Ageless beauty, timeless style, dignified grace, unparalleled wit, and astute intelligence are not enough superlatives to describe the phenomenon that is Gabrielle Anwar. Upscale Living magazine spoke exclusively to her about her fashion sense, being her best self at 50, the challenges of raising three children, and releasing a film that was shot 15 years ago.
Gabrielle, you were born in Surrey, England. What are your fondest memories of your formative years?
My parents were terribly bohemian and raised my brother and me in an artistic environment laced with atypical experiences. For example, we helped my father build our house, literally laying bricks with cement and stomping the foundation dressed in nothing but our Wellington boots. My mother went back to college when I began preschool; she earned her teaching degree, specializing in Dyslexia, which my brother suffered. He and I were her willing guineapigs, covered in papier-mâché, or poster paint most days, delighting in the inevitable adventure. We had a book I would delve into periodically called “101 Things To Do.” We were never bored, a sentiment I have continued with my own children; there’s no excuse for a human ever to be bored!
You come from a talented family – mom is an actress and dad, a film producer and editor. Was becoming an actress a natural progression for you?
I became an actress by default. I had been removed from my high school due to a rather strong desire to rebel against the system. My mother homeschooled me while I recovered from a nasty incident where my face was broken by a particularly unpleasant classmate. During this time, my mother, a trained actress and ballet dancer taught me various dramatic pieces, songs, and dances. I excelled in these areas compared to the academic strictures I did not organically gravitate toward. I auditioned at Italia Conti, a vocational performing arts school in London, and was accepted. Two years later, when I was 15, I auditioned for a BBC drama and was so characteristically nervous that I sat on the table instead of the chair. I was immediately cast as an “awkward teen.” While away on location in England, I fell in love with the independence, the creative process, the lack of peers to torment me, and of course, the cash with which to buy my first stereo system. The rest is history.
How do you adapt to portraying your characters in a believable way – the sultry Donna in Scent of a Woman to the no-nonsense sexy Fiona in Burn Notice?
I am drawn to women who are well written. Sadly, up until very recently, most green-lit screenplays/TV shows were written by men, so I automatically question the depth of the female roles. Objectivity is so overwhelmingly obvious on our screens that I am repelled by most of what I read! One of the reasons I began writing material was to appease my frustration with the anachronistic content.
Even though Scent of A Woman was filmed in 1992, it’s a classic that is an essential part of a movie collection. What was it like starring opposite Al Pacino?
Al was extremely kind to me. To this day, when we see one another, we have a tremendous appreciation for each other. He infused our single scene with improvisation and spontaneity, which was both exciting and terrifying. Marty Breast was an exceptional director who, unlike most I have worked with, was motivated by the artistic evolution of film making, rather than an egoic descent into sadism!
What film genre is your favorite to star in?
It’s been a while since I’ve starred in a film. This is a very fickle business, and often talent and bankability do not go hand in hand. I have very fond memories of the dramas I was a part of. The less formulaic, conventional tales that leave you wanting that open the heart and mind.
And to watch?
The same. I love to watch dramas, and with the advent of binge-watching, I can gobble up hours of streaming in a single session. I am always drawn to female empowerment but have an aversion to cliché and over-sentimentality. Growing up playing with rolls of old school film on my father’s cutting room floor, I have always had a deep appreciation for film making and the collaborative result of a well-conceived, directed, performed, lit, edited screenplay.
How critical are you when you watch yourself on screen?
I am super critical, but I don’t take myself too seriously. I am proud to say that I can laugh at myself and critique myself with a generous amount of humor and self-effacement. Life is too short not to laugh, no matter how cool you think you are!
You have three children. It must be a rather busy household.
Raising children well is a Herculean task. One that mothers do not get enough gratitude for – even from their own children! I am on the board of Pikler USA. I have established a parenting site, ThePlayhouse.org pouring my heart, soul, and mind into a unique approach to infant parenting inspired by Dr. Emmi Pikler, a pioneer in Europe in the 1930’s. I encourage all new mothers to explore the Pikler method; it is truly life-changing.
