The Girl Next Door
Katie Holmes Could Probably Definitely Kick Your Ass
Everyone's favorite Dawson's Creek star is newly into weight lifting and boxing.
By Judith Newman
I'd heard the rumors: Katie Holmes some serious biceps. I needed proof.
We're at a swank lounge in NYC's Mandarin Oriental hotel, where expensively groomed guests are sipping artisan cocktails. Katie, clutching her ever-present paper coffee cup, is more casual: jeans, a frilly denim shirt, sneakers. I decide to give it a shot and obnoxiously ask her to flex for me.
She is apologetic, saying, "I haven't worked out for awhile." But then she pulls up her sleeve and displays the startling combination of litheness and sinew she's developed while prepping for a new role—an action-thriller, still under wraps, in which she plays an ex-marine. (It's been a busy year, including the current Dear Dictator with Michael Caine and Ocean's Eight, coming out this summer.)
Katie has called her new character a "warrior" in the press, and considering her life over the past few years, you get the feeling that concept personally resonates. I first interviewed Katie in 2003, right at the end of Dawson's Creek, and the woman before me today is not far removed from that girl of 15 years ago: sunny, wry, and ebullient, with the melting brunette beauty that inspired makeup guru Bobbi Brown to call her "the modern-day Ali MacGraw."
Could that glow have something to do with her reported relationship with actor Jamie Foxx?
Whatever the source, these days Katie is reveling in the strength of her upcoming role, having snipped her long, dark locks into a pixie and started lifting weights to develop her upper body. "Which I've never wanted to do," she laughs. "But I wanted to be authentic to a person who trained in the military. Which means someone who wasn't always paying attention to the mirror and who was in shape not for vanity, but because that's what her job called for."
So the new tagline is "Katie Holmes kicks ass"? It doesn't sound as natural as "Katie Holmes bakes cookies" or even "Katie Holmes has a stuffed animal collection" ("I still love stuffed animals," she admits). But she's working on it.
And it is work. She would be lying if she told you that exercise is dear to her heart. Here is The Stars Are Just Like Us, Exercise Edition: Katie Holmes doesn't really love to work out just for the sake of working out. (She also doesn't love copping to that fact—but we relate there, too.) She does have a lot to live up to in that department.
Katherine Noelle Holmes grew up in Toledo, Ohio, the youngest of five kids in a family of jocks; she spent her youth with crayons and paper, drawing in drafty gyms while she cheered on her siblings in basketball. She sang and danced her way through high school.
But when her dad decided, at 45, to run the Boston Marathon for the first time, with her older brother, she paid attention. "I was 13 or 14, and I was like, 'Wow.' That had a huge impact." So much so that in her twenties, Katie trained for and ran the New York City Marathon. "I thought, My gosh, I want to do that. If they can do it, I'm not gonna let them have that over me."
She hasn't felt the need to repeat the feat, but that doesn't mean it wasn't cool. "It was incredible, going through all the different boroughs. You feel like you're part of a pack, and you're inspired by other people—and the people in wheelchairs. But it's also. . .I remember hitting mile 20 and just crying, like, 'There's no way—I can't do six more miles.' But I did."
Nowadays, working out is usually a group activity—classes, especially SoulCycle—"because I like that sense of community," Katie explains. Being surrounded by other people adds an element of inspiration, "like, if she can do it, I can do it too."
"Your broken self is more beautiful than your original self."
Getting in shape for her next role, though, sometimes involved working with a trainer—two-hour sessions, with a lot of crunches, squats, and dumbbells. "I was a five-pound-weight person, and now I can do 15, 20," Katie says, with some pride. "And I've been doing a lot of boxing, which I had never done before. It's thrilling. You can get out the stress of the day. I just go in there and think of all the mundane things that bother me. Traffic!" she adds, feigning a punch. "I put off all my phone calls till after boxing, because it puts me in a much calmer place."
The other way Katie maintains a sense of balance in her life is cerebral rather than physical: She keeps her distance from technology. A voracious reader, she chooses paper, not a Kindle. "I feel closer to an author when I'm holding a book," she says. And while she does keep an Instagram account, she shies away from the selfie culture. "Remember the days when the only time anyone took out a camera was on birthdays, holidays, and family vacations?" she says.
And she's not on iCloud, she adds. So all those naked pictures of you that might show up at any moment. . .? Katie is gleeful. "Oh yes, 'cause I try to do that. You know, just in the mornings. My hour of naked photographing." I may have asked one too many questions about her "daily routines."
"My mother was always taking me to the art museum, and to theater. That part of my life was really inspired by her."
Rather than paging through Pinterest, Katie focuses on the visuals in her personal environment. "I just need to repaint a room over and over again," she says. Right now, she's going for light-blue and cream colors and fresh flowers everywhere.
It's not feng shui that guides Holmes's choices so much as her mother—specifically, the inspiration of a full-time mother who was supremely crafty and taught her youngest child the psychic value of surrounding yourself with beauty, however you define it.
"I feel really lucky, because my mom is so creative, and she's such an artist. I mean, she makes all of the curtains, she makes all the pillows. She made me a homemade sweater. She knows how to do everything. And it's all, like, just wrapped in love. Growing up I kind of took it for granted, but as I've gotten older I see the poetry in that."
Now that Katie is coming up on 40, she finds herself increasingly marveling at that and looking for guideposts in her own mothering of Suri, who turns 12 this month—while being adamant that she won't be having any more children herself.
The only possible downside of having a mother like Katie's is that she still feels she hasn't cracked the perfect-mother code. For instance, even though she's on Instagram herself, she tries not to look at too much social media because she gets a little competitive with other mothers. "Like, that one has taken her child to Morocco, why haven't I taken my child to Morocco?"
On the other hand, not many of those moms are directing and starring in their own films. Katie's first venture, All We Had, was released in December 2016, and her second is in the works now: Rare Objects, based on the book by Kathleen Tessaro. "Some people say, 'It must be so hard to act and direct at the same time.' But it's not as challenging as it looks, because you're in charge of it. And when you're a mom—we're used to doing 25 things at once."
Rare Objects takes place during the '30s in Boston and New York, and Katie describes it as "two women struggling to break out of the boxes created by society," which I read as, "Beautiful women discovering their lesbianism in vintage underwear."
Apparently it's a little more involved than that. But there is a metaphor at the heart of the story that Katie is focused on, and one can't help but think back on her very public drama of the past six years. "At a certain point," she tells me, "there is a fight between one of the girls and her mother, and a teacup breaks. There's a Japanese tradition where broken cups are put together with this beautiful golden paint. And then the broken cup turns out more beautiful than the original."
It's this idea that has captivated Katie Holmes: that "your broken self is more beautiful than your original, pure self." She pauses, then adds, "It's not really your broken self, but it's your traveled self. That's what I thought was beautiful."
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Women's Health. For more great interviews, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!