Nicole Forester is an actress, wife, and mother of two currently appearing on Starz in the Kelsey Grammer show BOSS. After 17 years as a successful actress living in Los Angeles and New York, including a Leading Actress Daytime Emmy nomination for her work on Guiding Light, Nicole returned home to the midwest. Moving to the midwest also meant she was prepared to take a leave from her life as a working actress and focus on raising her children in a way that nurtured her new, young family. Nicole shared with Sparrow Magazine her thoughts on life with young children, balancing a career and motherhood, and what it means to live deliberately.
SPARROW: Hi Nicole! Can you start by telling our readers a little about yourself and your work as an actor?
Nicole Forester: Hi Kelly! I’m a wife (married to Paul Brown), a mother of Frances (2 1/2) and Paul III (1), and a working actor. I consider myself a “working class actor” because I’m neither famous nor a waitress; it’s my profession and I make a living at it. I was 12 years old when I booked my first professional acting job. Growing up in Michigan, I started in local musical theatre, and did what I could in the Detroit market, mostly regional commercials and industrial films. I was a drama major in a magnet high school for the arts, then briefly majored in musical theatre at Western Michigan University before moving to Los Angeles at 19 years old. I graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and spent 13 years in LA, doing mostly episodic television (TWO AND A HALF MEN, MONK, WILL & GRACE, etc.), tons of national commercials, then spent 4 years in NYC working on a soap opera (GUIDING LIGHT), for which I received a Leading Actress Daytime Emmy Nomination in 2008. Since moving back to Michigan three years ago, I have filmed: TRUST with Clive Owen, directed by David Schwimmer; THE DOUBLE with Richard Gere and Martin Sheen; and BOSS, a tv series for Starz starring Kelsey Grammer. I’m currently shooting ONE SHOT with Tom Cruise, scheduled for release in 2013.
SPARROW: What inspires you about working in film and television?
Nicole Forester: What inspired me about being an actor, in the beginning, was the pure joy of performing. As a child and young adult, I loved the feeling of being on stage, particularly in musical theatre where I could dance, sing, and act, be “in the moment” and “shine” on all cylinders. As my career path led me into tv and film, that form of “shining” has become more refined, more contained. I am inspired watching other actors, in specific moments of subtlety or raw emotion in film and tv…Diane Lane in her quiet moments alone on the train in UNFAITHFUL, Sandra Bullock heartbroken and crying over the toilet bowl in HOPE FLOATS, even Jennifer Garner’s emotion welling up in rare moments of ALIAS, and of course classic moments from the greats like those Meryl Streep let shine through her in KRAMER VS. KRAMER. When watching these moments, I am touched by how beautiful human beings are, and I am inspired to attempt to let such moments shine through me in the characters I play. My favorite moments of acting are when I feel I am delivering honest human emotion, and thereby celebrating humanity.
Or, on a lighter note, sometimes it’s just fun to play dress up and say things that you’d never get to say in real life!
SPARROW: You’ve had some wonderful, big life changes in the past 3 years. Can you share these with our readers?
Nicole Forester: Yes, the past three years have contained the most radical changes of my life. I got married — HUGE. I went from 17 years of living in LA and NYC to living in a small town in Michigan — HUGE. I experienced two pregnancies — HUGE! And now I’m the mother of an almost 3 year old daughter and a one year old son — HUGE, HUGE!
I basically went from being a single girl who focused on self and career to a married mother of two who focuses on giving everything she has to give to the family she loves.
I feel reeeally lucky that I married the man I did. I married about a decade later than I had expected for myself, and boy, was it worth the wait! My husband, Paul, is not only a wonderful man, but he is an incredible partner to me. He always tells me we are a team. He can make anything fun. He schedules massages, trips, and activities for me. He’s been making me breakfast in bed every morning (before his one hour commute to work) for three years now. I could go on and on, but it would just sound obnoxious.
Motherhood has been the most challenging new adventure of my life to date. While I was working on GUIDING LIGHT, sometimes up to 12 or 14 hours a day, 5 days per week, 50 weeks per year, I thought I was working pretty hard. Now, as a mom, I realize I am either working or on-call 24/7 365 days a year (I have to admit, I miss 2-day weekends). In every moment, I feel that I’m tasked to be the best version of myself that I can be so as to be the best role model I can give to my children. Motherhood stretches my patience muscles (I still have a long way to go in that department), increases my tolerance, teaches me to be at peace with surrender. And I have the sneaking suspicion that I won’t fully realize all that my children are teaching me until I’m about 80 years old.