Are you 50? You look amazing! How do you stay in such phenomenal shape?
Thank you! I appreciate the compliment and humbly accept; rather than deflect or reject it with an impressive lack of humility, I will force myself to bathe in the glow of good health and youthful residue!! I have been through a menopausal sojourn these past couple of years and am adjusting to the new body I live within. I have long said that I would never resent myself for aging, maturing, morphing into the beautifully wise woman I long to become.
Your beauty regime is on point. What is the secret to your flawless skin?
Again, thank you. Every once in a while, when I look in the mirror and see a worn out, pale, well-lived looking 50-year-old, I will drag myself to @MiamiDermPro and beg Paula to rejuvenate me any which way she can. @drbentalei is my go-to guru in Los Angeles, but subtlety is key, and once you begin “enhancing,” it can be a slippery slope toward caricature. Vanity is very unattractive after 50.
How varied is your fashion sense?
I have a rather eclectic wardrobe—pieces from the 1980s, homemade frocks, and a plethora of well-kept vintage circa 1800s.
What is your favorite go-to fashion style?
I love the 1970’s for fashion, just so feminine and ethereal. As a child of the ’70s, I have fond memories of maxi dresses and flowers in the hair. That would be my go-to look, no matter how dated.
Style vs. comfort?
Always comfort. Comfort is stylish. Discomfort is affected.
Have you had any fashion ‘disasters’ you want to disclose?
My most memorable disaster was my first homemade dress that came apart at the seams at an event. No safety pin could have kept me together. My date and I had to swiftly leave a really fun party before I was completely naked.
How do you stay relevant?
How do I know if I’m relevant?
What is your advice to women wanting to find their best selves?
That’s a big question. I co-chair the board of The Center For Integral Wisdom. We are a think tank for the future, for the future generations, our children and grandchildren, and so on. As much as Pikler can directly improve an individual’s lifetime if implemented in infancy so, the CIW can directly improve the contentment of one’s life. Rather than reading self-help books, or engaging in therapy, though both certainly have an important role, the CIW and the work we do heals the tumult inevitable in one’s lifetime by not focusing on the past, but the present and the future, infusing the world, both internal and external with love. Outrageous love. The practice is astounding and entirely unparalleled.
Have you done a lot of traveling, and which places have left a lasting impression and why?
I have been blessed to travel all over the planet. I have just penned a memoir that chronicles my time hopping from continent to continent and all the misadventures in between. Every destination has made a lasting impression, for better or worse. Still, I can wholeheartedly say that I was fully engaged in the culture, cuisine, and romance each city or village, or island had to offer.
How has the pandemic affected you and your family?
Thus far, my family has maintained a safe distance from any COVID related trauma. My elderly parents have been sequestered together in close quarters in California, and after nearly 60 years of marriage, are perfectly content! Impressive indeed. My eldest daughter, Willow, is also on the west coast, and I miss her terribly. My two youngest, Hugo and Paisley, both remote schooling here at home in Coconut Grove, are studying hard for finals, and Paisley, a poor thing, is harassed by the college entry exam prep. We could all use a break, like the rest of our global community. In general, I am grateful for our health, our pantry, and the roof over our heads.
Are there exciting projects on the horizon for you?
I have a cavalcade of projects currently on the back burner, waiting for the restrictions of COVID to pass before fully igniting. Mostly written work, pilots, films, novels. My keyboard easily entertains me. ThePlayhouse.org keeps me pleasantly busy, always adding content and learning more about how to truly change the world! I am actively seeking investment to direct an indie in the spring, an autobiographical venture into mental illness’s effects—a very timely subject matter. I do have a film about to be released after 15 years in a chrysalis. “Awaken” takes a brutal, unflinching look at mankind stripped bare of the thin veneer of social convention. A must-see. Especially because I was 35 when we shot it, so it feels like a time warp for this wise old lady.