20 Questions: Elisabeth Rohm Fills Us In

Elisabeth Rohm is in a pretty sweet place in her life. Her career is hotter than ever: This month, you’ll see her in the new movie Joy, opposite Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro. (The actors all appeared on screen together in 2013’s American Hustle, for which Rohm won a SAG award.) She also recently wrapped production on the thriller Blood Father, co-starring Mel Gibson; it’s slated for release later this year. And, her daughter, 7-year-old Easton August, is thriving. Recently, the German-American actress took a break from her busy schedule to chat with us about having heart to hearts with her daughter, struggling with infertility, the surprising thing few people know about her personal life, and more.

MT: With such a busy career, do you feel pressure to do it all and have it all?
ER: I am a single mother, so financially I have to work. I don’t feel the pressure to do it all, but, I’m also lucky enough to have been doing something for 20 years that I love with all my heart. Acting continues to be good to me and I’m lucky that I can continue to work.

MT: Does your daughter understand that mom’s a movie star?
ER: Well, I don’t think she thinks of me as a movie star because I don’t think she understands what that means. I don’t even necessarily think of myself like that, either. She comes to work with me and she’s old enough where she can sit and watch filming. Kids were welcome on the sets of American Hustle and Joy. I worked with David O. Russell and Jen [Lawrence] and Bradley [Cooper] and Rob [De Niro] in both movies, so there was a lot of comfort there. We were all like a family. Even the newcomers, like Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini, felt like family because they’re such iconic actors and we’ve all been watching them for years. So she learned through those two movies very much what I do.

MT: What do you think you’re teaching your daughter as a working mom?
ER: I think it’s really empowering for her to see me in action, to know what I do, to feel included in my work and not excluded from my daily life. I’m setting an example of what she can be and what her options are, while being a source of nurturing and love at the same time. She can see that even though I’m working hard, she’s still loved, she’s my top priority, and that she can do it, too.

MT: Easton is in second grade this year. Is school getting tougher now?
ER: Up until this year it was play date central. Now, she has a much more challenging homework schedule. What she had last year was not homework. It was activities. This is fu*king homework. So the new schedule felt overwhelming but it was just a matter of realizing that the tone had shifted. I needed to change my tone to go with the new tone of this school year. It’s quieter at home. You can chill out for an hour and do whatever, but then we have to do homework, dinner, and bath.

MT: You really don’t think all that homework is a pain in the a*s?
ER: It’s not that bad if you see it as an opportunity and you’re flexible. It’s definitely been a bonding experience for my daughter and me, so I’m trying to embrace it. I remember my mom doing homework with me and it really made me feel cared about. There are definitely times, however, when I’m like, ‘Oh Jesus! I can barely remember how to do that.’ But, it’s fun to learn it all again – and I have to learn it all again – because she needs me to know it.

MT: Now that Easton is getting older, how is your relationship evolving?
ER: There was a shift last winter when she told me that somebody was mean to her and I realized she didn’t want me to give her the politically correct answer. She didn’t want the canned answer like, ‘If they’re mean to you say no thank you!’ That wasn’t going to work for her. She wanted to know heart to heart, soul to soul, whether anyone had ever been mean to me and who they were and what I’d done about it. I didn’t expect to have such a deep conversation with her at 6-years-old, but that’s just where she was mentally and emotionally.

MT: How honest were you about your own experiences?
ER: I thought about a time when a family member was very cruel to me and I shared the experience because I felt that she needed to know that I understood what it felt like. So I told her what happened that hurt me and how I handled it and how it was applicable to what was going on in her life. I told her that she had to find forgiveness in her heart, but also have boundaries and say, ‘You cannot treat me that way.’

MT: What did you learn by being so open with your daughter about your own life?
ER: Everything I give her is going to be a skill and tool for her independent life from me, not just what she needs to know to function in my house. I’ve realized that the best thing I can give my daughter is the knowledge and support that she needs to have the greatest independent life from me. I want to hold her and cuddle her and nurture her and yet she’s becoming her own person. I’m always going to be her mom. I’m always going to be the one to buy her a new bathrobe when she comes home for the holidays and the one who has buckets of comfort and endless love for her, but she is going to go out there in the world. My task is to be the soft place to land when she needs it, as well as a springboard for her into her own life.

MT: How do you think she took your advice?
ER: It really bonded us and from that moment forward we’ve had more mature conversations. We’ve gone to a whole other level of communicating. I truly feel that at 7-years-old Easton knows that if she needs advice or if she has a question, she can really come and talk to me.

MT: Did your mom parent you the same way?
ER: Yes, my mother was very honest with me and human with me. She wasn’t just a parent with the boundaries and the rules. She said to me, ‘If you always tell me the truth, I can always help you. If you lie to me, keep things to yourself and sneak around, I won’t be able to help you. And when you get into trouble, my being able to help you will be colored by the fact that you were not honest with me.’ So she set the tone for deep, honest communication and I think I’ve done the same thing for Easton.

