Goldie Hawn

There is an incredible story to be read between the lines of Goldie Hawn’s résumé, a story about the progress made in the depictions of—and the entrepreneurial agency held by—women in Hollywood over the past half century. It is a story that Hawn, as one of only a handful of actresses at the time to produce her own films, is partly responsible for writing—the good parts, anyway. 

Early in her career—indeed, even in her first film, the slightly tie-dyed screwball comedy Cactus Flower (1969), starring Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman and for which Hawn won a best supporting actress Oscar-Hawn was typecast as an affable, if affectless, sort of goldilocks. But as her star began to rise, after being directed by Steven Spielberg on The Sugarland Express (1974) and acting with Warren Beatty in Shampoo (1975), Hawn started to take control, guiding the films she produced into the most prohibitively gendered arenas in American culture-from the military (1980’s Private Benjamin, for which she was again nominated for an Oscar) to the football gridiron (1986’s Wildcats). Not that she ever outgrew the great comedic glee that first made her a star-an argument could be made that her strongest performance from this era was as a ditzy heiress with amnesia, across from her partner Kurt Russell, in Garry Marshall’s Overboard (1987).

At present, there is probably no one taking better advantage of the seat Hawn made for women at the Hollywood table than Amy Schumer, who wrote, starred in, and co-produced Trainwreck (2015). It’s fitting, then, that Hawn makes her return to film this month, after a 15-year hiatus, in Snatched, about a mother and daughter who get kidnapped while on vacation in Brazil.

And so, Hawn’s Hollywood story begins again. But as she explains to her real-life daughter, the Academy Award-nominated actress Kate Hudson, Hawn is writing it in accord with the cinematic tradition of “show, don’t tell”: to any and all who would define what she cannot or should not do, she simply says, “Watch me.”

KATE HUDSON: This is very dangerous. I’ve never interviewed Mommy. [laughs] I feel like I know everything already.

GOLDIE HAWN: No! I have some secrets.

HUDSON: [phone rings] Hold on. It’s Oliver, one of your other children. [on the phone] Yo. I’m interviewing mom right now.

HAWN: Yeah, it’s about me now! [Hudson laughs] Tell him I need my car.

HUDSON: He said he needs it still.

HAWN: I need it to go to the desert on Sunday.

HUDSON: [on the phone] She needs the car.

HAWN: Just hang up on him. [laughs]

HUDSON: [on the phone] Okay, goodbye. [to Hawn] Now, let’s begin with your relationship with your children: who’s your favorite? [both laugh] No, this is actually something that we do a lot—meet in the morning, have coffee, and chat. But I’ve never had the opportunity to ask you about your career. People always ask me, “What advice has your mother given you?” And my answer is always, “We don’t talk about that kind of thing.”

HAWN: It’s mother-daughter, not mother-business.

HUDSON: But, as one of the few actresses of your era to produce and star in your own movies, and with women’s rights at the political forefront, what advice would you give to a young actress or a young woman in any business?

HAWN: I believe you have to start with a craft; you don’t just start with a dream. You’ve got to put a lot of work in. If you want to pursue acting, then you go to acting class. If you want to be a dancer, then you learn to dance, which is what I did. If you want to be a ventriloquist or join the circus … When you’re young, you start looking at what you want to do—not just who you want to be, but what you want to do. And I think the tenacity to say, “I’m going to perfect that,” is the beginning of a work ethic. It’s the beginning of a talent. I would say, “Perfect what you do well. Branch out and learn how to do other things. Dreams sometimes don’t work out. But what will carry you through your life is the authenticity of who you are. Start with learning how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. And be really good at it. Learn what it is to sweat. Learn what it is to fail. Learn how to take rejection. Don’t personalize it.” I always believed that I could become a dance teacher. I had a realistic dream.

HUDSON: Growing up in Takoma Park, Maryland, did you feel like your dreams were supported?

