She’s gone from teen star to fashion plate to credible actress – but Kate Bosworth’s career hasn’t been straightforward. She talks to Jane Mulkerrins about Hollywood’s opportunity problem, making it on her own terms and those Harvey Weinstein allegations
Kate Bosworth is an enigma. She has gone from early teen roles (The Horse Whisperer and Blue Crush) to superhero blockbusters (Superman Returns in 2006) to Oscar-attracting indie drama (2014’s Still Alice) to direct-to-video horror (last year’s Before I Wake). But none of the above has defined her. In a career that has now stretched over two decades, she remains difficult to pin down.
And then there are her looks: it’s easy to be distracted by the 34-year-old’s appearance – the dimples and the big bush-baby eyes – and her flawless style. But any perception of her as some sort of fluffy fashion plate is, I’m quickly discovering, very wide of the mark indeed.
We’re in the back of a large, black SUV, travelling through the streets of Manhattan en route to Bosworth’s hotel, and she is talking, at passionate length, about war.
“We live in a culture that has become totally desensitised and so statistical about it, rather than thinking about the individual or the families and what they’re going through,” she says. “You hear that 62 people were killed in an explosion in Afghanistan and you just hear the number – you don’t take in what that means any more.”
Bosworth, for whom home is Los Angeles and a ranch in Montana, is in town to promote her NatGeo mini-series, The Long Road Home, in which she plays Gina Denomy (right), the wife of a US soldier – hence our conversation turning to conflict situations within moments of meeting.
Based on 2007 book The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family, by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz, it details what happened when a group of US soldiers on a routine patrol came under attack in Sadr City, Iraq in April 2004.
“It’s a drama about war, but it’s not limited to a male perspective – it looks at how war affects those who are on the front line, but also those who are on the homestead,” says Bosworth.
Preparing for the role meant immersing herself in the life of a military wife and living in Fort Hood, the base home to more than 50,000 army personnel and their families.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to be so intimately involved with the military before – we woke up and went to sleep with the officers and soldiers training there,” she says.
It wasn’t tricky, the actor explains, to tap back into the anxiety of the years immediately following September 11. “I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, just a few weeks before 9/11,” she recalls. “I was only 18, it was my first time away from home and it was incredibly destabilising. As I think everyone did, I felt very vulnerable and unsure of everything for a long time.”
As to current foreign policy fears, Bosworth echoes most people’s feelings. “It is a very uncertain time,” she says cautiously, “but I think it’s important to keep a real sense of hope and optimism.
“The only thing that I know how to do is to be very honest with my own voice and influence in the world. Much of that has to do with the kind of art that I choose to participate in and create. That’s why Michael and I made Nona.”
Michael is 47-year-old film director Michael Polish – Bosworth’s husband of four years, with whom she now frequently collaborates. Nona is their forthcoming film about the sex trafficking industry.
“We heard this story about a house in LA where girls had been liberated after being trafficked from Central America,” Bosworth recalls. “There were 44 known houses like that in LA. We just thought, ‘How can we utilise what we know and make an impact?'”
Bosworth has a small on-screen part as the person the teenage Nona tells her story to, but her main role was that of producer, working from LA as her husband and a skeleton crew shot the film in highly dangerous regions of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. The film has been submitted to next month’s Sundance Festival.
“But for me, this is about so much more than getting a film into a festival. It really is about trying to change lives and bringing awareness to something that’s devastating to so many people,” says Bosworth.
No less gritty is The Row, a TV series she and Polish have in the pipeline about Death Row inmates who are recruited for a space mission with a 99% chance of death.
“It’s about second chances and the idea of redemption,” she explains. “It’s The Right Stuff meets The Silence of the Lambs meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
We briefly pause our conversation as we arrived at our destination, the elegant Whitby Hotel. Bosworth deftly sidesteps a handful of autograph-hunters outside and we head up to her suite, which resembles a high-end accessories showroom. There are multiple rows of heels in myriad colours and styles and sideboards covered in covetable clutch bags.
