Mrs. Big Hits It Big

Though we all  know her as Carrie’s rival on Sex and the City, her starring role in a front-page scandal  nearly overshadowed her career. But now Bridget Moynahan comes on strong—and kicks butt in the hit series Blue Bloods and a blockbuster movie, Battle: Los Angeles.

By Meryl Gordon

Curled up on a hotel couch in Tribeca, Bridget Moynahan, her long hair lustrously tousled, is musing about the life-changing moments she’s experienced in recent years, events both startling and serendipitous. The one that made titillating tabloid news: discovering she was pregnant, in 2007, after Super Bowl–winning quarterback Tom Brady left her for übermodel Gisele Bündchen. That might have driven many of us into hiding for a decade, but Moynahan insists she has trained herself to look on the sunny side. Or, as she puts it, “No matter what is happening, you have to find the positive of the situation and grasp onto that.” Now, dressed in blue jeans, black boots and a heavy cardigan, Moynahan is in a celebratory mood, ordering a mid-afternoon glass of white wine, happy to have so many positives to grasp.

After working on a few failed TV series and fearing she’d forever be a model turned actress who wasn’t taken seriously, Moynahan now has a film career and a plum TV role: playing an almost-divorced prosecutor on the top-rated new CBS series Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck costarring as her police commissioner father and Donni Wahlberg as her cop brother. To accept the part, she had to leave the sunshine and security of California and take her son, Jack, to New York City, where the series is filming—and it seems her gamble has paid off. “We’ve been number one on Friday nights,” she says, grinning, “so unless it tanks, we’re coming back next season.”

This is a major repositioning for a woman who, just a few years back, had to read about her life in screaming headlines. “Oh, no! I’m knocked up, we’ve split up and this is my rival!”was how the New York Daily News summarized the end of her three-year romance with the New England Patriots’ Brady and the beginning of his relationship with Bündchen. The New York Post breathlessly announced, Tom’s camp disses Bridget; two years later, the same paper blared, Bridget’s camp blasts Gisele after Bündchen discussed Moynahan’s baby with Vanity Fair, making proprietary comments such as “I already feel like he’s my son, from the first day.”

Who could resist responding to such provocation? But Moynahan has fallen back on an old-fashioned virtue: discretion. As her friend, singer Sam Harris, recalls telling her, “The high road sucks. But who do you want to be for your child?” Ask Moynahan about her media ordeal, and she replies, “I never made comment about Gisele or Tom publicly. I have a relationship with these people on a daily basis. I’m raising a child, and it’s public. The media creates these dramas, and that’s not what’s happening in my life.” She smiles, then adds wryly, “I keep thinking about poor Angelina and Jennifer and Brad, braided in together. It’s possible they haven’t run into each other in years.” She wants to believe her own tabloid moment is over, saying, “I don’t think we’re dragged around the media together.”

Whether or not the tabloids have moved on, Moynahan has. She met her new boyfriend, the Hollywood movie director (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation) Joseph McGinty Nichol, known as McG, when they happened to be seated together on an airplane. As she recalls, the director enthusiastically told her, “We have to work together; you have to come see me.” Then he fell asleep and, upon waking 90 minutes later, announced, “I don’t want to work together. I want to be friends.” Moynahan’s first reaction: How did I just lose a job? Now she cannot praise the guy enough, saying, “He’s witty, he’s smart, he’s incredibly funny, he’s got incredible taste, and he comes from a great family. He’s the salt of the earth but also very successful in the crazy business that we’re in.” And most important, her son approves of him. As she puts it, “He and Jack have a great relationship.”

How a Child Changed Everything

Considering that her path to parenthood led straight through an emotional minefield, it’s small wonder that Moynahan recalls “hyperventilating” with anxiety after giving birth. Her parents, still based in her hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, went to Los Angeles to stay with her for a month, but as their departure date grew near, Moynahan panicked a bit. “Every time my dad mentioned he had to go, I’d start crying,” she says. But now she’s adjusted to the responsibility and declares, “There’s not a second that I regret having a child on my own.”

Her happiness as a mother is tangible to her friends. “She’s inspiring. She talks about her son all day,” says Wahlberg. “I’m a single parent, too, and that’s allowed our friendship to get deeper. She doesn’t bad-mouth Tom to me, and I certainly wouldn’t bad-mouth my ex to her. Sometimes it’s just sharing pictures of our kids and a joke. She’s very funny.” Aaron Eckhart, who costars with Moynahan in this month’s sci-fi thriller Battle: Los Angeles, recalls that during filming in Louisiana, “she was always laughing and smiling. Her eyes sparkled when she brought Jack around.”

Moynahan says she enjoys the rough- and-tumble of raising a son. “I wanted a boy,” she says. “I’m more apt to say, ‘Let’s wrestle, let’s throw him in the air.’ It’s really fun to play baseball in the backyard, to teach him how to do it.”Contemplating Jack’s hectic schedule (preschool, soccer, playdates, visits with his Boston-based father), Moynahan says with a laugh, “He’s got his own life, a busier life than I do.”

