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

As a model for Wilhelmina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she hung out at New York nightclubs like Area and Studio 54. “But I wasn’t in the back room with Warhol,” Ward says. “I was a neophyte from Mississippi.” The coed bathrooms, the couples making love in curtained alcoves, the living dioramas lining Area’s entrance hall, “all that stuff was so, wow!” Ward says. “It was beyond the beyond for me.”
Ward moved to Los Angeles in 1983, and when she was 34 she met her husband on a blind date. “I was used to men talking at me, in a pontificating, court-holding way,” she says. “I’d never really dated men who talked to me, as in, were interested in me. I was so taken that Howard found me so fascinating. But he was dating someone a lot younger, and I was dating this French restaurateur on Saint Bart’s.” She grins, remembering. “Ha! I’d finish filming and get on a plane. He didn’t really speak anything but restaurant English, and I’d just broken off an engagement [to the actor Peter Weller], so it was perfect.”
But Sherman courted her with cleverness. During her trip, he sent her insinuating faxes disguised as business letters (“Ms. Ward, We urgently need you in Napa Valley . . . ”). “He knew this other guy’s English wasn’t very good,” Ward says. “The poor guy would just hand the faxes to me. And I love therapy—I’m a therapy junkie—so Howard wrote a five-page scene, like a script, of me in my therapist’s office, imagining our dialogue about him and the Saint Bart’s guy. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. I put it down and thought, I will never get bored with this man.”
Seventeen years later, the couple still stay on their toes. She orders art history DVDs from the Teaching Company for them to watch together, and insists that they each see a therapist. “I just think the healthier people are in therapy,” she says. “I can’t be the only one who’s conscious and working on something. You have to both keep growing in the same direction. So I’ll go to his if we have some roadblock, and he’ll come to mine sometimes. It’s all about continuing to expand your mind so that you’re more interesting and interested in things. So we don’t look at each other and go, ‘Who are you? What are we supposed to be doing now?’ ”
That seems highly unlikely, given Ward’s plethora of interests. Family life is “snowballing really fast,” she says. “My son will be driving; my daughter is still at that yummy age where I’m not the enemy yet. I’m just holding on tight.” Her house in Bel Air is “a soul-soothing place,” landscaped with tropical plants, old tree specimens, “and hammocks, because that’s so Mississippi,” Ward says. “I put a little stream in, so I hear water. I love Buddhas, because they make me think of the word relax, so I have a big Buddha by the pond. And I have my art studio in the back.” She and two friends meet there once a week to paint—mostly abstracts, although Ward’s working on figure drawing as well. She’s also actively involved in Hope Village for Children, a long-term and emergency-housing compound for abused and neglected children that she helped to open in Meridian.
“I can’t not do things,” Ward says. “I have lots of passions, whether it’s building and creating spaces, or painting, or exploring consciousness or reading. There’s just a lot I’m interested in.” Last summer, she even had white sand trucked in to her Mississippi farm to create a beach by the lake. “It was so funny, I overheard my nanny say to my old assistant, ‘Sela has run out of things to decorate, so she’s decorating dirt,’ ” Ward says, laughing. “But I can’t tell you how it’s changed the whole experience. Just sitting there in a lounge chair in the sand with tiki torches, you think you’re somewhere really special.”

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