HAWN: My parents always supported me, but I was put to task. My father thought when I sang, I was sharp; my mother was upset when I wasn’t in the first line at recitals. But one thing that I had growing up was, “Stay real.” My dad would say, “Expectations are greater than realization,” because if you expect too much, you’re not going to be living in the present; you’re going to be living in a dream. My father was a philosopher. He said, “Never stop appreciating a good glass of water.” I never lost touch with that, even when I knew that I could be a star. I tried to stay with what was real, smell every flower. So, yes, I had their support. And I was an absolute performer. I would dance and sing in my house. I was exalted by performing. I wanted to be on the Broadway stage. I didn’t think much beyond that, because I didn’t think I could. I was a really good ballerina, a really good dancer. I worked hard from when I was 3 years old. When I was 17 or 18, I found a great dance studio, but it was in Baltimore, an hour and 15 minutes away. I had a ’54 Ford or something that cost me 50 bucks and had a hole in the bottom of the floor. So, I would drive to a night class on a two-lane highway in winter. I’d wrap my feet in blankets [both laugh], and when I would finally get there, they were blocks of ice. I would come into the studio, and everyone was warm and sweating, and I’d unwrap my feet and writhe in pain. And then I’d turn around and wrap my feet again and drive back to my house.

HUDSON: As close as you were with your family, you were always very independent and brave in the stories you’ve told me about being a young girl. What about the support of Grandpa when you moved to New York and couldn’t really afford to live in the city?

HAWN: He would send me 20 bucks now and then, and he would call the Carnegie Deli and say, “I’m sending my daughter over so she can have breakfast.” When I started go-go dancing on tables for a living, I didn’t want to tell my mom or my dad. I made 25 dollars a night, and I was able to make my rent, with the four girls I lived with. It was a challenge, but I never once said, “One day I’m going to do this and that …” I never looked at life that way. I just saw where I was and knew that I was going to continue to move on with my career. When I went to go-go dance at the Peppermint Box in New Jersey, I took a Greyhound bus and, believe it or not, I had a go-go agent. I don’t know how I got that. I was slow dancing on a table to “Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin with my little outfit on. But when some guy in a suit showed me his penis, I said, “I need to get home.” The bartender was like, “You won’t get a Greyhound now. It’s too late.” I went, “Where’s your owner? I want to get paid.” She said, “Oh, he passed out a long time ago.” And then I went to every guy at the bar—it was a truck stop—until finally two guys said, “Okay, we’ll take you home.” And I went home in an 18-wheeler. [both laugh] This was 1965 or something like that.

HUDSON: What brought you to California?

HAWN: I was almost 20, and I was going to dance in a show in a theater across from Disneyland. I had never flown over the entire United States before. I had 250 dollars saved, but my mom bought my ticket because I’d taken 200 of those dollars and bought a dog. [Hudson laughs] My priorities might have been mixed up, but this little puppy poodle came with me on the plane, and I’ll never forget flying across the desert. I wrote—granted this was after one or two Bloody Marys—but I wrote in my diary, “If anyone could doubt the existence of god, then they have to look again.” It was a profound spiritual experience, going to where I could see space and nothing else. As far as I could see was as far as my spirit went. And I had no idea where my life was going. I believed this was a short gig and that I would come home and marry a Jewish dentist and have a beautiful little house with a picket fence and raise children and have a dancing school.

HUDSON: [laughs] Well, that didn’t work out for you. So, you touchdown in Hollywood at 19 or 20, and within four years you’re an Academy Award-winning actress. Did you have a moment when you realized, “There’s no turning back from this life anymore”?

HAWN: What I had was more fear. It didn’t instill that kind of joy and excitement that everyone around me was feeling. What I wanted in life was happiness, to be honest, and in my young life, I always read about how screwed up Hollywood was. I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to have a normal life. I wanted to have children. And when I was picked out of a chorus line and cast in a TV series, I got anxious, so I took the bull by the horns and went to see a psychologist. And it was the greatest move I ever made. Because, at that early age, in order to reduce your sense of imbalance, you have to learn more about yourself. So after about a year of studying—revealing some of my deepest fears inside that room—I realized that the way people see me, as a star, has nothing to do with me. It’s like a Rorschach test, like I am something they can identify with, learn to love, learn to hate, learn to resent … but I gave it back to them. So if somebody said to me, “Oh, I love you!”—that makes me happy to see them happy, but I wouldn’t take it in as something that builds my ego. And that’s how I stabilized myself. Your ego can get so inflated in this business because suddenly everybody thinks you’re great. But you have to know how great you are. The Academy Award—I was in bed. I forgot it was on television. [Hudson laughs] I just went to bed because I had a job to do. I forgot. And you know what? I’m really happy about that. And then my mom and dad called, and they were crying and happy and so proud of their daughter. And that made me cry.

