Sela Ward: "I'd Like to Misbehave"

Sela Ward tells MORE: "I have a wonderful underbelly that I’d like to share."

by Johanna Schneller
Photograph: Photo by: Perry Ogden

In your first two minutes with Sela Ward, she’s as warm as buttered grits. She’s elegant but accessible, all raven hair, endless legs and direct brown eyes under chevron brows. She’s got the poise of a prom queen (which she was, in her hometown of Meridian, Mississippi) and the positivity of a cheerleader (which she also was, at the University of Alabama). You can understand why Sprint once hired her to pitch phone plans in her pajamas, and why Harrison Ford risked his neck for her in The Fugitive. But stick around for two minutes more, and you’ll also see that beneath Ward’s sweetness runs a delicious streak of salt.
She limps into lunch at a midtown Manhattan restaurant, one foot swollen to the size of a cricket bat from her cracking a bone as she exited an airport bus. “I have got to come up with a better story,” she says, sighing. “Can we say that I was climbing the Buddha statue at [New York restaurant] Tao, and that I hurt it jumping off?” She’s wearing slim black pants, a fitted black shirt that’s unbuttoned just far enough and a clutch of pendants on cords and chains. She rummages in her bag, pulls out an iPhone and a pair of smart red reading glasses and gets right to business with the menu, ordering salad, ravioli and iced tea. (Later, she’ll filch your lemon.)
She’s just come from a screening of her latest movie, The Stepfather, a remake of the 1987 thriller. She plays a divorced mother who has no idea that her new boyfriend (Nip/Tuck’s Dylan Walsh) is a serial marrier whose search for the perfect family takes murderous turns. “It was so much better than I thought it would be!” Ward tells me. “Thrillers are so gory now, and this is more psychological, so I was really surprised it held up.” It features some major action scenes—Ward falling through an attic floor, for one—and lots of screaming.
“I told Sela, ‘The audience will only be as scared as you are,’ ” says Nelson McCormick, The Stepfather’s director. “So she’s not pretending, she’s living those moments. Her stomach was in knots. That’s why I wanted her to play this role—I always believe her. She has real integrity. She’s vulnerable without being needy. And in this movie, she’s the face of all women who’ve spent their days making their kids happy, working, paying bills, who’ve reached the point in their lives when the clock may be running out on their chance to have a man who makes them happy.”
Ward doesn’t agree with McCormick’s last-chance take on her character: “I have to give him a hard time about that,” she says dryly. But she’s hearing a few clocks ticking in her own life too. What to do about that is her next challenge.
When Ward turned 50 in 2006, her entrepreneur husband, Howard Sherman, threw her a party. Some 40 friends and family members were invited to the 500-acre farm in Mississippi where Ward has created a second home; Sherman hired a rhythm and blues band from Atlanta, and he secretly brought in a crew to renovate the top floor of their barn. The party’s theme, which was printed on napkins and hand fans, was “It’s All Good.” “As in, Sela’s turning 50, it’s all good,” Ward says. But her tone suggests that she’s still convincing herself it’s true.
“It really hit me, the passage of time,” she says. “It’s not about aging, it’s just, wow, life is flying. I haven’t gone through menopause yet, but I know it’s coming. This Chinese doctor where I get acupuncture told me they call menopause the second spring. Which is the most fabulous way to put it. We’ve got a whole second life ahead of us to pursue our passions. We’ve been ambitious and driven, trying to find the right guy and have a family, and you get on the other side of that and you go, Now what? The truth is, I don’t know the answer to that yet. I have to ask myself those hard questions.”

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