Every Wednesday, L.A. Weekly focuses on a woman making a difference in Hollywood. In honor of Mother's Day, entertainment editor Michele Raphael spoke with Heather Brooker, creator-host of the Motherhood in Hollywood podcast, which will officially be honored by the Webby Awards next week, about her path to success, including lively social media, followed by celeb moms like Tori Spelling, and a signature blog.
L.A. Weekly: Tell us about the journey that took you to L.A. How did that lead to Motherhood in Hollywood?
Heather Brooker: I didn’t have the typical path to Hollywood where you leave home after high school or college and wait tables while hoping to get discovered. I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in journalism and became an international correspondent and local news reporter for many years before realizing what really made me happy was making people laugh, not reporting on crime. I wanted to be an actress and comedian, which is hard to do full-time when you live in Oklahoma. So my husband, Chris, and I made our Grapes of Wrath journey to California and have loved every minute of it. It’s been 12 years since we moved to L.A. and I can honestly say this is our home now.
Almost immediately I landed an agent and started auditioning for shows. I thought: This is it! I’m gonna be a star! Then beginner’s luck quickly faded and reality set in. You mean, there are actually people who don’t want me on their show? Unbelievable! When I realized I wasn’t going to book every show I auditioned for, I started classes at the Groundlings and UCB and tried to learn as much as I could about this business. I worked hard at improv and sketch at night while auditioning during the day. And I continued to work for local news stations as a writer to help support my acting habit.
When I had my daughter, I was looking for a community of moms and dads in the entertainment industry to connect with. I wanted to find people like me who were trying to figure out how to raise a family while pursuing their dreams. I just wanted mom friends who could talk about movies and potty training with equal passion. I couldn’t find anything like that so I created Motherhood in Hollywood, a podcast where I could talk to moms and dads in the industry and hear their stories. I wanted to hear the good, the bad and the inside perspective from actors, producers, writers, stylists and influencers in the business. And what I discovered is that everyone has a wonderfully unique story to tell, no matter how famous, and we are all bonded together by our love for our children.
Which came first — the podcast or the blog? What inspired you to actually start your podcast — was there a moment you just knew you had to do it?
The podcast came first after a particularly dry creative period in my life. I wasn’t doing stand-up or improv and auditions were slow. I wanted to find a creative outlet that didn’t take away too much time from taking care of my daughter, who was 2 at the time, and would allow me to connect with other moms in my industry. One night in bed I had a crazy idea to start a podcast and invite moms to my home to tell their story. I thought it would be a great way to connect with people in my industry and stay creative. Turns out, I was right!
Once I realized there was nothing else like it, I started diving into the technical side of putting together a podcast. What equipment and software would I need? How could I produce a weekly show from my house and make it sound good and interesting so that people would want to keep coming back for more? It’s like second nature to me now, but at the time it was uncharted territory. Some of my early episodes sound like I’m recording in a tin can, or I’m putting on my “news anchor” voice because I was nervous. I’m a lot more relaxed with it now and still having fun more than 150 episodes later.
The website came just after I launched the show but it was nothing like what it looks like now. Even the website has grown as I find my voice. I taught myself about SEO, creating content, the importance of beautiful pictures and how to include more than just my podcast. Now MIH covers movies and film, things to do in L.A., the inside scoop on products or businesses, and I expanded my voice with writing a blog. It really became like a news outlet for me. I now find myself reporting again but in a way that gives me control over the content, and that’s very empowering. I see why so many women start blogs. I decide what I want to cover and what it looks like from my perspective. I used to be so worried that no one would listen to my show or like my website. But a good friend told me early on that those aren’t the people who I’m doing this for. I’m doing it for the people who get my humor, who appreciate my story and want to be part of this community.
What have been some of the highlights since you started Motherhood in Hollywood? Some of the biggest celebrities, red carpets, guests on your podcast? Interesting stories you never thought you'd get to tell?