Not exactly. She has been putting in 12-hour days on Blue Bloods, which films on a Brooklyn soundstage and all over Manhattan, plus she has been jetting off on occasional weekends to see McG, who has been filming a movie in Vancouver. She confesses to being so overextended that “I lost my American Express card and my license three times in a month, which was fun.” To stay in shape for this marathon of a life, she squeezes in morning workouts with a trainer—her routine today includes martial arts kicks—and she can’t resist bragging, “I am in better shape than I was in high school. And I was a three-sport athlete.”

Nonetheless, growing up, she did not dream of playing professional sports—or teetering down catwalks or memorizing movie scripts. “I always thought I’d be a dentist,” she says, then laughs and adds, “There’s still time!” Her mother, a history teacher, stopped working after the children were born; her father, now retired, was a scientist turned patent expert at the Univer-sity of Massachusetts. Moynahan—christened Kathryn Bridget and nicknamed Kat—has two brothers. She was the middle child but jokes, “For a long time, when I was lying about my age, my younger brother would cover for me by saying he was in the middle.” (Did she really lie about her age? “I was 29 for about 29 years,” replies Moynahan, who turns 40 in April.)

In high school she experienced one of the chance moments that she feels have shaped her life, when she drove a friend to an appointment at the Springfield, Massachusetts, office of the John Casablancas modeling agency. The booker took a look at Moynahan, then 16 and five foot ten, and signed her up. It wasn’t all that glamorous, she recalls, but “you’re doing a catalog in a Springfield magazine for scuba gear, making $60, which is a lot more than you would get paid at Bob’s Big Boy waiting tables.” There were so many models with her first name that for jobs she went by her middle name instead.

The plan was still to attend college, but after one semester at the University of Massachusetts (including a not-fondly-remembered course in probability and statistics), she quit in favor of the bright lights, big city. As she explains, “I had to borrow money from my parents, and it took a lot to convince them to let me go to New York and try it.” The three agreed to a deal: “If it didn’t work out in a year or I wasn’t happy, I’d go back to school.”

Moynahan sounds amused as she describes how she looked at that stage. “I started when ‘doughy’ was in. If you go back— and I hope you don’t—to my Glamour and Self covers, I have a completely round face, and the hair was bigger.” Her first year as a model was a revelation to her. “I had the most wild experiences,” she recalls, “from being dirt poor and living with a bunch of other people and eating chili four days in a row to making what at that age was a lot of money and seeing the world.”

While she admits to partying back then, Moynahan expresses astonishment at the antics of such current  reality-show stars as Kim Kardashian, whose fame was launched by a sex tape, and Snooki of Jersey Shore, arrested for disorderly conduct. “They’re putting forward material that you’re never going to live down,” she says. “Really poor behavior is going on, but now it’s considered OK. There’s a lack of self-respect that I don’t understand, and I find it kind of sad. Kim has made an incredible career out of whatever she did, and the same with Snooki. They are icons of this generation. That kind of fame—do you get satisfaction out of it long term? Is it worth it? I don’t know.”

By the time she reached her late twenties, Moynahan had started to question her place in the fashion and beauty business. “Nobody’s asking your opinion, you don’t have any say, sometimes your humor isn’t appreciated,” she says. “I got a little tired of just being there as the face or the body.” She thought she might go back to school but “decided to pursue the acting while I still had the opportunity.”

Her commitment to the new field crystallized one day while she was working on a commercial with Ellen Pompeo, who now stars in Grey’s Anatomy. Moynahan says she asked her, “How do you go in there and say ‘I love cat food’ with such conviction?” She recalls Pompeo responding, “This is how I pay my bills.” The conversation led Moynahan to decide to take acting lessons. “It was a turning point for me,” she says. “I was going in for commercials based on the fact that I was a model who had the [right] look. Acting is not just based on the way you look. I needed to be a better actress.” That didn’t happen overnight. “I didn’t go out on auditions until I felt I was ready,” she says. “I gave myself three years.”

Career Liftoff

Sam Harris met Moynahan in 1998 when they both worked on an independent movie, In the Weeds. “She had a tiny little part,” he says. “She was definitely nervous.”

Some fledgling actors spend years honing their craft in small roles, but Moynahan quickly won two splashy parts. In 1999 she was cast as Sarah Jessica Parker’s nemesis, Natasha, who married Mr. Big in Sex and the City. “It was scary,” she recalls. “I was a young actress and hadn’t done anything. I’m just happy I didn’t fall apart.” She also won the role of a sexy bartender in the commercially successful movie Coyote Ugly. Those screen triumphs led to starring parts in such big-budget action-adventure movies as The Sum of All Fears and I, Robot, plus a long list of other credits.

Critics have been so consistently dazzled by her appearance (she was dubbed “sexy” by the New York Times in the TV series Six Degrees, “lovely” by USA Today in the movie Noise and “ridiculously beautiful” by Esquire) that they scarcely ever discuss her onscreen performances. “She’s so talented, but I think it’s almost taken for granted,” says Selleck. Acting teacher Iris Klein, who has been working with Moynahan for many years, says, “She’s very hardworking, dedicated. Some people would say, ‘I’m really pretty, I can get in on my looks,’ but that’s not what she’s about at all.”

