The actress, author, mother and advocate for mental health, debuts a new book and film—and proves that true happiness is actually possible.
It’s a quiet Tuesday afternoon at Mariel Hemingway’s home in Calabasas, yet the small fleet of cars parked in the front driveway might be a dead giveaway that something big is happening here. But this is just a typical day on the ranch, according to Hemingway.
“All of the kids in the neighborhood think this is a public park, or that we have 20 kids,” she laughs, referring to the 1.5 acre property complete with a teepee, trampoline, archery, climbing wall, swimming pool, dirt basketball court and even parallel bars that she shares with longtime boyfriend Bobby Williams and their dogs, Tree and Bindu, and cat, Mao. “We’re like, ‘No, sorry, it’s just us.’ It’s so special here, but it’s not fancy. We don’t have some extraordinary Malibu estate, but it’s a place to connect in nature.”
Today, the local fish and poultry purveyor (Hemingway and Williams met him in the neighborhood) is paying a visit to discuss his latest offerings, while Hemingway and I sit with a cup of tea on the rustic, open-air wooden deck, lined with a wood-burning fireplace and a cozy sofa and armchairs, that feels more like a little slice of Ketchum, ID (where Hemingway spent her childhood years), than a 45-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles.
“It’s this little pocket of nature and it’s like my own private Idaho,” says the 52-year-old with flawless skin (she swears by Spanish olive oil), and caramel-hued shoulder-length hair. “We have chickens and a biodynamic garden. I get up very early, and meditate and do yoga every morning on the porch, and I can just sit for hours watching the hummingbirds. They are so amazing.”
But, it’s hard not to look at Hemingway, granddaughter of the iconic literary great, Ernest Hemingway, in her idyllic backyard and think she’s nothing short of a real-life Superwoman. The athletic, 5’10” beauty and mother of two grown daughters, Dree, 26, and Langley, 24, whose roster of films includes Lipstick and Manhattan, has just completed her fourth book, Running with Nature (Changing Lives Press), co-written by Williams, and debuted her film Running From Crazy, a raw account of her family’s legacy of suicide, substance abuse and mental illness directed by Barbara Kopple.
“I really love writing about health and wellness, and it is sort of the solution to the problem, you know, my family being so crazy or whatever, but I never thought of it that way, I was just in survival mode,” says Hemingway, who met Williams, a stuntman, a few years ago on a hike with a mutual friend in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“Bobby had these poetic journals and climbed a lot and was out in nature, and I looked at him, and I thought, ‘Your musings on life are so profound, we should write a book together.’ I actually think the book is more about relationship than anything else. And, not necessarily male/female relationship, but the relationship you have with everything, with yourself, with food, with nature, and how you engage with other people, and finally those relationships that are most important to you. It’s not one size fits all, but there’s a specific blueprint for everyone that enhances the ability to be present and connected and so it’s about helping people find that.”
The 10-chapter book (she and Williams spent two years writing it) is based on basic life principles from spending time outdoors and getting enough Vitamin D, to sleeping well and drinking pure water, to eating wholesome food, and laughing and playing. It also includes checklists designed for self-reflection. Beyond the pages of the book, she adds her top three tips: waking up 15 minutes earlier each day and practicing gratitude, allowing a few minutes of silence and daily meditation, and, finally, something as simple as making healthy choices for breakfast.
“We didn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it’s that kind of really simple information, and making a few small changes like changing your breakfast and seeing the results, and maybe you’ll want to change your life because you feel differently,” says Hemingway, who is also building a “radio room” on the property for weekly “Running With Nature Radio” podcasts. “We’re not trying to preach to anyone, we’re trying to share what we do, and tell you that it works. And it’s fun and easy, but you have to kind of see your life as the adventure that you want to be living.”
It’s obvious now, though, that Hemingway is truly happy, which she attributes largely to her life with Williams. “He’s taught me to learn how to be a kid again, and play. We jump on the trampoline and we laugh and giggle. And, he introduced me to things that changed my life like Brain State Technologies
(brainstatetech.com), which balances the hemispheres of the brain through sound. It made me realize that I had been depressed my whole life and didn’t know it. I was like, ‘Oh, people can actually be happy every day?’” says Hemingway, who has practiced yoga for 30 years and followed teachings from Buddhism to the Dalai Lama.
“It’s all stuff I wouldn’t allow myself to do, and I actually didn’t know how to do because I thought I had to control everything, so it’s been a wonderful relationship for me. I feel like I hit the jackpot in life. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight, though, like in the film, when I yell at him and he says, ‘don’t be such a girl, be a guy,’ but then it’s all fine, and we go off hiking. Never would I have flipped out on somebody without thinking, ‘I’m in trouble, or he’ll leave me.’ But, with him, there’s this ability to be fully myself and know that I am safe and that everything’s all right. I’m okay. And, before, I wasn’t there yet.”
Mental Health Advocacy
Hemingway, who is affiliated with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), is a fierce advocate for California’s Proposition 63, or Mental Health Services Act, which she explains is about early intervention and prevention of mental illness, and provides funding for mental health programs and services. She hopes her new documentary will kick-start a much-needed dialogue about suicide and mental health.
“People don’t talk about mental illness at all, and I want this film to be a catalyst for the conversation to start and to take away the stigma that lays so heavy on the issue, and we need to understand that the head is not separate from the body, so that people don’t feel any more shame about it,” she says.
“You can choose your life. Well-being is within our control. The answers are there. When you decide that you’re okay just the way you are, then you can start making choices that are going to make you feel better. It’s like I was running from crazy all these years, and now I am running with nature, running with Bobby, and running with a life that I really understand. I’m running in harmony with myself. And, I no longer have to run away.”