MT: Do you see other parallels between your relationship with your mom and your relationship with Easton?
ER: I had an incredible mother. She was so open, communicative, and so real that I feel she gave me a great life skill of being able to tell the truth which made me a better friend and communicator. At the same time, we always improve upon our parents. I’m a little bit more of a disciplinarian than my mom. I feel like I’m little bit more organized. My mom also was a hippie. She wasn’t a working mother. I have a schedule and I have a lot of responsibilities and I really need to know what Easton is doing every hour. So in my mom, I had an incredibly loving, very spiritual, very intelligent, and deeply communicative parent, which I definitely bring to Easton’s life.

My stepmother has also been a big influence in my life. She was a working mother, went to Barnard, had two children, and is still married to my father. She had to be up at six in the morning, wear a power suit, and get out there in New York and get into the office and she was the boss and she had to work very, very hard. She provided and came home and cooked dinner every night or most nights and she really was a very different example for me.

MT: When you thought about having children, did you always see yourself having a daughter?
ER: Well, I saw myself having a football team of kids, but it didn’t quite work out that way because I found out at 34 that I had fertility issues. That was a big shocker. I was like the typical 30-something-year-old going about life with a carefree sort of attitude about when I would start a family. Then I met a really great person who had missed his opportunity to have a child and he said, ‘You know you’re not really that young at 34.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ and he said, ‘You might want to go freeze your eggs.’ So we ended up having a deep conversation about it and he told me it was like an insurance policy if I wanted to have kids. I tried to freeze my eggs and I was told I had fertility issues, and if I wanted to have a child, I would need to do it immediately and it would take medical assistance and that’s exactly what happened and I did IVF.

MT: You wrote a book, Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not As I Expected), about your fertility struggles. What inspired you to share something so personal?
ER: I didn’t want any other woman who really wanted to have a family to walk blindly into trying to be a parent and then discover that her body wasn’t cooperating with her. I wanted to encourage 30-year-olds to start asking for hormone tests and fertility reserve tests when they went to the gynecologist. I wanted women to have a higher consciousness about their bodies and what’s happening to them in regards to making a family if they want one. I would have loved to have more than one child, but I guess at this point I feel like it’s just really important to encourage other woman to be advocates for their own bodies and their own future families.

MT: Knowing what you know now, do you wish you had done things differently?
ER: I wish that I had frozen younger eggs, like when I was 25 or 30. I was thinking recently, ‘Should I freeze what’s left of my eggs, as an insurance policy if I ever want to try IVF again? If I wait for a few more years then there won’t be any eggs left.’ So I think about all of that because I’ve been through it.

MT: You mentioned earlier that you’re a single mom, but according to Google you’re still married
ER: I got divorced last October and I’ve been very quiet about it. I’ve only mentioned it to a couple of people and obviously the most intimate people in our circle. I’ve learned that there’s a deep, deep grieving process with divorce and it’s not something that is OK overnight. It’s a major loss. You’re grieving and your children are grieving. Even if you know it was the right decision to not stay together, your child is still innocent and still vulnerable to the experience and you have to check in with her and say, ‘We’re all doing OK and your dad and I love each other and we’re good friends, but how are you doing today about it?’

MT: Have you been able to work out a solid co-parenting relationship with your ex-husband?
ER: Oh yeah, we’re really good friends. We have great respect for each other. We are both great parents. We never miss a practice or a soccer game and Easton is number one for both of us. It’s unfortunate. We both would have liked our marriage to work out, but for various reasons it wasn’t the right choice and we’re both doing the best we can. I think the most important thing is that we don’t avoid each other. We allow ourselves to be a little awkward and uncomfortable so that we’re together for our daughter’s sake. Whether that’s having a dinner every once in a while or doing something celebratory for her, I think it helps her. I mean, how do you go from being a family every day to never getting to have your parents together in one room? We knew that would be too hard for her. So we make an effort with that. It’s not always easy, but it certainly is a top priority and I think that that’s helped us to stay really good friends.

MT: Were your parents the same way after their divorce?
ER: They had a decent relationship, but when it was over it was over. It was like the end of an era. I think a lot of people are like that, but I think more and more families that are going through similar situations are seeing the benefit in not breaking the family unit.

MT: OK, so switching gears, when you finally get a little bit of alone time what do you do?
ER: I’m really good at knowing how to replenish, whether it’s getting a massage or going to the spa with my best friend. Recently, I was pretty run down so I just took a trip to Yosemite. I hiked and biked all day, had a nice meal, and it was just really was good for the soul. I find it important to do something for yourself every once in awhile. Whether it’s a trip up the coast or just a walk on the beach, you become a better friend, mother, and person when you are also taking care of yourself.

MT: What’s something about you that would surprise people?
ER: I think most people think I sound very easygoing and have this sort of crunchy, hippie vibe, but you can literally eat off the floor in my house. There’s always fresh candles, there’s always fresh flowers, my refrigerator is never empty…I’m more regimented than I think people would think I am.

MT: Is Easton is the same way or is she totally different?
ER: She’s very similar. She likes things a certain way even more than me. I have a feeling that one day she’s going to be directing me. I’ll be her actress and she’ll be a director telling me what to do. Sometimes I joke with her and say, ‘Am I your assistant? You keep telling me what to do.’ She says, ‘No.’ I go, ‘Well then I guess you’re gonna direct me one day.’ She’s always telling me, ‘Oh mommy, do it this way! Do it that way!’ She is a passionate and driven young girl. I can’t wait to see where that will take her.

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