Even now, though, the ex-model label carries a stigma. Robin Green, the cocreator of Blue Bloods, says she initially brushed off Wahlberg’s suggestion that she cast Moynahan on the show. Based on his experience working with her on the TV pilot Bunker Hill, Wahlberg thought she would be great as his feisty Blue Bloods sister, but Green was unenthusiastic. “I thought, Oh, please—a fashion model?” she says. But after viewing clips of Bunker Hill, Green revised her opinion, and now says, “She had balls. She’s a tough girl. There’s a lot going on there.”

On Blue Bloods, Moynahan has made a point of asking to be dressed in a moderately priced wardrobe rather than designer duds. As veteran producer Leonard Goldberg explains, “She wanted to play down the fact that she is so beautiful. She wanted the character to be taken seriously as an assistant district attorney and a mother.” (But somewhere inside her, the top model still lives: Harris says she once told him, “I wish I weren’t wearing gray and purple all the time.”)

Moynahan insists she doesn’t mind the process of proving what she can do onscreen. “I like to audition,” she says. “I wouldn’t have gotten my last two films if I hadn’t.” She sought the Blue Bloods role because she thought a TV series would offer a more stable life for her son, allowing them to stay in one place rather than jet the world to movie locales.

Friends and strangers often ask what advice she would give to other women who find themselves single and pregnant, but she doesn’t see herself as a role model. “I can’t help anyone make the decision,” she says. Recalling her initial dismay, she says, “I don’t think any girl grows up dreaming of being a single mom.” Moynahan, whose periods had been irregular, says she was nearly two months along by the time she realized she was pregnant, adding, “It was a complete surprise.” I ask whether her age or religion played into her decision to keep the baby. “There’s a lot of things that play into it,” she replies. “I’m Catholic, but I also support pro-choice. That’s a fun balance.”
I mention that at least she did not have to worry about money—Tom Brady’s latest contract is worth a reported $72 million—and she bristles, saying, “I knew I could support my child.” Point made, the warmth returns to her voice as she continues, “I knew my career was not going to suffer if I had this child. I knew I had the support of my friends and family.” And yet, she allows, “you know what a struggle it is. No matter if you’ve got everything going for you or you don’t.”

Part of the struggle was the crash course in loyalty that she received. “There were people that I had been there for a million times over—and not even a phone call,” she says. “And there were friends who I hadn’t heard from in years who stepped up—‘Whatever you need.’ ” Her parents and Sam Harris, her birth coach, were with her in the hospital during a very long labor. As Harris recalls, “She was in pain. She said, ‘Sing to me.’ So I sang, ‘I’ll be loving you, always.’ Tears rolled down her cheeks, tears rolled down my cheeks.” Asked about the baby’s father, she says, “He was not in the room. He was there on that day and came in afterward. He certainly wasn’t holding my hand while I was pushing.”

Moynahan says that since then her priority has been to create a happy home. “My son has two loving parents in an extended family, whether it’s cousins or stepmothers or boyfriends,” she says. “My son is surrounded by love.” Nonetheless, coparenting may have its complications. “It’s a challenge,” says Harris. “Here is the most valuable part of your life, your child, and you have to learn to let go and hand him over to the person that you couldn’t communicate enough with to have a relationship.”

 

It’s three weeks after our first interview, and Moynahan is on the set of Blue Bloods, filming at a drafty soundstage on a gritty Brooklyn block. Dressed in jeans and a V-neck blue sweater, she greets me laughing, announcing, “I thought I lost my American Express card and license again, but I found them in my jeans, lying on the floor.” On this Friday afternoon, she is counting the hours until the weekend begins, looking forward to taking Jack ice skating at Rockefeller Center. “We were looking for a real confident, hang-with-the-boys kind of woman” to play the character of Erin Reagan-Boyle, recalls executive producer Goldberg, and Moynahan is living up to that description.

“I have a soft spot for her,” says Selleck, who confesses he’s taking his role as her TV father seriously, to the point of feeling protective. “She has a joie de vivre, she’s got a great sense of humor, she can mix it up with anyone.”

Today the whole cast is mixing it up, filming a scene in which four generations sit around the Sunday dinner table. During breaks, Moynahan jokes with the rest of the cast, her high spirits boosting the mood. This ensemble series clearly suits what she wants for her family life right now. “I promised myself I’d never do a single-lead TV show,” she says. “I don’t think it’s worth it. We were all looking at this show as, It’s going to provide us with a life on top of a quality show. Quality life, quality show.” Looking back on her earlier career, she says, “When you’re doing a project, you measure time by ‘Oh, I was in Freeport for that movie.’ ” For Moynahan, those days are over. “The only way I’m telling time now is through my son.”

 

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First Published Mon, 2011-02-07 10:45

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