K A T I E   H O L M E S :
The Girl Next Door

Would The Real Katie Holmes Please Stand Up?

In 1998, Katie Holmes hit screens (and hearts) as the girl next door in Dawson’s Creek. In the 20 years since, she’s shape-shifted both on and off screen. Sam Baker tries to solve the enigma.

Elle UK
By Sam Baker

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She is wearing the cardigan. The soft beige cashmere one that sent the internet into paroxysms of lust. The one that had a teeny tiny matching cashmere bra peeping out of it. The one that told the world ‘Katie Holmes is back’.

This is what life is like for Katie Holmes nowadays. The smallest detail can launch a thousand hot takes… and a million more interpretations. Think about it: a cardigan. A beige cardigan. Did ever an item of clothing nail the definition of bland more succinctly?

And yet, here we are. The cashmere bra – which, by the way, cost in excess of $500, selling out within a matter of hours – and Katie Holmes being, once again, the woman whose life we all want to peer into. Precisely because it’s the very thing she’s never allowed us to do.

Life wasn’t always like this for her, of course. Back when she girl-next-doored her way on to our screens as Dawson’s Creek’s Joey Potter in 1998, it was a little less complicated. She was the straightforward, ordinary, normal girl. Nothing to see here. Her partners appeared similarly uncomplicated types – Joshua Jackson, Chris Klein. Then, just like that, she went and surprised us all by marrying the most untypical guy in Hollywood: Tom Cruise.

After that? Well, she vanished. Almost overnight. She didn’t tell all on talk shows. She didn’t drunkenly fall out of bars. She didn’t attend the opening of an envelope. She certainly didn’t document her entire life on Instagram. Instead, she quietly went about her business, working solidly throughout the decade, launching a fashion label with her friend and stylist Jeanne Yang and, after divorcing Cruise in 2012, single-handedly bringing up daughter Suri.

It is a bit of a lost decade, really. At least as far as the world is concerned. There was the occasional picture of her and Suri, now, 13, hand in hand in near-identical outfits along the streets of New York. But little else. She did some of the big red carpet events but, beyond that, there was nothing. Which, of course, made us all want to know more.

But more is not always what she is willing to give. Before our interview, we tell her PR we would like to do a video where Holmes talks about her style through the ages. Nothing complex. Certainly nothing too personal. We are asked to submit the images, and we are told to remove many of them. (Coincidentally, they’re images that coincide with her time with Cruise.) The girl next door’s steel guard is up.

We meet several days later in Milan, where she has flown in to attend the Fendi show. I find her, sitting quietly in the bar of a hotel all alone – no flanking bodyguards or harried PR in sight. It’s just Katie Holmes… exactly as you’d imagine – sweet, smiley, bent over a black Americano wearing the cashmere cardigan.

‘You’re wearing the cardigan!’ I say brightly. She looks taken aback. And then bursts out laughing. ‘I just woke up and put it on. It’s so cosy. Feel it,’ she says, stretching out her arm. I reach out and dutifully touch it. ‘I love this brand, Khaite,’ she tells me. ‘I’m not wearing the bra with it today. I bought it [the bra] because I thought it was cool. The cardigan’s so big, it’s cute to just wear the bra underneath it.’ There’s a pause. ‘I wasn’t expecting it to be something people would talk about.’ I voice a degree of scepticism. After all, she had allegedly just separated with actor Jamie Foxx after six years together, when she wore it. The casual cardigan with the almost transgressively sexy bra underneath, seemed just a little too perfectly insouciant not be any sort of semaphore to the world.

‘No,’ Holmes insists, quietly shaking her head. ‘I just put it on and left the house.’

In fact, she says, she heard about the online fuss when a friend called her. ‘And I was like… “OK”.’ She shakes her head, bemused. Holmes never Googles herself, she tells me. ‘I feel like my time is better spent watching an old film, reading a great book, spending time with friends and family. That is somebody else’s version of me and I can’t do anything about that.’

Search her name, however, and you will get quite literally millions of hits. They will tell you what she wore yesterday, where she did her grocery shop and how she’s on her way to yoga. Her every microstep, monitored and analysed. The morning of our interview, I do a search and the first headline that pops up reads, ‘Katie Holmes leaves the house in a tan trench coat and hails a cab!’

When I tell her, she looks aghast. ‘Really? It’s just so…’ She pauses. And when she replies, her voice is almost a whisper. ‘It’s a lot. It’s a lot. Honestly.’ she catches herself. ‘That kind of attention is…‘ she trails off. ‘I try to keep it in perspective because it just is what it is. I try to look nice when I leave the house. I’m very private and quiet, so it’s interesting that there’s that part of my life.’

Growing up, the straight-A student from Toledo, Ohio, life could scarcely have been more ’normal’ for Katie Noelle Holmes. Born in December 1978, the youngest of five – Holmes has three sisters and one brother – her mum, Kathleen, was a full-time mum and her dad, Martin, a lawyer. The definitive good girl, she was accepted into Columbia University, and her dad wanted her to become a doctor. But Holmes had other ideas. Born with a creative gene, she had always been more interested in fashion and acting, and performed her way through high school before netting an agent.

Dawson’s Creek wasn’t her first big offer. According to her local paper, The Blade, she was offered the lead in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (a role that Sarah Michelle Gellar made her own) but turned it down to finish high school.

