Goldie Hawn (Sunday Times Magazine, April 17, 2017)
I meet Goldie Hawn in Santa Monica. It’s one of those Hockney-esque days – blue sky and palm trees. Everything you’d expect. I expected Goldie to be blonde and cute and somehow frozen in time. I expected a little facial landscaping, but there’s none of that It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Goldie Hawn made a movie (The Banger Sisters), because somehow she’s one of those actors who has a continued presence. People are always being compared to her and she’s often photographed with her very famous (Almost Famous) daughter Kate Hudson. You never know which on screen star is going to be frosty and who’s going to be lovely. Goldie does not disappoint in the warmth department. She radiates it along with calm and Zen.
She’s back on screen playing Amy Schumer’s mother in Snatched. It’s already been touted as the funniest film of the year – Hangover style comedy but women driven. Schumer fought hard to get Hawn to play her mother. They didn’t know each other before. Schumer just knew it would be right and when you think about it, although Hawn didn’t give birth to Schumer, without Hawn Schumer could not have existed. Hawn was the Schumer of the seventies. She did it in a quieter, defter and more svelte way, but nonetheless she was a woman allowed to be funny, in control and take the lead in movies. For instance, if you wanted to remake Private Benjamin, you’d get Schumer to play Hawn’s role. Biologically no relation, but there’s something filmically genetic about these two.
Hawn is in a little black dress – slash neckline, bare, pale, freckled legs, strappy sandals, I glimpse a heart tattoo peeking out on her foot. The hair is the same – Goldie hair. It’s long and it’s blonde and it’s tousled. The lips too are still as pouty. You notice her face is real, not plastic. You notice multi-coloured grey blue green, sparkling eyes. Orbital. She’s just had room service delivered to her hotel suite. It’s your typical Los Angeles fare. Green juice, almond butter with gluten free crackers – except she’s been drinking green juice for 20 years. “I make it at home and sometimes I put mint in it, sometimes zucchini, always apple and ginger. It’s so cleansing.” Somehow when she’s describing it, it sounds cosy. She didn’t jump on the green juice bandwagon. She created it. She was always ahead of her time.
Born in 1945, 71 years ago to a Jewish mother and Presbyterian father, Hawn never dreamed big for herself. “I came to California to dance. It sounds silly because everybody wants to be a big deal and I just wanted to dance, to be married. I was very connected to my family and I was fully prepared to go home at some point.” In fact she was rather surprised when she found herself being applauded in Hollywood. She says she didn’t have drive, so it was confusing and it actually made her feel anxious and misplaced. Other people saw in her something she didn’t see in herself. A very rare commodity of someone who is extremely funny and extremely pretty. By that I mean she looked too pretty to be funny but she was.
Discovered on popular sketch show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In – she came to Los Angeles at the age of 22 to make her first movie There’s A Girl in My Soup. She found her success baffling. That’s why she was not distressed in the least by her absence from the screen for the past 15 years. She’s been busy doing other things that interested her more. The Goldie Hawn Foundation is a foundation for children to help them triumph over trauma using her meditation techniques. “A frightened child can never learn,” she has said. Her mindful techniques have been used in schools all over the US and Australia.
She’s also been a devoted grandmother to Kate Hudson’s boys Ryder, 13 and Bingham, 5, Kate’s brother Oliver and his children Wilder, 9, Bodhi, 7 and Rio, 3. And now without even trying she’s back, blockbuster back. “I’m excited. It’s very funny and it’s also very heartfelt.” That’s what she does best. Mixes the fun with the heart. “It’s a fine line you know.”
Schumer and Hawn’s onscreen chemistry is remarkable. Did she end up wanting to adopt Amy at the end of the movie? “Oh, I have adopted her in my heart anyway. I love her.” And they didn’t know each other before? “No, I didn’t know Amy although we met on an airplane once.” (Hawn didn’t really recognise her). She seems to meet quite a few people on planes. She met her ex-husband Bill Hudson on one and it went from a glint in the eye to full passion, marriage, envy, divorce. But more of that later.
“When I met Amy on the plane I didn’t recognise her. I’m not much of a TV watcher but then we met at an event in London – the Glamour Awards. I was there because my daughter Kate was getting an award and Amy was also getting an award. She came up to me and said “There’s this movie I read and I’m helping rewrite it but I can only see you in it and I really want you to do this movie.” Hawn indicates that she seemed quite surprised and then thought about it. “I had been working with my Foundation for around 13 years so I thought let me turn this baby into a teenager and I can go back to work and have some fun.”
So there was never a conscious decision that she was giving up movies and concentrating on the Foundation? “That’s right. There wasn’t. And was there a decision to give up the Foundation and return to acting? “No. The movie was 3 months. It was the right time. I was ready to go back and do something funny. When you’ve been working for 40 years at being funny there comes a moment where you look at your life and say who am I now and where do I want to go? Do I want to continue to repeat myself or do I want to do something different? I want my life to be enriched by different actions, not just by one thing. That’s why I have developed and produced scripts for children that can go into schools. It was exciting to me. And now it’s exciting to be back.”
