The last time I caught up with Ali Larter she was jumping into my black car in the middle of a bustling Soho street in Manhattan. I was a reporter for NBC at the time and had recruited her to join me for a telethon to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, having met her at a mutual friend’s house party a few days earlier (extra credit for her dance floor moves!) She has recently appeared in Legally Blonde playing famous fitness instructor turned acquitted murderer Brooke, who inspired Elle Wood’s famous line: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.”
A few months after we answered telephones on television together she booked the role of both Niki Sanders and Traci Strauss on NBC’s hit series Heroes. Since then there’s been countless other TV and film roles including Obsessed, Resident Evil and Pitch. She’s written a cook book… oh, and she got married and had two kids along the way!
Much has happened since that day in Soho, but after reconnecting in Los Angeles I could see she has used those years wisely. It’s my great pleasure to share this deeply personal interview that explores Ali’s relationship with self-confidence, social media and the struggle to “unplug”. Real, modern issues every woman faces… even a Hollywood leading lady.
I hope you enjoy it! x Kathryn
KATHRYN: Ali, so good to see you; I haven’t seen you for many, many years. Since then you’ve become a Mother, you’ve got two kids. How old are your children?
ALI: 2 ½ and 6.
K: Amazing, what do you think is one of the main things that motherhood has taught you?
A: A greater sense of self-worth. Patience. Its made my life chaotic and total madness and filled to the brim with love.
K: When you say self-worth, tell me a little bit more about that…
A: In my life I’ve always been a little bit nervous, always trying to find my place, questioning sometimes my choices and obviously I love my husband and feel very lucky to have found him. But when our son was born it really gave me the confidence to believe in myself and know that I was really the one in this world to take care of him and guide him and it gave me a sense of confidence in myself.
K: I do know what you mean. Sometimes it’s not immediate. For me it wasn’t immediate because motherhood it was such a steep learning curve.
A: During my baby shower, everyone wrote notes, and my sister wrote to me, “In all the world, you’re this baby’s cheerleader. You’re the one that’s always going to be there to take care of them. When someone’s mean to them at school or something happens, you’re the one to protect them, and don’t ever doubt that you’re capable of that.” That reminds you of something that’s greater than us. So I guess I say self-worth, but what it gives you is actually that it takes you out of yourself. Something greater than yourself.
K: I totally agree. I try to instill that in my daughter, Capri. If she’s trying something and not succeeding, I say “Never give up”. I tell her that her whole life there will be people saying she’s not pretty enough, she’s not smart enough, but I say “Capri, what do you say?” and she goes “I’m perfect!” And we do this role-play back and forth so she get’s used to it. I find it actually also fortifies me.
A: Its amazing to teach her that. I think it’s a different level with me having a daughter and growing up in this world, always feeling a little left out with instagram and magazines, and all that, and just being constantly bombarded with these ideals of how we’re supposed to look and be and do, and to me that uniqueness is what I want to celebrate and what I want to encourage in my children, number one, uniqueness and being kind.
K: Interesting, people would be looking at your life and Instagram and they would be saying, oh wow look at this Hollywood actress. She’s got a great marriage, two kids. Even you’re prone to this insta-envy?
A: I think it’s important because I think now you’re not just looking at a tabloid magazine on an airplane, now it’s your Instragram and you’re following all this all the time. It’s easy to spend the 20 minutes before you go to sleep at night, or when you’re sitting in the car, or waiting to get your coffee looking at Instagram. It’s an interesting thing and a phenomenon.
K: Because your seeing the highlights reel of these people’s lives, which isn’t necessarily true. I know my Instagram is not a real reflection of the whole picture- I’m not photographing the bad moments.
A: And we have tools to deal with it too, which is shut it off. You know, decompress. Turn it off. Go read a book and do whatever you need to do. For me it’s cooking.
K: What are your tools for de-stressing?
A: Yoga, going for a run. Definitely exercise. Now that’s becoming a non-negotiable in my life. I need exercise at least four days a week. And when I don’t, if I go three days in a row, I’m just grumpy. I’m emotional, and I just don’t feel as good about myself. So that for me is a sense of strength. And also cooking. I cook a lot. I cook with my kids. I bake a lot. That’s how I show my love. It’s the best. And a glass of wine that goes with it. Doesn’t hurt.