And Dawson’s Creek nearly didn’t happen either. The story of how she came to be Joey Potter became the stuff of Hollywood legend when she turned down the opportunity to go to LA to audition because of a scheduling conflict with her school play, Damn Yankees.

‘I was playing Lola. I even got to wear the feather boa. I thought, there is no way I’m not playing Lola to go audition for some network. I couldn’t let my school down… so I told Kevin [director Kevin Williamson] and [TV network] The WB, “I’m sorry, I just can’t meet with you this week. I’ve got other commitments.”’

In the end, her tenacity won out. Williamson let her audition via video instead. Holmes shot it in her basement with her mother playing Dawson, and the part of Joey Potter was hers.

Twenty years on, Holmes still lights up when she talks about that period in her life. Last year marked its 20th anniversary and the cast (Holmes, James Van Der Beek, her ex Joshua Jackson, Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps) got together for a reunion cover shoot. ‘It was really nice,’ Holmes reminisces. ‘We all went out to dinner and, I think, for all of us to really sit back in amazement that people still watch it and care about it. It was bigger than all of us and we all feel grateful that we got to contribute to it and benefit from it. We all got so many opportunities because of it.’

We talk about how much simpler life was back then – no social media, no mobile phones. She tells me she is practically allergic to social media. ‘I don’t use [Instagram] that much and, if I do, it’s usually just work geared. You can start to look at all these strangers and think you know them and there’s no way that can encapsulate a whole person. You’re just seeing a version of them and you always have to keep that in mind.’ For a moment, she looks deep in thought. ‘It’s just a picture. You don’t know them. You don’t know their past.’

It’s not the first or the last time that I get the feeling that Holmes is obliquely referring to herself. The interview goes this way for some time. She will make only soft, indirect references to her own life, skilfully swerving any question that prods too sharply. I ask after Suri. Holmes was 27 when she had her – relatively young, by today’s standards. ‘I was happy to become a mum in my twenties,’ is all that she will say. ‘It’s been nice that our ages fit… how do I put this? Every age that my child has been and my age at that time has been a good match. We kind of grew up together.’ I press further – are they a good team? Suddenly there is a noticeable chill. She frowns and offers me a vague line, saying she hopes that most families are close.

She will, however, speak ebulliently about the sort of house she keeps: ’It’s really homey. I have a lot of pictures. I like vintage art from flea markets. Because we’re in New York, I want our apartment to be very cosy and soft – the city around us is so intense and hard. So that’s our style. And a lot of colours.’

It’s one of the first times she has used the pronoun ‘we’, and so I try again. She mentions that she has just bought a record player, so I venture… Who is the boss of music in the house? The chill again. Then she does something that she does throughout the interview every time I approach anything that swims into the private realm. She sort of tilts her head to one side and screws her mouth up. ‘That’s kind of personal…’ is her standard response. And then the conversation swings direction again. It’s frustrating, because Holmes is actually incredibly likeable. There is genuine warmth when she speaks. It’s just you want to know so much more because, one suspects, there is so much more than what she gives. She is, after all, 40 now.

Did that landmark birthday change her perspective on things? ‘Not really, no!’ She laughs. ‘I directed my first film, All We Had, a couple of years ago and I’ve been working to get my second film ready so I’m excited to continue. It’s interesting to be 40, though, because when you’re young, you think, “I’m never going to be 40!” And then the day comes and it’s like, this is OK. I’m still doing everything I’ve always done. I feel happy with where my career is and I’m excited for the projects that I have coming up to come to fruition.’

She has worked solidly, quietly, for the past 20 years. Her work ethic has sadly been endlessly overshadowed by her love life and her wardrobe. In the next two months, she will be in cinemas twice, first in Brahms: The Boy II. Then, in an adaptation of Rhonda Byrne’s self-help smash hit The Secret, which she describes as ‘kind of magical. I think it will make people feel good. We need something to feel good about’. Brahms: The Boy II is nearer the other end of the spectrum: a horror film about a mother (played by Holmes) who is terrified that her child is being taken over by his doll. ‘It’s a metaphor for mothers,’ Holmes tells me earnestly. ‘You don’t want a bad influence on your kids, right?’

Does she worry about any bad influences on Suri, now she’s 13? ‘Doesn’t every parent?’ she shoots back. ‘But, yes, of course I’m worried. There is so much bad news and hate and things that don’t make sense… The atmosphere around the world is… terrifying.’

The next day, we meet again at the ELLE cover shoot. Holmes has come straight from Fendi’s SS20 front row. She is endearingly warm and chatty, wandering around in head-to-toe Fendi and spa slippers. When we take a selfie, she suggests we lie on the floor and take it from above, because you know, chins. She is worlds away from the woman who stared suspiciously at my dictaphone just 24 hours earlier. She seems free. Well, freer. As I watch her perform for the camera – quietly, steadily – I have no clearer idea of who she is.

I suspect that’s how she likes it. Is she ‘beige’, as some suggest? No. She’s too smart for that. Besides, it takes work to turn beige into an art form the way she has. Beige is her safe place – it’s not, I suspect, who she is. Beige is what the truly talented pass off as their own, so that the world keeps its distance.

ELLE's December issue hits UK newsstands on November 7, 2019.