Did she ever feel like she’d been boxed into being the funny girl? A pressure to amuse? “Oh no. I never felt that it was a pressure to be funny. I don’t look at myself as someone who has to entertain people, who HAS to be funny. I’m an actress who can be comedic. I’ve never done stand up or anything like that. I started off as a dancer. First of all ballet and then jazz and I was that girl who got pulled out of the chorus line. The next thing I knew I had an agent and I ended up on a big television show (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In). It really was just a shocker. My career took me. I didn’t take my career. And what happens when you get older happens to everybody – the roles start changing. I worked into my 50s and I thought – wait a minute. There is a finite amount of life left. What am I gonna learn? How am I going to help? What do I care about? And that’s when ideas began to percolate of how to create a different life. Not for me but for children. That has always been my plan. It’s been the most exciting part of my life and the hardest. I wanted to help children who are afraid. I wanted to stabilise my emotions and therefore I wanted to help stabilise children’s. I know about being scared, whether it’s bullying or something outside for that. When I was little I feared the bomb.”
She grew up in the Cold War period and her school showed one of those Cold War propaganda movies when she was 11. After that she was then terrified to go to school and woke up every day thinking it was the end of the world. “It stayed with me. It was very impactful. I wasn’t ready for that, all the devastation and people bloody and children crying. How is a child going to react to that? I was 11 and I remember thinking I’ll never live to kiss a boy, I’ll never live to be a mum. I was very anxiety ridden.”
It was a similar anxiety that made her feel misplaced stayed when she had her plucked out of the chorus line moment. She felt her life wasn’t her own. Somehow there was a link between not having control of her life and a fear of death. “Yeah it was fear of death and violence. What could be more scary than a bomb falling from the sky and falling on you?”
Her early success was a metaphorical bomb. She had felt anxious most of her early life and that’s when she discovered meditation therapy. The success meant she didn’t know who she was anymore. “I felt unstable. My life wasn’t working out as I planned. I wanted to have a dance school for children, to be married and have a house in Washington DC. Being married was my dream. It didn’t happen that way. I did one show and boom. I’m away from everybody I love and I’m in LA and my mom and dad were in Washington. I thought I would go back to them but life kept keeping me away.
And then I realised, Goldie, you are literally never going home again. My dad would write me letters and say “The umbilical cord has stretched 3,000 miles. Just know we love you. We are always here. Just try to enjoy this.” That was it for a while then everyone moved out West – my mom, my dad, my sister.
My dad was Presbyterian. He didn’t go to church. My mother was Jewish. We rarely went to the synagogue but oddly enough I was the one most interested in religion. It was very clear that the Jewish part was strong because it had all the rituals of our family. It was a cultural thing. At the same time my best girlfriend was a Catholic. I went to the Catholic Church with her more than I went to the Synagogue, but sometimes I would go to both. Friday night Synagogue and Sunday church. I find religion so interesting. Now I’m interested in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jain. I also like the Kabbalah but more than that I’ve always been very connected to the idea of meditation.” It seems that meditation gave her answers, or at least some answers.
It’s as if she was always trying a place to fit and at the same time she was rather a contradiction. Everyone thought of her as the hilarious blonde. Meanwhile she was thinking about death and eternal life. Was she aware of that juxtaposition? “Yeah. Unexpected right and then I took a course in neuro science because to me that was the answer to the brain’s function. How you shift your brain because of neuroplasticity.” Er, what? “Neuroplasticity is all about how you grow new connections in the brain. The brain is plastic. We can move the brain by our thoughts, our actions by often repetitive actions so you can train your brain to grow new cells.”
I saw this on an Andrew Marr programme about how was retraining his brain to walk after a stroke. Hawn nods enthusiastically. “You can train your brain to become conscious of certain things just like the mind and body are conscious of one another. There is communication between them. I love the idea that there is a communication between thought and remoulding the mind – the brain if you will and how that begins to help you be more in control of your brain rather than it controlling you.”
She continues with another couple of sentences involving the word peptides but I’m way out of my depth. This is not what I was expecting to be discussing with Goldie Hawn. I try to simplify, take us away from science. Is she saying if you fear something, the fearful thoughts make it happen? “Exactly. You can look at a painting. You can see different things. I was I India many years ago and they have these beautiful caves dug in the salt rock. One cave was the Jain, one was the Buddha and one was the Hindu cave. In the Buddha cave, they held a light to the Buddha’s face and he looked peaceful. When the light turned in the other direction he looked angry.”