K: Tell me a little bit about this STOP, BREATHE & THINK KIDS App because my daughter has just been on it for the past 30 minutes.
A: That’s so incredible. So Susan Greenland created a book called Mindful Games, it’s on our counter, I’m a huge fan of hers. So when they introduced me to this app that was for children based on her book, I was amazed. First of all, kids love screen time, and I’m always trying to keep my kids away from them, but they want them anyway, and I breakdown. As a child it’s easy to not know how to deal with their own emotions. And with this app they can say all different feelings and it leads them to look at two-minute fun meditations. It’s not sitting cross-legged saying “mmmm”, that’s not what it is. Sometimes it’s standing there and shaking your body, or breathing while you’re doing little frog jumps, or things that make it a physical aspect of it. That’s what I relate to.
K: Tony Robbins has a great line, “Motion creates emotion.” Sometimes when I’m coaching a client who is feeling down or stuck I’ll have her stand, look up, jump and say, “I’m amazing!” And it’s almost impossible to feel depressed or stuck when you’re literally moving, facing up, eyes gazed upwards rather than downwards.
A: That’s interesting. I didn’t know the eyes gazed upwards. I’ll try that.
K: It’s almost impossible to feel down when you’re literally looking up.
A: And I think it’s a very specific person that can just go sit and cross her legs and meditate. And I have a couple friends who can do that and I’m in awe of them. But they don’t operate like I operate, which is like almost every single moment of my day is spoken for. And I still fill more things in. And so it needs that component for me to shake it off and then you can drop in. For me, I’m learning with my kids, and this process of, when they’re getting frustrated, this app, even if its five minutes of breathing, no matter what, if you even take three deep breaths you feel better. So it’s changing that energy and that feeling you have so that you can be able to deal with all that life deals us.
K: It’s interesting you talk about breathing. Do you know Special Ops soldiers, who go into those war-torn territories? One of the most fundamental parts of their training is breath. All about changing their breath, calming yourself down, focusing. People just take it for granted, but it’s so fundamental to how we feel emotionally.
A: It’s so fundamental, and you can tell like, I’m not nervous doing an interview now, but if I have to get on a stage tonight, which I might have to do, that can make me ill. And it’s so much about regulating your breath. And that, you can see, if you’re feeling anxious or whatever, you’re taking short breaths. You’re not getting into your gut. And fully checking in, three to five minutes. It doesn’t have to be this long, slow boring experience.
K: Professionally,what are some of the other projects that you’re working on that you’re excited about?
A: So, Pitch is not coming back for a second season, and it was a really interesting journey for me and ended up being this great experience. And it was about the first female major league pitcher.
Now some things just clicked for me on a different level. I’ve been working so much, I need to take some time with the kids. So, we’re going to head back east. We’re going to watch the sunset. I’m going to struggle through it. I’m going to be like, “I need to be working, what are you doing? You’re saying no to this, you’re missing this opportunity”. I’m going to talk myself off that ledge everyday. Because they’re growing up so fast, and I don’t want to be rushing and look back on this time in my life and go, you rushed through it all.
K: I get it. You’ve had such an incredible career, and I’ve jumped in at different points. What do you wish you knew when you first started out that you know now?
A: There’s no bonus in doing it right. So, I try to do things right for so long, and that now over the years, and becoming a mother, working in this industry for almost twenty years, longer, cause I started when I was in my teens, I was even younger, is that your uniqueness is what makes you special. And that, that to me is constantly something I’m trying to remember inside myself, that you don’t want to be like everyone else. Like true inner power and sense of self is being able to trust in what makes you different, and so that’s something I wish I knew when I had started.
K: What happens is you see these examples of success, and there’s a part of you that thinks you need to be like them.
A: Look a certain way, behave a certain way, act a certain way…
K: And what happens is you lose what actually will help you be successful, which is what you already had to begin with.
ABOUT STOP, BREATHE & THINK KIDS app: Children’s mindfulness app Stop, Breathe & Think Kids is designed for ages 5-10 and is available on Itunes. The free app features customized content and activities based on user emotions and provides tools to help children develop mindfulness and emotional awareness. Stop, Breathe & Think Kids offers an easy and fun way for kids to identify and process their emotions through emoji based check-ins, games, and stickers to reward them on their progress. The app is Co-founded by Jamie Price and Julie Campistron in collaboration with author of Mindful Games, Susan Kaiser Greenland.