SPARROW: You recently gave up your city life to move to a small city in Michigan. Can you tell us about what you gave up and what you gained by this huge change?
Nicole Forester: Well, I really had no idea what to expect from my new life as a wife and a mom. But I admit I had low expectations of Michigan. I had grown up in suburbia, which, while safe and wholesome, seemed awfully boring to me after 17 years in LA and NYC. But I wasn’t moving to Michigan for the excitement of the locale. I was moving to start a family. I would have to be open-minded, take one day at a time, and figure it out as I went along. I only hoped that the support of my husband, our families, and finding comfort in the familiarity of my home state would show me the way.
Luckily we moved to Ann Arbor, a town that feels like a microcosm of our Manhattan neighborhood, and I love it! We live right downtown, where we can walk to great restaurants, theatre, big time sports, the farmers’ market, the library, the YMCA. Everything we need is in about a 5 block radius. Sometimes I pretend I’m pushing the stroller through the quieter streets of Brooklyn. It’s not that far off!
SPARROW: I really see your move to Michigan as a huge choice to live deliberately. What kind of life were you seeking for your family in moving to Michigan? What did you hope for for yourself? for Paul? for your children?
Nicole Forester: It strikes a chord with me that you use the phrase “live deliberately.” It surprised me years ago when an old boyfriend told me that I was “the most deliberate person” he knew; I had never thought of myself that way.
I was deliberate in wanting certain things for my family, but the short notice of moving wasn’t anticipated. It just seemed natural at the time. I was “riding the horse in the direction it was going,” to use an expression of my acting teacher in LA. I was just listening to my inner voice and making the best choice for me in the moment. I know I was deliberate about wanting a healthy place to raise my kids. Since I felt I had a healthy, wholesome upbringing in Michigan, as did my husband, Michigan was the most natural place in our minds to do that. For myself, I wanted the support and guidance and hands-on help from our families nearby. I’d never been a mother before; I knew I was going to need all the help I could get! For Paul, I hoped for his fulfillment in work, helping the people of Michigan, as well as in running around the woods of northern Michigan hunting, fishing, (and generally being ruggedly handsome!).
But I remember one night, only a few months into our new life in Michigan, sleep-deprived with our first newborn baby, trying to express to my husband the depths of my daily challenges and how overwhelmed my poor little self was in all my new circumstances. “My life is completely upside-down from what it used to be!” I exclaimed. He looked at me with love and complete calm and replied, “No, now your life is right-side up.” Yup, he’s good like that. The kind of life that I want for myself, my husband, and my kids — loving, peaceful, happy, calm, stable, secure, playful, meaningful, with opportunities for adventure and growth — is every bit available to me *because of* my husband. He teaches me about being a team, about creating the life I/we want, about loving the life we have.
SPARROW: By moving to Michigan, were you willing to put your career on hold for a few years?
Nicole Forester: Definitely. In fact, when we moved to Michigan, I fully believed that it would be the end of my career, at least for as long as we were in Michigan. I was willing to try that on for a year at a time. I figured if I was miserable, my husband and I would talk about how we could move back to NYC or LA. I didn’t think there would be any opportunities to continue working in tv and film in Michigan at a level that would interest me. And that was okay. I had no idea at the time that there were tax incentives bringing production to Michigan. It took me a year and a half before I even reached out to the local agencies in Michigan and another handful of months after that before I reached out to Chicago.
SPARROW: I see a really strong link here between your choice to live according to your values, what is important to you and your family, and the fact that lots of great work has come your way. You have chosen to live authentically, which means everything in your life, work and family, will succeed. Do you agree?
Nicole Forester: Thanks for that! That’s a really nice thought.
Yes, it’s turned out that I’ve been working quite a bit. So far, I’ve booked roles in 3 major films: TRUST, starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener and directed by David Schwimmer; THE DOUBLE, in which I worked with Richard Gere; and I’m currently shooting a Tom Cruise film in Pittsburgh, called ONE SHOT, scheduled for release in 2013. This summer I shot a recurring role in a new tv series for Starz called BOSS, starring Kelsey Grammer. Starz has already picked it up for a second season, so I’m looking forward to returning to set in Chicago in the new year.
I do believe that if you do what you can do with what is in front of you, then everything has a way of working out for the best. I feel very lucky that we happened to move to Michigan at a time when film production is happening here and that we happen to live near enough to Chicago that I can work there fairly conveniently, too. I am grateful to have the opportunities to do what I love to do without having to sacrifice my priorities.
