Brooke Shields is a Hollywood icon and all-around badass woman, so her brand-new recurring role alongside fellow superstar Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit feels completely natural. But while the two actresses have only warm things to say about one another, don't expect their characters to follow suit.
The day after SVU's Season 19 premiere on Wednesday, InStyle caught up with Shields, who provided more details on how her character—who is still shrouded in mystery—fits into the life of Hargitay's character Olivia Benson. What it's like? In a word, complicated.
Below, Shields opens up about her SVU gig, how being a child actor has changed since her childhood, her latest Calvin Klein ads, and whether her kids are interested in acting.
InStyle: The new season of Law & Order: SVU is finally here and you're on it! It isn't totally clear yet how your character and Olivia Benson will get along. Can you reveal anything about the dynamic between the two?
Brooke Shields: I just started and working on the set with Mariska, and the whole team is just a dream come true because it's such a wonderfully well-oiled machine. Mariska's such a wonderfully supportive person to act opposite. My character is someone who really surprises Olivia Benson and kind of comes out of the blue as someone in her life that she has to find a way to coexist with, and it's on a very personal level. I’m not a cop or a D.A. or anything like that. I’m really just there to upset her personal life.
That’s pretty impressive, Olivia Benson is a tough character. It seems like it would take a lot to shake her.
I think it’s not really about challenging her. There’s a very human side to her no matter how tough she is as a cop. We know she’s strong, but she’s also a mom and she’s also human. And how do you reconcile both of those sides of you? And how do you always do what’s right for your kid?
What was it like to join a cast that's been working together for so long?
You’re walking onto a set that’s very tight. Like I said, It’s a well-oiled machine, and I went into it with a great deal of respect. I was very deferential and wanted to suss out how they work and what the leads of the show need. You’re there to service them really. It’s not your show. They made me feel instantly as if I’d been there for years.
You've been posting a lot of Instagrams of you and Mariska. What was it like working together?
Generous. She’s just a generous actress. She’s a generous human being too, but she’s also confident in who her character is, and she realizes that it's as important to have the subsidiary characters be as important and believable because she knows that it’s the picture as a whole that keeps the show running forever and gives it such credibility.
You've got a new movie coming up called Daisy Winters. Tell us about the character you play.
I play a single mom who is struggling with an illness and walking that fine line between letting your kid be a little 11-year-old, but also giving her the tools to be independent, which is really hard. She’s facing the possibility of not having a mom, and so I as a mom need to be strong, but also need to be someone who can teach her daughter unfortunately how to live without her.
How do you prepare emotionally for a role like that?
I think you have to find a place of empathy even if it’s in a situation you don’t and can’t necessarily mirror. I think once you become a mother, you’re constantly and forever worried about your children and giving them the tools to be on their own in the world, with or without an illness. This woman has to walk the fine line between really being brave so her daughter isn’t scared but also being realistic.
I just tapped into myself as a mom and how terrifying that would be, and also as a little kid. The 11-year-old girl [Sterling Jerins] I was working with—and I was that age when I started—just understanding what it's like to be a young girl. I really worked very closely with the director and she was able to quiet me down and help me settle into the tired sort of resolved part of this woman.
Sterling seems quite talented, and it’s interesting that she’s the same age as you were when you started acting. Has working with young actresses given you more perspective on your own path?
Dear God, I do not need any more perspective. [laughs] I’ve been having perspective for 40-something years. No, it was much more about my treatment of her based on what I felt when I was a young person. I think the biggest thing that’s different is that I made it a huge point to listen to her, to ask her, and to find out what she was feeling on a daily basis.
In my era, it was more "kids should be seen and not heard," and they weren’t interested in what you thought about anything. They weren’t interested in helping you be a better performer, they just needed you to get it done. It was different for me because I wanted her to feel more supported than I ever did.
I bet the more receptive and open vibe on set was appreciated.
Hopefully in a very subtle way, [Sterling] wouldn’t know the difference, if you know what I mean. It’s more if it’s been a bad situation and you sort of see that, but I think she’s got a good head on her shoulders, and a good protective mom, and a huge reservoir of talent, and she’s serious. She’s a serious girl, but she’s also a little kid. It’s nice to see that balance hasn’t yet been broken.
Your two daughters are around the same age as Sterling. Do they have any interest in acting or modeling?
No, they’re so busy with sports and dance and school. Their day starts before 6 and doesn’t end until after 8. They don’t have any time really, and when they do they want to relax or be with their friends or hang out. The idea of adding a job onto that, I think, is not very appealing to them, thank God.
Switching gears a little bit, you’ve been doing some new work with Calvin Klein. What was it like teaming up with the brand again?
Full circle in anything is really—every time something like that happens, I’ve been around long enough—it’s coming around again. Even the '80s are coming back. Working with Raf [Simons] has been really refreshing. He’s just a visionary and yet he understands the respect for the brand of what made it unique 30-something years ago, and yet he’s bringing that into this current culture, which is not easy to do, but he is such an artist. It has been much more inclusive this go around than it ever was when I was 15.
How else has the modeling industry changed since you started?
I have so little do with it now, but I see the girls. They seem younger and younger, and they seem more and more mature even in their younger age, and maybe that’s just the era. With social media, I think it's changed a great deal and I think it’s sort of diluted it a little bit because you can see anything at any time, whereas when we were doing things we still had film and still had to trust the artist, the photographers, and the team. When we created things, we weren’t constantly picking them apart before they were finished. I think the nature of it has changed. I rarely model anymore except for Calvin.
What do you think of the new crop of supermodels like Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, and Kendall Jenner?
It’s great! The thing I’ve been most impressed with those girls—and I’ve only met Gigi and Karlie—I was impressed with how well mannered they were, and how within 10 minutes, both of them mentioned their mothers to me.
I was being photographed by Gigi and she stood on a chair, and she said, "Oh my mother would be so mad if she saw me standing on upholstery." And within minutes of chatting with Karlie, she mentioned her mom. Her mom used to say to her, "Look at Brooke, she’s smart but well-behaved and polite and she’s got manners." It’s interesting to me that these two girls at the frenzied height of the way these things go were still very respectful. I appreciated the way they were with me. You don’t always see that kind of respect from kids.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.