Bosworth may be more cerebral and serious than I had anticipated, but she’s also still seriously stylish. Today, she’s in a floral dress by Ulla Johnson, a leather jacket by her friend, the Swedish designer Anine Bing, and a pair of studded black cowboy boots by Fausto Puglisi. Unusually for an actress these days, she dresses herself without the services of a stylist, even for red carpet and public events. Her hotel room is therefore serving as a walk-in wardrobe ahead of upcoming multiple TV appearances.
“I’m very true to myself and I like having direct relationships with people; I have close relationships with a lot of designers,” she nods.
Fernando Garcia, the creative director at Oscar de la Renta, loaned her a dress for the premiere of The Long Road Home a few nights previously, and Erdem regularly puts things aside for her.
Her sense of style comes from her father, Harold, who worked in various fashion retail roles, including for Rosemary Bravo, the former CEO of Burberry. “He would bring me to work,” Bosworth tells me. “He’d ask me what prints I responded to and I developed an eye for things like that.”
The actress, who was born in LA, is the only child of Harold and Patricia, a housewife. The family moved around the US before settling in Boston, where Bosworth became a keen horsewoman. Her showjumping ability secured her the role in The Horse Whisperer at age 14, which gave her the acting bug.
She made the aforementioned move to LA at 18 and, a year later, after learning to surf from scratch, she won her breakthrough role in surfing drama Blue Crush. Subsequently, however, she has not made the climb to A-list stardom some might have expected.
“I think there’s an idea out there that there’s plenty of opportunity and that we can just pluck roles off a tree,” Bosworth says. “There really isn’t much opportunity. It’s so limited. You’re lucky if you’re able to make a living as an actor. I’ve tried to be as true to myself as I can be with the opportunities that I’ve had. If there were moments or years in which I went away for a minute, that’s not because I didn’t want to work, but probably because I wasn’t happy with the opportunities.”
Explaining her decision to become a producer, she adds: “I thought, ‘If people who are seated at the table don’t want me seated at the table, I’ll find my own seat and I’ll drag it up and I’ll demand to be there.”
Polish, whom she met on the set of Big Sur and married in August 2013, undoubtedly helped propel her in that direction. “I felt like I was falling out of love with the profession,” she previously admitted. “Meeting Michael, that reinvigorated my desire to keep going.”
In the weeks before we meet, there has been an outpouring of stories of darker and more aggressive imbalances in power, as Harvey Weinstein and countless other titans of the industry stand accused of sexual misconduct. “The things that I’ve experienced myself – and my female friends in the industry have too – are countless,” says Bosworth.
“As horrific as this all is, the optimism I find in this moment is that the conversations we’ve all had as women, behind closed doors, are now spilling out into the hallways and the boardrooms and into the places where they need to be discussed.
“The difficulty I’m having in talking about it publicly is that I don’t want my experiences to be fodder. I want to be able to join the collective but don’t want an experience that’s felt so vulnerable and abusive to become just chatter or gossip, or dissected or fed upon in a way that is negative.”
Bosworth’s biggest hope is that the power dynamics will change for the sake of her step-daughter, 19-year-old Jasper, an aspiring actress. “Everything that I’m trying to do to change the way things are, and the way things have been for me, is for her,” she says.
On whether she and Polish are keen to have children of their own, Bosworth initially demurs. “Nona was our first baby – it was such a labour of love and we put everything we had into it,” she deflects, before adding: “But yes, we plan to create a flesh and blood one.”
Meanwhile, Polish is teaching her how to shoot. “Directing is a natural progression for me and my husband has been shoving me towards that, but I like to be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible,” she says.
Her thirst for knowledge is fuelled by her annual Christmas gift from her father. “He goes through The New York Times Book Review every Sunday and highlights books he thinks will interest me. Then, at Christmas, he gives me all those books – I get a stack of about 50 every year,” Bosworth explains.
That is, I tell her, my fantasy Christmas present, and we veer off topic for some time as I give her a long list of my favourite books. We discover a shared love of dystopia, and stories that leave us emotionally wrecked. “Maybe we’re both just slightly masochistic,” she laughs. “Cheerful, but masochistic.”
Kate Bosworth stars in the upcoming MGM film The Domestics