Suddenly there’s the sound of Indian chanting and I realise it’s Hawn’s mobile ringtone. She laughs. “Isn’t it perfect? Anyhow, that’s how I started looking into how the brain works.”
In which parts of her life did she find her meditation therapy and her knowledge of the brain’s workings to be most useful? The blue grey green eyes glitter. Dealing with being suddenly famous? “Yes.” Divorce. “Yes. It helped me through my mother’s death. It helps every day. We have a tendency to want a miracle to happen when we’re suffering but I think we need to suffer for a limited period of time. When someone dies who is close to you, you have to go through it. I don’t believe in jumping over the river to try and cleanse yourself through it. That’s kind of a denial.”
When her mother died – she says it was in 93 or 94 – she took time out of acting just to be with her. They were very, very close. She saw the pain and suffering of her loss as a way of remaining connected to her mother. She nods. “In some form yes and that’s what it was. I spent a lot of time on my spiritual journey when she died. I’m not over it. I miss her every day, but it took a year of really not being over it. The Jews believe it takes a year. That’s why they have a stone setting a year after the death. I swear to God she was there at her graveside.
The Rabbi did his prayer, our family were holding hands and a wind came out of nowhere, whoosh and it was as if my mother was saying it’s OK now. I cried. It was the end of mourning and the beginning of my holding my mother close to me all the time. It was just different. I want to help people through things like this. You have to feel it, not deny it. Take it with you and work it out. Meditation has helped me through tiredness, stress, work issues, relationship issues. You know when we react to a situation that we wish we hadn’t reacted to – we were just firing off. It helps you with that reacting because if you can take 10 seconds more to think about things it’s an amazing tool.”
It seems like by the time she got to her relationship with Kurt Russell she’d worked quite a few things out. It continues to compel people – Goldie and Kurt – the longest lasting Hollywood couple – 34 years but never married. In the past she said that maybe it wouldn’t have lasted so long if they had been married. “Definitely,” she nods. “Relationships are hard. None of them are easy. Both Kurt and I had gotten out of a relationship that was basically all about money and we both looked at each other and we were like ‘marriage – no way’. What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine. We’re going to do this thing separately and we’re going to be together. We’re going to enjoy each other. There’s no marriage here. Marriage binds you lawfully that in a way that suddenly you’ve got to give up your money. Kurt was married for three and a half years and he had to give up all his money, his house and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was married and my ex sued me for everything after 4 years. The laws are like that.”
I had heard of a book that Bill Hudson wrote, a kind of kiss and tell without many kisses. I read an extract where he was whining about money. Did she ever read it? “No no no. It’s too bad. I mean it’s over. But these things make me feel more compassionate. Isn’t that interesting? The kids are great and it’s forgotten. But that was a funny story how you met him on a plane and ended up marrying him. “My God he was great. He was a lot of fun. He was very, very funny. There were really good qualities about him but then he was gambling and all sorts of things and it didn’t work.”
It was very different when she met Kurt. There was no crazy coup de foudre. It was a slow burn of boiling sweetness. They met when they co-starred in the movie Swing Shift. “Yeah,” she says tinged with a dreamy nostalgia. “You know when we fell in love? It was when I realised loved the way he looked at my children. Frankly that was it. That’s what made me fall in love with him. It wasn’t one of those…” she’s searching for the word “lust at first sight things. No. not that at all. I mean we were very sexually attracted to each other but I was at a stage of my life where I had finally excepted my little white picket fence dream did not work out. I’d had two divorces and I wanted something that was going to be good for my life and my children.”
We’re inside but it had been so sunny I was wearing my sunglasses. “Who made them?” she wants to know. “Kate was only 3 and Oliver was 6. Kurt is very special. We raised the children together and we’ve been together 34 years and had a great time doing it. We lived 3 years in Vancouver (because Kurt and Goldie’s son Wyatt was playing ice hockey there) and we’ve spent two and a half years building a house in LA and I had my third night’s sleep there last night. All kinds of stuff needs doing.” They moved back to Los Angeles for Wyatt’s career. “Wyatt’s an actor now. All my children are amazing and very, very talented. Oliver’s had some successful TV shows and he’s got 3 children. I’ve got so much to be grateful for and everybody’s excited that I’m doing a movie.”
Will this be the start of more acting work for her? “It’s hard to know. It depends what comes up. Careers have resurgences but you don’t recreate your career. Not at my time of life.” She’s 71. Of course she doesn’t look 71 and she doesn’t look a Hollywood 71 either. Jonathan Levine, the director of Snatched announced that Goldie Hawn was the fittest person on the set.
So how did she get to be the fittest person on the set? Does she have a ballet routine to keep her in shape? Does she still dance? “I don’t, but I did have a ballet barre put into my workout room this time so I will be doing more plies and working at the barre.” I tell her I did that for a couple of months and it was tell. “It’s very hard. Those slow plies, they’re hard. There was nothing like that in the movie. There was lots of running around and whatever but I’m used to that. Nothing new.”
