Spurred by her own real-life family drama, actress Kelly Rutherford gives a revealing look inside her new role as activist, and the film and design projects that are renewing her passion.
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Kelly Rutherford captivated audiences with her role on the hit series Gossip Girl, a calming adult force in a dramatic teen television world. But now she finds herself facing the cruelest of real-life dramas—an intense battle for custody of her children, Hermes, 7, and Helena, 5. Following a tempestuous 2010 divorce from German businessman Daniel Giersch, a judge ruled that they share custody and that the children live primarily with their father in Monaco, but Rutherford continues to battle for her children in the courts. The ensuing legal struggle has caused her to make dozens of trips across the Atlantic—it would challenge the resolve of any mother.
However, always a true reflection of her strength of character, Rutherford has taken everything she’s learned in her own case and channeled it into the Children’s Justice Campaign, a not-for-profit organization that helps others caught in the quagmire of the family court system. And though “talking shop” at such a complicated time can be difficult, Rutherford graciously shares about her upcoming acting projects, the jewelry line she’s launching, and the heart-wrenching twists in her custody saga as well as the great joy she still gets from summer in the Hamptons with her kids.
ROSANNA SCOTTO: Kelly, how are you spending your summer so far?
KELLY RUTHERFORD: I’ve been traveling back and forth to France. The kids have been here, then they went to see their dad for two weeks, and then they’re going to come back for three weeks, so we’ve just been enjoying our time. My son’s been taking guitar lessons, my daughter’s been taking ballet, and we’ve been in the Hamptons a lot.
What do you like to do when you come out to the Hamptons?
We love to go to the beach and to all of the wonderful events for kids out here. We just have fun, we see friends, we have play dates, and we relax a lot. My kids are obsessed with La Fondita now. I like Tutto Il Giorno, and the Clic Bookstore & Gallery is probably my favorite store out here right now.
Are you here for the whole summer?
I come mostly on weekends, but I’m hoping to be out here for a chunk of August. Sometimes you can be really busy out here, going to the various charity events and friends’ homes, but, for instance, last night, I really did nothing. I had a few hours at home just walking around, and I was, like, I really love it out here. It’s so pretty, it’s so quiet, and it smells so good. I was really enjoying the moment.
I’m so happy that you’re getting a good chunk of time with your kids this summer.
It’s great; we enjoy every minute together for obvious reasons. Everyone else sends their kids to camp in the summer; my kids and I, we just hang out, and it’s beautiful. Given my situation, it’s the opposite—camp for us is to be together. Even if we’re sitting in traffic from Southampton to East Hampton, we’ve got some music going, and we’re singing—it’s just really important time for us.
Do the children seem good? Are they happy?
They’re good, but they’re getting older so they’re much more outspoken about their feelings on the situation. They think it’s unfair: they’ve basically been told that I should move to France. I say, “Well, you guys are US citizens, and mommy’s a US citizen; your dad was living in the US when we got married and before we got married, and none of us are from France.”
I can see how your kids don’t understand it, because adults can’t understand how it’s possible that these children are now living in France with a man who has basically been exiled from this country.
Correct. And we still don’t even know why he was exiled from this country. Because he’s a foreigner, he’s actually being treated better, in some ways, than the tax-paying US citizen. Every evaluator said the children should be with me as their primary parent—that was ignored when the kids were sent to France. Since then, I’ve traveled 60 times back and forth.
Traveling 60 times back and forth has got to be so costly.
Basically everything I make goes to traveling. This is why I started the Children’s Justice Campaign, along with cofounder Patrice Lenowitz. It’s really to educate people about what’s really going on—if you bankrupt the mother before she can appeal and before you send her children to a foreign country, then she’s forced to just focus on trying to figure out how to see her children. To appeal a case like mine, it takes an enormous amount of time, and if there is anything even minimally wrong with the way the appeal is done, they can throw it out. Caring parents go in wanting what’s best for the kids, and are willing to negotiate, [but the way the system has been set up] is not in the best interest of the kids.
You’ve gone from actress to activist—has that been a difficult change for you?
It has. To be honest, I’m ready to get back to work. I miss it—[acting] is something that I love; it inspires me. I’m ready to get on another series. It looks like I’m going to be doing a film, which is great. [The activism] has pulled all of my attention away from the life that I have built, in terms of my career, and the things that I love to do, and being a mother. But at the same time, if this is what I’m supposed to do in my life to help other women and other parents, then it’ll be worth it. I’ve always supported children’s organizations and women’s organizations, so it’s certainly aligned with what I believe in.
Every time I see you, you seem calm under pressure. What happens when you go home?
I cry in the shower. It’s emotional—just them being here and me wanting to keep them here and be with them every day. I have had to stay strong for them; I have to do my best to stay positive. I’m doing my best to keep my kids healthy through this, and that’s what I focus on every day.
You’re getting back into the acting business?
I did the show Reckless on CBS and Being Mary Jane for BET with Gabrielle Union. It’s been nice to be able to go and do five episodes here and two episodes there, but now I’m so ready to go back and work. I miss showing up on the set.
You’ve also been doing some jewelry.
Yes. One of my best friends and neighbors, Jennifer Creel, makes beautiful jewelry. And I said, “I just want something really simple—like some little hearts or stars.” So we made some, and she was wearing them, I was wearing them, and then our friends were, like, “Those are so cute!” We thought, Let’s just do a really simple line, and so we did—it’s called Love... A Jewelry Story. It’s very sweet.
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