She’s been a star for more than 50 years. You name it, Rita Wilson’s done it. And she’s done it so well, in fact, that she has now woven herself into the worlds of TV, film, theater, music and journalism seamlessly and courageously.
From her first shot at acting in 1972 (The Brady Bunch) to her latest film (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3) to her recent album release (Now & Forever: Duets), Wilson has succeeded at everything she’s put her mind to. And no one appreciates how much bravery that takes more than Wilson herself. She’s never just pursuing a passion project as a one-off—she goes after it with alacrity. It becomes a part of the tapestry that is Wilson’s creative hallmark.
Wilson shares how she’s been able to give herself permission to try new things. “It’s been so creatively satisfying to be able to do that,” she says. “Acting in some ways is very solitary, so it feels easier when you’re part of the process from beginning to end.”
SUCCESS: With a little bit of age and a lot of experience comes the confidence to do more than just be the person reading the words on the script. Do you agree?
Rita Wilson: Well, I think I’ve exhausted the canon of warm, kind, nurturing mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter. It’s like if you asked someone to keep writing the same song, saying, “I really love that song. Just write that song again, but maybe change some of the words.” That’s what I feel like I have done. I love the work that I’ve done. I’m proud of it. But I also feel that I’m done playing those characters.
So you’re giving yourself permission to move on from those roles. Have you ever been reluctant to pursue artistic endeavors outside of TV and film?
RW: Never reluctant. Always eager and always curious to try something new. But maybe with songwriting I felt that way, because I didn’t even think it was a possibility. It was something I always wanted to do, but I never did it because the acting thing took over. When you’re new at something, you’re always going to be assessing whether you’re good at it or not. Like, “Can I do this? Am I good at this? What is the vibe here?” I don’t really want to do things that aren’t challenging or exciting or scary on some level.
When you look back on the career you’ve had, if there was a highlight reel, what would be the moments that would stand out to you?
RW: Everything I did with Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Steven Soderbergh, Wes Anderson and Larry David. Plus doing Chicago the Musical, too. It was, in a way, life-changing, because it was the first time that somebody said, “We’d like you to do this job and you’re going to be singing in it.” And with my music, I feel like I have worked with the best people. I’ve written with the most accomplished, iconic songwriters. I’ve performed with an array of artists who I am so in awe of. Those things have all kept me creatively so satisfied. And then in terms of movies, it would have to be discovering that little play, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and watching it go from a 99-seat theater to the success that it’s had.
That reel would tell the story of all the creative pursuits you’ve chased since 1972.
RW: What I’m realizing now is that I would rather do less and have it be more meaningful than do something that is just a lot of the same thing.
Do you feel that way about producing films, like you’ve just done with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3?
RW: Yes. That’s creative because you’re overseeing everything. When you’re putting a movie together, it’s very hands-on and it’s very immediate. And sometimes things take a while, but every time you get together to discuss a project and work on it and develop it further, you’re part of that creative process. And that’s what I love so much.
Sometimes it’s hard to define success when you’re in a creative field. There aren’t always numbers to measure it, so you have to find your own definition of it.
RW: Success is such a curious thing—especially in music—because the people I admire who are making music today often don’t get played on radio. So if the barometer is getting played on the radio, then I would not be successful. But if the barometer is people coming to my shows and streaming my music, then the answer is yes. And working with people I admire and respect—I consider all of that success.
And have you ever felt the opposite of success? When something you went after was a little bit of a fail?
RW: Everything that I’ve ever done has failure in it, really. It’s not like I just go off and do it. Everything is a test. Everything is a process of just getting better. And the only way you get better is by putting yourself out there consistently and braving whatever those things are. There’s so many rejections and parts you don’t get. That’s your life if you’re an actor.
What lessons have you learned about your own creativity?
RW: I learned one thing years and years ago with my family on a vacation. As the mom, you’re planning everything, and you bring games, books, projects and all of that so that everybody’s got their thing that they’re doing. And then I realized, “Wait a minute. I don’t have a thing, because my job was to plan their things.” So I had always loved watercolor painting, and I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna do this.” I took a class from September to June every year for five years. And I learned something very valuable: If you do something consistently, you do not get worse at it. You really learn. If there’s something you want to do, don’t give up. Just do it consistently and you will not get worse at it. So now I’m going to take piano and try to learn a few of my songs on the piano, because I thought I should learn these to play them on stage sometimes just to see if I could. Check in with me in a few months.
You’ve said before that creativity never stops. Does that mean that you’ll never stop acting, writing, producing, singing, painting and hopefully, playing piano?
RW: Exactly. I believe people are more creative than they give themselves credit for. And I think everybody needs that in their life. How that creativity manifests itself is so individual. I remember when I was growing up, my mom was always doing something creative: sewing, crocheting, cooking. She was never bored. My mom never uttered the words, “I’m bored.” And I feel that way, too. I never will say “I’m bored.” There’s always something creatively to do.
Listen to Wilson’s latest single, “OLI MAZI (We Are All Together)” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 – which she co-produced.
Photo by Harper Smith courtesy of Rita Wilson.