Chatting With Brooke Shields About Growing Up Famous

Nov. 30, 2007—New director today. It’s a phenomenon unique to episodic television; every episode has a new man or woman behind the camera. It’s an odd thing, really—the one variable is the person at the center of the wheel—but it works because, in television at least, once the machine is up and running, the director doesn’t have as strong a voice in the outcome as you might think. Once actors have done a particular show for a while, they tend to become “director-proof.” After all, they live with the characters week in and week out, sometimes for years, and the director is often just passing through. But he still needs to come in and take charge without stepping on toes, not always the easiest thing in the world.

I remember being a guest star on a show and watching as a prima donna lead actor poisoned the atmosphere on an entire set. The director could do very little. But none of that ego/fear exists on Lipstick Jungle, at least not yet. Everyone is getting on well, and the work is flowing fairly easily and quickly. The other night, “the girls,” as Brooke, Kim, and Lindsay are called around the set, lit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and announced that the show will begin airing on Feb. 7 at 10 p.m., in the E.R. time slot. The best way to know how much the network believes in a show is to look at the time slot it assigns. This news is better than anyone had hoped, and there is a quiet excitement that feels in keeping with what is happening day in and day out.

After the scene I shoot today—Lindsay and I chattering away in the back of a limo—I run into Brooke in the makeup room. I mention to her that I was in the Guggenheim the other day and saw a famous photograph of her that was taken when she was a young child. In it, she is standing in a tub of water, naked. Her body is that of a prepubescent girl, but her face and hair are made up to appear much older. It is a provocative, unsettling image that was made famous when Richard Prince photographed the original photograph, making a piece of appropriated art out of it—that is what now hangs in the museum. “I remember that day,” she tells me. “It didn’t seem like anything, taking that picture. Weird.” We launch into a discussion of fame and how it affects and alters people, especially the young, before they are even aware of it.

I mention to her that only in hindsight was I really conscious of the degree to which I had become popular figure for a certain generation. And we both acknowledge there was no great plan at work in our careers. “I just took what came next,” she tells me, and I nod my head in agreement. But despite the accidental nature of this kind of success, mutations and repercussions inevitably follow. Early in her career, Brooke became a unique figure of youthful sexuality and exploitation, from Pretty Baby and the Calvin Klein ads onward, something she simply shrugs off: “It’s just the way my life was,” she says. “I never thought about it.”

As we talk, I become conscious that the usual chatter that fills the makeup room has fallen silent as people bend an ear. And I’m made aware that this is a conversation that can only be had by people who, however different the details of their specific lives, share an innate understanding and a mutuality of experience that is fairly unusual.

During our conversation, Brooke has been going through a pile of faded clippings—comic strips and articles and photos from her youth—in which she was featured, both flatteringly and otherwise. It seems she was clearing out a drawer at home and is deciding what to throw out and what she wants to keep, in case her children might someday be interested in what kind of an existence their mother had way back when. It’s a different life, and one she seems at home in—I like her a lot.