HUDSON: And that was for Cactus Flower?

HAWN: Yeah. My first movie.

HUDSON: Weren’t you at Heathrow when you found out you were nominated?

HAWN: I was in Heathrow when I heard I’d been nominated for Private Benjamin.

HUDSON: When I found out I was nominated [for Almost Famous (2000)], I was in Heathrow! When was the moment that you started to feel real liberation?

HAWN: Liberation is an interesting word, because you can be liberated from external things, and also from your internal dialogue. During the era when women were burning their bras—which, by the way, they never actually did—but when women were first becoming liberated, I was 23. And I met a woman who asked, “Don’t you feel bad because you’re sort of acting like the stupid airhead blond?” And I totally surprised myself. I said, “Liberation can also come from the inside.” My sense of liberation and the freedom to speak the way I want to and to feel solid in my shoes was getting stronger and stronger. That’s what helps me move through other people’s perceptions of how I should or should not be liberated. I would never listen to those rules. Don’t tell me I can’t do that. Watch me. Don’t tell me I can’t direct this movie. Watch me. And I did the same thing with my foundation and its signature program, MindUP [a neuroscience, mindfulness, and positive psychology-based curriculum for children, grades pre-K through 12]: “You’ll never get kids to have a ‘brain break’ in the classroom three times a day.” “Watch me.”

HUDSON: I think a lot of women can relate to the idea that you’re supposed to fit into some kind of box—that you’re supposed to behave a certain way. What consequences have come with your “watch me” mentality?

HAWN: After I did Private Benjamin, suddenly the reputation was that Goldie Hawn calls her own shots. And directors said, “Is she hard to work with?” Because I didn’t lie down. I said what I wanted to say. And I believed in the project. When we were casting Wildcats, studios were already giving us a delivery date. So I called the head of the studio and said, “This movie is not working. It needs to be rewritten. There is a tremendous amount of work yet to do. It’s not a finished product.” I was succinct, I wasn’t angry, and I made sense. And he said, “Let’s postpone it for six weeks, and we’ll rewrite the movie.” The same thing happened when I called Jeffrey Katzenberg on a movie we were doing with very green producers. I said, “Look, we’re going to go over time and budget. We need to have a seasoned producer on this movie.” He sent one. So I felt supported in areas in which I had to deal with studios. The problems were usually in the directorial area. They didn’t want their vision to be changed. So that is where, as an actor, I found more pushback.

HUDSON: Whereas nowadays we make a lot of movies, back then you made fewer movies but with gigantic success. Your choices say so much about your knowledge or your instinct. How do you think the business has most changed?

HAWN: The business was changing while I was in it. Conglomerates were coming in, starting to buy studios. Now it’s all about being on the stock market, building amusement parks. Videotapes started back then, and I remember Jack Nicholson saying, “I’m never going to be on one of those small screens!” And I thought, “Dude, I don’t think we have a choice!” Movies and movie stars are changing dramatically. There are so many areas of distribution now that, in some ways, it’s gotten great. What hasn’t changed is the importance of the story-writing, emotion, and really documenting the time and the era in which we live.

HUDSON: It’s been 15 years since you’ve chosen to make a movie. Why so long?

HAWN: Because I believe that life is about doing. It’s about changing. It’s about transitioning. I can’t imagine, as a human being, not being able to grow. When I turned 50, I asked some of my girlfriends, all actresses of the same age, “What are we going to do now?” I wanted to go live somewhere for a while, learn archaeology, or take part in healing the world on some level. I wanted to dig deep and say, “Who am I now? What do I have to offer? What do I have to learn?” I started learning about the brain, psychology. And after 9/11, I decided, “I know what I’m going to do.” I ended up writing two books and creating MindUP. It’s now in Jordan, Serbia, the U.K., America, Canada, Hong Kong. I never looked back. I never wished to be acting again. I was so engaged.

HUDSON: At that time, people must have thought that what you were doing was New Agey, not to be taken seriously. And now mindfulness is on the cover of Time. You can’t deny the research. You created something that is really incredible. So, what’s next for my learning, searching mommy?

HAWN: Well, I’m looking forward to writing another book, on love.

HUDSON: Oh, please do. Can I help?

HAWN: Of course. You’ll be in it. As a case study.