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Rita Wilson Says Fifty Is Fabulous


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we'll head into the Barber Shop to get the buzz on some hot topics in the news. But first we want to hear about another place to hang out to find out about what's going on in the world. That would be the Internet. And while a lot of people might think that that's the domain of the younger set, it turns out that there is a thriving online world catering to 40 and 50-somethings.

One of them is Huff/Post50. That's a site powered by the Huffington Post, where you'll find articles about retirement, parenting in the middle years and midlife romance. And now you can also find short stories by and for people who've reached the big 5-0. That site is edited by none other than the actor, singer and producer Rita Wilson. She's editor-at-large for the Huff/Post50 site, and she recently launched that literary section. It's called Featured 50 Fiction. And she's with us now. Welcome.

RITA WILSON: Thank you, Michel, it's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: I want to talk more about the fiction, but I just wanted to ask how you got involved with Huff/Post50 to begin with.

WILSON: Arianna Huffington actually asked me if I would be interested in doing this. Years and years ago she was a person who kept on saying you should write, you should write these stories down, you should do this. And I always felt like who am I to write anything or what, you know, do I have to offer. And when this came along, it felt very relevant to me, having turned 50 and thinking, yeah, this is a whole other life, and there's a whole other group of people here that are like-minded.

So I thought this is an interesting group of people that I'd like to focus on, and they're my people.

MARTIN: They're your people. I was going to ask about that. Why do you think, though, in fiction I think you hear a lot of people complain that mass media entertainment is very focused on young people. In fact, you often hear a lot of adults say there are no movies for us anymore. But fiction you don't hear that complaint very often. And I'm just wondering why you feel that the fiction area particularly needs this site.

WILSON: You know, I've come across a lot of people in all different walks of life that had creative talent, and for whatever reasons in their lives, whether it was because their parents gave them the message that they couldn't do that as a real job or somewhere in their life thought I don't think I have the courage to expose myself in this way - or whatever, there are a million reasons.

So I thought I wonder if there are people out there who have a story in them that are actually writers. And when we did the launch, it was to people who had never been published before because we wanted them to have a place to show their work that was besides family members.


WILSON: And I think that's why it was so successful. I mean we've had submissions from people who are truck drivers to law professors to UFO-ologists, and some people just say author. And I've wanted to change that because I think it's more interesting to know what is it that you do in your real life when you are not writing fiction.

When you love doing something, you find a way to do it within your parameters. I remember being on vacation with my family and being the mom and organizing everything. I was left without any hobbies. I looked around and the kids were in their sporty things, and my husband was doing his, you know, things that he liked to do, and I was like twiddling my thumbs.

Well, now that I've organized it all, where's my activity? And I remember thinking I'm going to learn to do watercolor because that's something that you can take with you everywhere. So I took a class. I took that class once a week for five years, and I can tell you something: You don't get worse at something when you do it consistently.


WILSON: And that was really eye-opening for me because you're going to learn something. You may not be Picasso, but it's enough to have a hobby and enjoy what you do.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are talking with the actress, producer, singer, and as she just told us, wife and mother, Rita Wilson. She's the editor-at-large of the website Huff/Post50, and we're talking about the recently launched literary section, Featured 50 Fiction. Speaking of being in Hollywood and being around entertainment for a while, the perception that I think a lot of us have who are not in the industry is that it's frankly not very kind to women as they get older, that it seems they - that's the impression that I get.



MARTIN: Yeah, especially, you know, past 30 even. I mean you hear about actors, in particular young women, not wanting to disclose that they're over 30, let alone over 40, let alone over 50.

WILSON: Right.

MARTIN: So I did want to ask if you had any hesitation about embracing something where 50 is right there in the title.



WILSON: I didn't because for one thing, I think film is very much like that, but I think the theater is completely different. I think theater actually does embrace anybody over the age of 19, and particularly women over the age of 40. But no. I mean I think being over 50 is completely liberating. I want to say to everybody out there who's listening who's not: Get ready. It's a blast.

All the things that you cared about before that you thought were important, they aren't: how much you weigh or how taut your upper arms are. All that stuff doesn't matter. It gives way to something that is far more satisfying. I really think that being 50 is the bomb.


MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, you were saying you were practicing what you preach in the sense of going to try stuff. I just remember, I think a lot of people remember that you played Roxie Hart in "Chicago" on Broadway in the summer of 2006. And they you released an album, right? It was after that.

WILSON: Right.

MARTIN: And you've been touring on and off. It's a collection of classic hits from the '60s and '70s. Do you mind if we play a little clip?

WILSON: No, of "AM/FM," the album? Absolutely.

MARTIN: Yeah, from "AM/FM," yeah. And I think we're going to play a little of "All I Have to Do Is Dream." Here it is.

WILSON: Great.


WILSON: (Singing) Dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, when I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms, whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream...

MARTIN: So that was fun. Was it fun? Was it fun, or was it nerve-wracking?

WILSON: That is - that's Chris Cornell on harmonies from Soundgarden and Audio Slave. So that was pretty fun to do with him. Doing the album was fantastic. You mentioned "Chicago," and it kind of goes back to that because when - I was 49 when I did "Chicago," and I thought, oh my goodness.

I was offered the role, I went to see the play, I turned to my husband and my daughter in the middle, at the intermission and said there is no way I can do this. And they looked at me like, are you crazy, you so can do this, you have to do this. And I love that sometimes your family can tell before you do that you need to be doing something.

And when I did it, it really reconnected me to my love of music, and I thought from that point forward I cannot go forward without having music be a bigger part of my life.

MARTIN: You've mentioned your husband, Tom Hanks, your family. We are having this conversation at a point where there's been a lot of conversation about women and the choices they make. You know, there's been that famous - there was this book, "Lean In," by Sheryl Sandberg, and then there's Anne-Marie Slaughter at the State Department wrote this piece for The Atlantic talking about why she left her job at the State Department.

I just wanted to get your perspective on this as a person who has managed to have both a family and pursue your professional interests and celebrating a big anniversary, by the way. Congratulations.

WILSON: Yeah, just had our 25th. Well, I was able to meet Sheryl Sandberg the other day, and what I loved about her book, "Lean In," is if you ever bumped your head against the wall and thought I'm doing everything right or that I think I'm doing, why isn't it happening for me, she kind of gives you the checklist of why.

And it's not just you. It's sort of how women have been perceived and - in the workforce. But she also says something else that's really great in there, which is choosing your partner, the right partner, and knowing what you're going to each be doing. In my life we tried not to work at the same time so that we could be with each other when the kids were little and we were raising them.

And I guess the biggest compromise I made, which I don't think it's really a compromise, it was a choice, was that I wouldn't do a television series, because if I did that, then Tom would be on location somewhere, let's say for three and a half months, the kids would be at school, and I'd be on a soundstage somewhere. So to me that just wasn't the way that I wanted to raise children or have a marriage.

But it doesn't mean that I feel like that was some kind of huge compromise. I felt that I was still creatively satisfied in other areas.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. What do you have coming down the pike for us in the Feature 50 Fiction, yeah.

WILSON: Oh, well, we are going to be launching the same thing now for photography and art. So we are going to make an announcement, I think June 3, inviting people to submit their work to us that are amateur photographers and artists, for over 50s.

MARTIN: All right, well, thank you for this. Thank you for joining us.

WILSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: Rita Wilson is an actress, producer, singer, as you heard, and family woman, and she's editor-at-large of the Huff/Post50 website. She was with us from our NPR bureau in New York. Rita Wilson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

WILSON: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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