Kate Bosworth Ups the Ante in 'Big Sur'
by scott huver
"I love football", says Kate Bosworth with a twinkle in her famously mismatched brown and blue eyes. From the sidelines of an Oxnard football field, watching the Dallas Cowboys run plays during their training camp, she’s indulging in one of the cooler perks of celebrity, having wrangled a coveted spot to watch her beloved NFL team work out its preseason kinks just paces away from the plays. She stands alongside the equally gridiron-besotted Michael Polish, the writer-director of her new film, Big Sur, and the man the 30-year-old actress married within two weeks of this fantasy outing.
“I yearn for football season,” she says, recalling the countless hours she spent as a young girl on the East Coast, an only child who bonded with her sports-loving father watching football on TV. “I played softball, soccer, lacrosse…. He would throw the softball with me for hours on end and teach me how to play the game. There’s something to be said about applying an athletic mentality to your life.” As a teen, she became an equestrian champion (although “that was just me—he wasn’t a fan of horses”) and brought her competitive spirit to her breakout role as a surfer girl in 2002’s Blue Crush. (“It took so much work to convince people to hire me—they looked at me and said, ‘No, you’re just this tiny beanpole—you don’t look like a surfer,’” she recalls. “I had to change my body, which took a lot of determination.”)
Polish—who, with his twin brother, Mark, helmed landmark indie films including Twin Falls Idaho and Northfork (Big Sur marks the 43-year-old’s first solo feature)—could barely believe he’d found an off-screen leading lady who was as passionate for the pigskin. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow—this is different. This is a whole lot different,’” he laughs. “She would say, ‘We’re going to cook hotdogs. We’re going to have potato chips. We’re going to have a night out watching football.’ And that’s never happened in my whole life.”
The couple married in late August in Montana, and even on the football field the final countdown to the wedding was never far from their thoughts. (Polish was the most preoccupied—wearing a discreet leg brace after a recent motorcycle accident, the visual perfectionist in him worried about its aesthetic impact during the ceremony.) They talked about shared goals and ambitions, the importance of family, and not losing focus on their relationship during the wedding whirlwind. But make no mistake: As all-American as it sounds, their romance was born on a Hollywood soundstage. She was nude in the moment that Polish fell for her—even if surrounded by a film crew.
To rewind: Bosworth had been on Polish’s professional radar years earlier after a recommendation from her Wonderland costar Val Kilmer (“That girl makes interesting choices”). Casting his first solo feature, Big Sur, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat-era roman à clef chronicling his period of struggle with success after publishing On the Road, Polish was looking for a Billie Dabney, based on Kerouac paramour Jackie Gibson Mercer and whom the filmmaker thought might be “the smartest character” in the story. Bosworth admits she was “terrified to take on this role” but Polish’s script left her “intrigued and thrilled—I don’t know if it gets more challenging than adapting Kerouac from script to screen.”
Bosworth connected with the transition women of the Beat Generation faced: “There was a yearning to have something traditional, this sort of family-oriented grounding, and then this excited thrill to experiment and to push the boundaries,” she explains. “Artistically, I’m excited about pushing the boundaries, even if, traditionally, family is the most important thing to me.” Thus she found herself, on her initial day of shooting and fresh from a weekend at Coachella, naked in front of her future husband. “My first scene was a nude scene,” she recalls sheepishly. “They gave me the option, ‘Do you want this on day two?’ And I said, ‘I’d rather just dive in and do it.’”
Polish, who says he’d assiduously avoided personal entanglements with his actors, recognized that something different was happening as he directed the scene. “I was timid and uncomfortable,” he says, “but I started to sense that I might have known this girl a long time.” The following day, as he shot Bosworth in a dinner scene, he looked at her looking directly at him through the camera. “I said to my AD, ‘I’m going to marry this girl.’” Taken aback, he briefly praised her work in the scene and called an hour break to retreat. “You know when you meet somebody, you go, ‘I know what she was like when she was in high school. I know what she was like when she was an adult….’ And my gut was right because she is that person that I met that day.”
