not having to watch your weight?
A: I never watched my weight until 1994 when I got my Estée Lauder contract. I was always slim-ish. But I minded when I saw an unflattering photograph of myself bending down with flesh hanging out of my jeans. I eat what I want, but not in excess. I would secretly like a doughnut at tea time, but I wouldn’t when I needed to squeeze myself into tight jeans.
Q: When did you give up smoking?
A: When I was pregnant. My doctor in California said not to drink caffeine either, so I had this terrible day where I had to give up everything at once. Then when I got back to Europe my doctor said, “Of course you don’t have to give up coffee, what are you, nuts? And you can have a glass of red wine if you feel like it, too.” But I didn’t go back to coffee. I have tea.
Q: How upsetting was it when Steve Bing didn’t believe he was your child’s father?
A: Undoubtedly, I have had a very sad and unhappy time in the last 11 months, but I feel I have emerged from that. And all the time when I was sad, it was always tempered with happy feelings, because it was all very exciting. I had these violent seesaws of emotions. But since Damian has been born, week by week as I’ve gotten physically stronger and have shed my huge poundage gained during pregnancy, I’ve also shed a huge amount of sadness, and feel much happier than I ever have before.
Q: What’s your take on all the controversy your pregnancy stirred up?
A: Retrospectively, my pregnancy on the whole was quite an unhappy time for me. Some things, when I think about them, have the capacity to hurt me still.
Q: For someone who has had to deal with the press for a long time, you seem to have a knack for keeping your dignity. How do you do it?
A: By nature I’m phenomenally private. Sometimes I’m accused of not being that forthcoming, even with people I’m very close to, so the idea of me being forthcoming to the general public about private things would be out of the question with me. It’s not a challenge to me not to rise to any bait, to “put stories straight,” or to deny these insane things that are said about me. I’m not interested in fueling any fires and having somebody else getting even richer out of selling more publications.
Q: Is the price of fame and celebrity too costly in the end?
A: I’d prefer it if my success didn’t have to go hand-in-hand with fame. I don’t like my business being discussed in the newspapers. But I’ve gone in with my eyes open to a business where it’s impossible to have success without being related to celebrity in the media. I’ve cooked my goose on that one.
Q: A couple of years ago you had problems with Jane magazine because they quoted you as saying having sex with the same man after 13 years was “less than adequate,” referring, I presume, to Hugh Grant.
A: Jane is a perfectly respectable magazine. It’s not a scurrilous publication, at least I didn’t think it was. Naturally, I’ve revised my opinion. And to this day I don’t know if it was the editor or the writer, but they printed a pack of lies in direct quotes from me, which deeply offended both me and my ex-boyfriend Hugh. I had to sue Condé Nast. And they said, “We’ve got it on tape.” I said, “Great, then we’ll all stand in the courtroom and you can play it.” Of course they didn’t have it on tape and they had to do a huge apology and back off. It was such an unbelievably revolting thing to do.
Q: Do you feel you’re a target?
A: I’m somebody that people feel they can make money off of. I don’t know whether they create that or it just falls into their lap. And I come from a nation where it is at its strangest, with our 10 national newspapers.
Q: Why do you live there?
A: Because my family and most of my friends are there. It’s annoying that all my work is in the U.S.
Q: Have you ever found a journalist you could trust or who has become a friend?
A: Hell no!
Q: What new realities have you had to adjust to since becoming a mother?
A: I love my life much more. The biggest change is that I’ve felt so much more settled and motivated to be settled. I feel inspired to work harder, it’s all for a purpose now. And to be organized and to build a beautiful and safe home, to set myself up to be able to support Damian until he can support himself.
Q: In 1996 you said in Us magazine: “I just find it inconceivable to [be a parent]. I can’t even look after myself. And I would just hate to be an appalling showbiz mother. I can’t think of anything more repellent than to bring up maladjusted, dreadful children that I haven’t been there for. It’s very difficult for me to want to invite that much chaos into my life. I like children, but I don’t like babies, personally.”
A: Six years ago, it would have been way, way tougher on me. I’d achieved a lot less. I was six years younger, maybe I was immature for my age. It would have been inconceivable then to do what I have done now. That’s good, we evolve.
Q: Last thing I read you were saying you’d like three children.
A: I’m obviously not in a situation where I could begin considering having other children. But, if I should be lucky enough to be in a situation where I’m in a relationship where it seems the right thing to do, I’d love to. The second I had Damian I said to my sister, “I’d like another one.”
Q: What did Damian look like when he was born?
A: E.T. He was a little reptilian when he was born. Now he’s got quite a lot of Winston Churchill in him, big fat jowly thing.
Q: Jodie Foster said that motherhood affected her ambition. Has it yours?
A: I don’t think so. It’s affected my levels of tolerance. Without any doubt now I’ll pick and choose jobs I’m involved with much more carefully. I’m going to manage my time much better, I hope. Before, if I sat in a six-hour script meeting that wasn’t really going anywhere, I sat there. But now, I don’t want to be there for six hours if it could take two. I’d rather be home with Damian.
Q: Camryn Manheim said, “It takes a village to raise a baby.” Do you have a lot of support?
A: I do. I didn’t realize how much I had until some of the cavalry came over the hill. I’m absurdly spoiled, to be able to go to Damian’s godfather Elton John’s house right after he was born, and stay for seven weeks. Horribly outstayed my welcome. So many people came to help, it was stunning.
Q: Was Elton there as well?
A: Elton and his boyfriend David, they both came in and out. Elton was on tour, and David was producing something, but they’d come for weekends.