SPARROW: How do you balance being a working mom? How do you balance time for work with time for your young children, your husband, and for yourself?
Nicole Forester: Well, I think you have to look at balance over a long period. On most days I’d say my life feels *out* of balance. I mean, I spend the vast majority of my time taking care of two toddlers. The pendulum has swung to one side and remains there most of the time. But, as I’m keenly aware, this period of motherhood that I’m in is a very finite period of time. Sometimes I think of it as being in law school. I imagine legal students barely eat, barely sleep. I doubt they have the luxury of time to do things like shop for the fun of it, exercise as frequently as they should, do their hair and make up to keep their appearance at its best, or do whatever other things would be fun for them if they had leisure time on their hands. But they won’t always be in law school. And my kids will not always need me in the way they need me now. I want to immerse myself in this chapter of mothering while I can.
Also, I remember a particular yoga class I took in LA in which the teacher made me think of balance in a new way. Having grown up as a dancer, I used to think of balance as meaning you don’t wobble, you don’t sway, you don’t fall down. This yoga teacher made me see that balance is not the static state of being in the center. It is the continual adjustments of *coming back* to center. So when you’re wobbling all over Tree Pose, you just allow that you are in the process of balancing, of coming back to center. Similarly, as I wobble through each day with my two toddlers, worried that I’m not attending to enough of this or not giving enough attention to that, I try repeatedly to forgive myself for not being perfect, breathe, and come back to just the present moment. Just stop; do less and enjoy more.
On a more practical note, I’ve been able to go to auditions and go to work on sets from Chicago to Pittsburgh purely because of the support of my husband. When work opportunities arise for me, he always tells me to accept; “we’ll work it out.” Thanks to my husband and my mother-in-law and a few babysitters in between, I manage to work outside of the home. And often my work trips feel like paid vacations. It is a gift for me to get to do my thing, without anyone tugging at my ankles.
SPARROW: What are some ways that you nurture yourself?
Nicole Forester: Massage. Massage. And more massage. I wouldn’t mind an hour a day. Thanks to a birthday gift from my husband, I’m getting at least one massage a month.
Baking helps me. And reading a great novel. Knitting. Fabric crafts.
Mainly, I recharge by spending time alone. As my husband once pointed out, I was used to having an inordinate amount of “alone time” in my life before marriage and motherhood. So now when my mother-in-law generously tells me to “take my time” while she’s babysitting the kids, I soak up my solitude by listening to my music in the car, taking myself out to an undisturbed lunch, wandering through some stores even if I don’t buy a thing. Spending quiet time with myself is how I decompress.
SPARROW: What do you love about being a mom?
Nicole Forester: I love how much I LOVE my kids. I’ve never experienced anything like it; it feels like a biological addiction. I mean, I want to eat them alive!!!! I love the smell of them. I love holding them in my arms. I love putting them to sleep. I love watching their faces change as they grow. I love hearing my daughter use expressions that I have been saying to her repeatedly since she was born, secretly hoping they would sink in – and they have! Even simple things like, “I’m so happy to see you!” when someone arrives, for example. I love the sound of my son giggling when I scoop him up in my arms and “gobble up” his belly. I love that they light up when I enter the room.
I love that I am the only person in the entire world who gets to be their mother.
I love that there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what I am doing with my time matters. I used to feel that most of my efforts in the acting business were futile. People think that there’s a lot of rejection in the acting business; I never felt rejection so much as futility. It’s a bit maddening to do a great job in an audition but know that that has little bearing on whether or not you are right for the role. But with the job of parenting, I know that what I do matters – in every second. I am assisting in the foundation of LIVES here! They need me, and I need to give them every ounce of love and wisdom I can muster. And when I do a great job as a mother, I contribute to creating great human beings.
SPARROW: What does Living Deliberately mean to you?
Nicole Forester: I guess living deliberately means identifying something you want, or feel is important, in life and taking action to achieve it. Right now I feel like I’m spending most of my time and energy achieving what is important for my kids and family. Just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to take care of business, one day at a time. But I try to take pleasure in these sometimes not-so fun or glamorous things, knowing that they are important and only required for a finite period of my kids’ lives. The pendulum is bound to fall perfectly in the middle one of these days. Right!?
SPARROW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us Nicole! We are looking forward to seeing you on Boss as well as in your upcoming films!
Nicole Forester: Thank you! – for giving me the opportunity to reflect on this point in my journey! Cheers to Sparrow Magazine!