Bosworth was oblivious to the love whammy at first. “I knew I didn’t want to mess anything up because I wanted to work with him again,” she says. But Polish’s awkward departure left her thinking, Oh, no—he might recast me! He thinks I can’t handle this because he was so short with me. As their working relationship blossomed, so too did her feelings for him. “There’s this moment where you think, I hope this is everything that I think it is, and then we both sort of looked at each other—that was the moment when you decide to really trust, where we said, ‘Yes—this is it,’” she says. “I feel like I’ve known him my whole life, and he feels like he’s known me my whole life. And that’s something very special that’s difficult to describe without sounding like a Hallmark card.”
Bosworth admits that the timing of stretching her creative wings and finding a lasting love came at a critical late-20s turning point in both her life and career. “For a female in particular, it’s the moment where everything becomes really interesting and gets deep,” she explains. “We’re able to tell stories that we’re not able to tell in our early 20s or teens because we haven’t had experience yet. That kind of leading lady emerged at that moment that I met my director and also my life partner.”
Since wrapping Big Sur, their creative collaborations have stayed in step with their off-screen amour, most notably in artful promotional videos for her self-designed JewelMint line and a holiday shoot for Topshop in which she channels Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys. “I found myself standing on the top of a piano surrounded by people I didn’t know, singing a rendition of ‘Winter Wonderland,’” she chuckles, tickled by the jump-into-the-deep-end experience “even though it was white-knuckling!”
Her passion for fashion, like football, was sparked by her father, whose work for high-end retailers like I. Magnin, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Talbot’s made for exciting Bring Your Daughter to Work days. “Having me feel different textures and fabrics and showing me different patterns, and why something sold and why it didn’t—I received that type of knowledge from my father at a really young age,” she says. “I have a real respect and admiration for a lot of designers whom I’ve been able to cultivate friendships with now…. When you’re looking at someone like Olivier Theyskens or Jack [McCollough] and Lazaro [Hernandez] from Proenza Schouler, they look at their collection just as you would talk about a film. To connect with these artists is something that I’ve loved being a part of. And it’s something I’ve taken on in a more professional sense as of late.”
Amid the glamorous trappings of the worlds of fashion and film (and not-so-glamorous: In her next project, Homefront, opposite James Franco and Jason Statham, her role as a meth addict was “exhausting physically, because anyone who’s on that drug, every single fiber in their body is constantly tense, so I was really sore by the end of the day”), Bosworth says she remains committed to keeping a sense of normalcy.
From the start of her acting career at age 14, she based decisions on her desire to maintain everyday experiences, even turning down a major film role she’d avidly pursued because she would have missed her senior prom. She adores Los Angeles but will be spending more time in Montana, “one of the last untamed territories in America—we’ll have grizzlies roaming around. We’re on a lake, so we can just go ice-skating,” she says wistfully. “It’s beautiful, so as we start a family, we can really create a special place there together.” Part of their family includes Polish’s daughter, Jasper, 15. “I’ve never had an older sister or brother, and she’s an only child, so I feel we really understand each other in a special way,” Bosworth says. “If I can make a positive impact on her life, that will make me incredibly happy.”
That instinct’s been mirrored in her work with the organization I Am That Girl, which promotes messages of self-worth, inspiration, and empowerment to young women finding their place in the world. “Having Jasper in my life takes me right back to being that age,” she says. “It’s challenging—it’s a time when you’re so hard on yourself, and not for a great reason, but because you haven’t experienced enough to be able to understand a lot of things.”
Watching her favorite football team coming together on the field for a new season, Bosworth says she’s valuing her own brand of teamwork, professionally and personally, as a newlywed. “We live to make each other happy and to support each other’s lives,” she says—a first for both of them in their relationship histories. “It’s a powerful thing because I want him to be at his ultimate potential. I’ll do anything in my power to support that, and he’s the same. And so in that there’s power in two.”
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.