The Girl Next Door
Fresh Take: Katie Holmes
On screen, Katie Holmes moves between Jackie O and girl next door with ease. Behind the camera, the ingenue director of All We Had draws on almost two decades of working with the biz’s best men and one special little girl.
By Carita Rizzo
Katie Holmes has barely been seated for five minutes on the patio of Butcher’s Daughter in Venice Beach, Calif., when a blushing waiter places two glasses of Champagne in front of her. He tells her he’s a big fan and Holmes graciously thanks him. As soon as he is out of earshot she leans forward, whispering, “What just happened? Did you do this?”
It’s a small gesture, but the fact Holmes can’t quite fathom why she is being served Champagne is what instantly makes her feel like a friend. That, and the fact she wants to share a plate of nachos on this sunny Friday afternoon. “They’re vegetarian, aren’t they? It’s healthy,” she says with a mischievous smile.
She may be a world-famous, statuesque woman who turns heads when she enters a room, but it’s Holmes’ girl-next-door quality that makes people feel comfortable in her presence. Whether portraying tomboy Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek or the regal Jacqueline Kennedy in The Kennedys, Holmes has always had a knack for making every character she plays a person you would like to invite over for coffee.
The ability to gain trust is a trait Holmes now channels into her role as first-time director with the drama All We Had, in which she also stars. But to simply label her “nice” is to underestimate the multihyphenate star who has made her mark in film, television and theater. Once Holmes decided to option Annie Weatherwax’s debut novel about Rita and Ruthie—a young mother and daughter trying to escape poverty and build a home for themselves in small-town USA—she spent six months meticulously preparing for the shoot, gathering ideas for shots, pacing and tone. It’s also a job she has been inadvertently studying for since 1997, when the then-19-year-old actress made her debut in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm.
Holmes admits the quality of the person helming the project has always been a driving factor for her taking a job. “Since Day One in this business, you’re always trying to work with great directors. That’s the goal,” she says. Doug Liman (Go), Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking), Curtis Hanson (The Wonder Boys) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) are only a few of the auteurs she has been able to observe over the years. “I [recently] got to work with Steven Soderbergh [in the upcoming film Logan Lucky], and that was a dream come true,” she raves. “He’s a master. I asked him a lot of questions about directing in our first meeting. He was extremely generous. Then I watched what he did when we were working.”
When it came to her own project, Holmes was careful to choose her source material based on its scope and her understanding of subject matter. “I thought, if I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, I should pick something I feel comfortable with,” she says. “I’m from a family of five children, and I have three sisters. That female relationship is familiar to me.”
Although the circumstances of the film are quite different from her own—in All We Had it is often 13-year-old Ruthie, played by Stefania Owen, who takes on the parental role—the mother of 10-year-old daughter Suri, with ex-husband Tom Cruise, had no problem relating to the dynamics between her two main characters. “A mother’s love is greater than anything; it’s definitely a universal theme,” she says. “And I think seeing Ruthie fight her mother is natural to [any] mother/daughter relationship. But Rita is very much a child herself, which makes them more original in their relationship. I felt like we haven’t seen that kind of story too much between mother and daughter. I thought that was worth telling.”
Holmes descends back into giddy girlfriend territory when talking about her first days on set as a director. “It was exciting and scary. It’s just... you’re in charge!” she laughs. “Then the movie takes on its own life, and that’s fun.” Holmes enthuses about being surrounded by a team of her choosing that helped raise her game, and was thrilled to discover her own abilities in this new capacity. “I love being behind the monitor and seeing Stefania and Eve [Lindley] have a great moment. It’s like, [gasp]. I did that.”
Creatively, Holmes is currently all about pushing her own limits. Soon after All We Had, she returned to her role as Jackie Kennedy in the Reelz series The Kennedys: After Camelot, but this time she also directed an episode of the miniseries. “Everything is its own animal, so you’re always learning,” she says of going behind the camera on the show she also helped produce. “It’s challenging, but I enjoy it.” On the big screen, she has three films coming out in the next year: Soderbergh’s heist movie, Logan Lucky, co-starring Channing Tatum; the comedy Coup D’Etat, in which she plays a mother whose teenage daughter invites a dictator to come stay with them; and A Happening of Monumental Proportions, her friend Judy Greer’s directorial debut. “She said, ‘I have a part for you.’ I said, ‘When? Where?’” relays Holmes. “Women supporting women, that goes without saying. But I think artists need to support artists. It’s the right thing to do.”
And her role at home? “When I’m not on set, I’m being a mom. I’m doing mom stuff,” she says. “When I go to an event, I leave at 10pm because it’s really important to me to be a mom that is dependable.”
While Holmes shares few details of her private life, her whole existence has seemed like public property since the days she started climbing through Dawson Leery’s window in 1996. A speculative play by play of her former marriage can be found at the touch of a keyboard; there continues to be a curiosity about her dating life (on which she stays mum); and even her supermarket runs are well documented. But when asked if there’s anything she wishes she could do if not under such intense media scrutiny, Holmes struggles to find an answer. “That’s an interesting question because I kind of do everything I feel like doing,” she finally says. “I don’t monitor my behavior for press purposes.” In fact, giving her daughter the same kind of experiences she had growing up in Toledo, Ohio, is now a priority for Holmes. “It’s important to me,” she says, nodding emphatically. “We do a lot of cousin time with my nieces and nephews. I think the most important thing in my life is giving my child the childhood I want her to have. That comes first. That dictates where I work and when I work because it’s my main job right now.”
As far as belonging to the public, she maintains that people mostly respect her privacy. This is of course debunked as soon as Holmes gets up to leave and a patron leaps from her seat to ask for a selfie. A little thrown, Holmes politely obliges, spins around, jokingly narrowing her eyes as she peers over her oversize sunglasses. “This never happens! You set it up,” she hisses, then breaks into a smile like she has known you forever. And in a way, there you have it—the world’s most famous girl next door.