It ends in a way that there could be Snatched 2. “Yeah there could be. You never know.” In 1996 she, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton did the movie First Wives Club. At the time when most big earning movies were sci fi movies or movies that were tailored to the adolescent male audience. It was quite a brave time to make a movie with three women in their fifties. “Yes it was.” They all did it for minimal money. Small front end, small back end just to get it made. When it was a huge hit, the studio wanted a sequel and they expected them all to do it for the same low fees. Were they insulted? “Yes. I couldn’t believe it. We’ll just give you the same amount of money and I thought to myself, no. Everyone negotiates for a sequel because you’ve already built a constituency. People love your characters, they know you. That’s a value. You can’t put anyone else in that movie.”
Do you think they would have treated men like that? “Not at all.” We ponder about what’s changed in the last 20 years in Hollywood. Ostensibly can women be sexy and funny and earn as much as their male counterparts? My theory is that Amy Schumer has been quite a game changer. She’s the one who can get movies made. She can negotiate a good sequel, she’s made it possible for a new generation of women to be laughed at in a good way.
“Exactly. She has. We keep inching along, two steps forward, one step back. It’s not even that long ago when women weren’t allowed to vote but there’s still some of those diehards that look at women as objects and also find them in many ways a threat. So many men today have changed. Young men today are very different but some of the old dogs still have that lack of regard for a woman who has got, how can I put it? A woman who has got power. Because if you don’t use your power just right…” she whispers. “They go mad and I go did I say something in the wrong tone of voice? In other words, did I have a look on my face that looked determined? Was that a look you didn’t want to look at? It’s fascinating.”
Do you think that women are still put in boxes like if you’re beautiful you’re supposed to be stupid? If you have a PhD you can’t have a manicure? “I think that sort of thing still exists.”
Hawn was never the type of woman who was called a ‘Biatch’ for taking control, for producing a movie, for speaking her mind. She was cleverer than that. She spoke her mind carefully, never angrily. She always appeared sweet. You never thought of her being the one with power. “But I can tell you that I never kept my mouth shut.” But she didn’t ever shout. “No I didn’t and that’s how it worked. I wasn’t fighting anything. But I can tell you I did frustrate a lot of people. I was not happy about the way First Wives Club was handled. The other girls were saying ‘You talk, you talk.’”
That’s interesting. Midler and Keating are both strong, intelligent women. “I’m more confronting. Bette hadn’t done a movie in a long time and Diane is smart as a whip but she’s just not confrontational. I had the mouth so I could articulate what was wrong. Also we were given a script that they guy who was supposed to write it hadn’t written. They had switched to somebody else and I had to say wait a minute. We have script approval. It’s not unusual for movies to have a bumpy start but getting back to whose voice is the loudest, it’s just the voice that says ‘I’m not going to do this.’ That’s when that person becomes powerful.”
Doesn’t that person get mocked and made to feel like a Prima Donna? “Yes and then that person says fine, I’m not angry but when you breach the contract you breach the contract. And they end up having to listen.” But then they’re not in a hurry to employ that person again. “That’s a different story. You could be absolutely blacklisted. I could have been, but I can look at that movie and feel extremely proud that I used my voice.”
And that women are now allowed to be funny. Warily she says, “I think more women are funny, yes…” In the past women weren’t allowed to get the biggest laughs. “That’s right.” Especially not pretty women. “Right.” Because men don’t want to laugh at you if they want to fuck you.” Exactly. A funny woman is not sexy to most men.” But not anymore. That is changing.” But you have been allowed to be funny and beautiful.” Oh thanks honey. The beautiful part is appreciated but I never thought that about myself. And Amy too. Neither of us felt we had that pretty thing. We both grew up doubting ourselves.” This I find textbook shocking. Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin/Shampoo period is unmistakeably gorgeous and the first thing I noticed when I came into the room were those eyes. So much deeper and more soulful in person. “I don’t know about that but I do know there’s no such thing as a sexy clown. But I like the idea that there has been a paving of the way for more women to get out there and produce movies.”
With Hawn the power is all on the inside, the unexpected. She’s always liked to eat healthily, green tea, green juice, almond butter, vitamin Q10, baby aspirin and some weeks she works out every day, but it’s not as superficial as you might think. It’s not about being thin or beautiful anymore. It’s about being in control of her own body and her own mind. “But some days I’ll have wine. I’m allowed. I write my journal when I feel I’m meant to. It’s a wonderful way of resolving something. You write it and you expel it.”
And then the phone rings with its Buddhist chimes. She doesn’t pick it up but the chime itself seems a fitting enough end to our meeting. It’s like the end of a massage when the chimes say you’re calm now, the tension has expelled and that’s what my meeting with Goldie was like – a massage.