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Kelly Rutherford - The Gentle Matriarch by Michaela Cordes | 1st September, 2011 | Personalities

In the TV series Gossip Girl, Kelly Rutherford plays the modern version of a strong woman on top of a legendary, traditional family. The born California Girl reflects on her new life on New York’s Upper East Side, what she has learnt from her TV character and how she has applied it to her most beloved role. As the mother of her two children Hermes and Helena.

Up in the middle of the New York skyline, at The Surrey hotel an army of stylists and assistants prepares for her close-up. Kelly Rutherford is the actress behind the elegant but always a bit guarded matriarch from Gossip Girl – the equivalent to Sex & The City for teenagers. When the California-born daughter of a model and a real-estate entrepreneur arrives in rain boots, makeup free, with a big smile on her face, she lights up the room with her entrance. Can this really be her? Her natural beauty seems so far away from the character she plays. And she looks ten years younger! Kelly is so unpretentious and professional – it’s delicious.

“A silly pillow fight with my kids can be sometimes much more fun than just another cocktail party.” Kelly Rutherford

“The Surrey is very chic, sophisticated and I love the food! It is truly one of my favorite places in our new neighborhood. Relocating from Los Angeles with my small children – Hermes is five, and Helena two – was something I needed to be talked into at first. It was a big step for all three of us, but I have never regretted it! New York is such a great place for children. In LA, you’re lost without a car. Here, I just unfold the stroller and roll away with them. Plus, the city has a lot to offer. I hope the colorfulness and esprit of this city will broaden my kids’ horizons.” Nannies and babysitters – an essential staple for surviving the Upper East Side – were an accessory Kelly was not so eager to bring into her new world until Hermes turned two and Helena was born. “It was important to me to embrace being a mother and doing it all on my own. I carried Hermes with me everywhere. So when I auditioned for Gossip Girl, Hermes was only six month old and I had no help, so I called my friend Francine and she came along. Welcome to the world of working moms!”

“I can be very strong professionally but in my private life I tend to be more of a softie…” Kelly Rutherford

Listening to Kelly, it’s hard at first to discover any parallels between the two women. Her down to earth persona is the opposite of the high maintenance personality she plays in the series. But wait, I do find one. Discreet as Lily van der Woodsen usually is dealing with the shortcomings of her teenage TV daughter Blake Lively, Kelly elegantly avoids any comment on her divorce. When pregnant with her daughter, Kelly decided to separate. The German father of her two children responded with a battle that made headlines. Instead, she now reminisces on the good times visiting Germany during the two years of her marriage. “I always love a classic, timeless style and have rarely seen so many well-dressed women as I did in Hamburg. It’s a wonderful city, with the Alster lake and all those beautiful houses. I liked Sylt, too, it’s the German version of the Hamptons.” Maybe she also appreciates the traditional, old-school values that are still very much alive in Hamburg. How much of Lily van der Woodsen is there in the girl from California, I want to know. Kelly smiles and says: “I am sure I am a mixture of both worlds. I love the spirituality of the Angelenos, their beautiful nature, their dynamically green thinking. I started using biodegradable detergents years ago and drove a Prius when I lived in LA. On the other hand, I love all those solid old-fashioned values like good manners, reliability and personal integrity, things that are so important for living together in a healthy society but are getting increasingly scarce in our fast times today.” The ambassador of the good old world, that is precisely the role that she is expected to play in Gossip Girl. A shining example to her children, ensuring that they conform to strict standards. At the same time, she is responsible for managing the fortunes of a powerful family, not without stumbling here and there of course, but always with dignity. “After all, we are human and nobody’s perfect. Take me for example. I can be very strong professionally, but I tend to be more of a softy in my private life. If I followed my true nature, I would still prefer to ask my children politely whether they would like to take a bath, rather than commanding: ‘Into the tub with you. It’s bath time!’”

“I feel a mixture of both worlds in me. The spirituality of the Angelenos and the traditional values of the Upper East Side.” Kelly Rutherford

Could it be that her role as a matriarch is the producers’ way of pointing out that America’s society is going through a drastic process of change, that now even Manhattan’s traditional Upper East Side, a neighborhood that is still very male-dominated, show cracks here and there, having to give in to the 21st century where Upper East Siders like Tory Burch have shown that you can raise six children and found and run a global fashion empire? Not forgetting that even the traditional New York Times is now controlled by a female editor-in-chief. Because with all due respect, even teenagers in front of the TV realize that your husband (played by Matthew Settle) is a nice guy, but that you in fact are running the show! “Oh no,” replies Kelly laughing and it is fairly obvious that the question makes her a bit uncomfortable: “I hope I’m not coming across as a hard-line feminist. I am absolutely convinced that the best combination of all is: a strong woman with a strong man. Men and women will always need each other. But of course there is a change in our society and I am lucky to work with young authors in Gossip Girl. It is always my choice whether the character comes across as a victim or as a fighter. For me it has always been clear from the very start that this woman needs to be strong. Which is ironic because in the beginning that was quite the contrast to my real life. Looking back, I am amazed how the powerful Lily van der Woodsen has injected a whole lot of strength into my personality and my life as a single mother of two children.”

In real life Kelly’s heart has just been romantically captured. Interestingly, again by a man from Germany. But marriage seems not to be the first stop on her agenda today. “Now that I have my children, it is so much more about finding a life partner,” she says. That the little ones must always come first – her absolute number one priority – is highly supported by her producers who even helped disguise her second pregnancy during filming with large Birkin bags. “I am sure my children made me a whole lot more credible. Also to my co-stars, because they experience me daily as a genuine, real-life mother,” says Kelly as she sits Helena in the stroller, takes her son’s hand and gets ready to roll back home. “I am very grateful for where I am in my life today. No job has ever made me as happy as the experience of having children. It might be hard to believe, but I have so much fun with them that I can easily pass up evening invitations for a silly Kung-Fu Panda pillow fight, or reading to them their favorite bedtime stories. Those are moments that I will remember in years to come, and they fulfill me a lot more than some of those cocktail parties.”

IssueGG Magazine 04/11
City/CountryNew York/ U.S.
PhotographyMark Seelen