I think when most people hear “Motherhood in Hollywood,” they assume it’s all about celebrity moms. And while that is a part of what MIH covers, it’s also about the stories of the women behind the scenes who are juggling family life in this business while following their dreams. I loved interviewing Lisa Sterbakov, who is Mila Kunis’ producing partner at Orchard Farm Productions about how she transitioned from a career in acting to running a female-centric production company focused on great storytelling. After a suggestion from a fan, I interviewed Anna Borden, the first assistant director on a new show called Castle Rock. She talked with me about what it was like to run a set while she was 9 months pregnant, pumping breast milk on set and being away from her baby while working. These are the powerful stories that I love to tell and I’m so honored that these women trusted me enough to let me interview them.
I really loved interviewing Jordana Brewster from The Fast and the Furious franchise. I saw her at an event recently and she remembered our conversation. She told me how much she enjoyed talking with me and it was “a really great interview.” I can only assume that means we are best friends now, but if not, I am bowled over with pride at the very least. There have been a few interviews where I cried because when women get together and start sharing their stories, it’s very powerful and therapeutic. It’s not my intention to have “an Oprah moment” in each show, but there definitely have been some. I’m basically a less popular, less wealthy version of Oprah.
One of my favorite interviews was a conversation I had with Jenni Pulos from Bravo’s Flipping Out. It was one of those moments that caught me off-guard because she ended up inspiring me and saying some things I needed to hear in that moment. That’s when I realized MIH could be more than just interviews and me randomly swearing. It could be a source of inspiration for women who want someone to relate to. Not everyone in Hollywood is sitting in their mansion with a staff and jetsetting around the world, despite how Instagram makes it look. I’ve found most people are regular parents who have a high-profile job. But they still have the same wants and desires for their family and their kids. I'm flattered celebrity moms, like Tori Spelling, as well as Beth Dover from Orange Is the New Black and Angelique Cabral from Life in Pieces, are fans. But I'm also very happy that MIH lifts the veil on some of the celebrity allure and shows our humanity.
What have been some of the biggest rewards and biggest challenges since you started your podcast?
Some of the biggest challenges have been convincing PR people that I’m not just a mommy blogger. Not that there’s anything wrong with mommy bloggers! But I’m also an Emmy Award–winning journalist and actress who just happens to have a website that talks about parenting and entertainment. I also cover entertainment for the Wonderwall website and freelance report for my hometown NBC station, KJRH. When I’m not waiting for Spielberg to call, that is.
Publicists hold the keys to the kingdom in this town, and if you’re not on their list you don’t have access to events and clients, and that makes interviews challenging. It’s not like I could call up Kristen Bell and ask her to be on my show (although if you know her number, please let me know). I’d have to go through her publicist, who I have no doubt would say I’m not a big enough outlet for Kristen to spend her time on. I’m learning when I get famous, I want a good publicist because they are the keepers of the secrets and the party invites. Both are important, depending on whom you ask.
Another challenge has been navigating my time with my daughter since MIH has grown into a business. I honestly don’t remember what I did before MIH, but now it’s all-consuming. Between events, premieres, podcast interviews and doing social media, I have to constantly work at finding a balance. And, yes, it is a balance. I don’t understand why people hate that word because it truly is about finding one. That doesn’t mean we always achieve balance, but we should strive for it.
One of the biggest rewards is having someone tell me they love my show. Honestly, it’s the foundation of my business and I work really hard to find interesting guests whom I think people will enjoy, so when someone tells me they like my podcast it’s a major win. I share so much of myself in the podcast that anyone following along at home should feel like my friend because they are.
Let’s talk about the growing and supportive social media community you’ve built. How did that start to take off? How soon did you begin to get sponsorships, partnerships and advertisers? When did you become a known entity? Did you have a solid plan in place all mapped out in advance? Or did it evolve for you?
When I first started, I had no idea you could make money on your podcast or on social media. I’m not a Kardashian so people aren’t lining up to get a picture with me and their product. (Hit me up, Tummy Tea!) But shortly after I started, companies started emailing me to ask if I would promote their product. Heck, yes! You mean like a commercial that I don’t have to audition for? Sign me up!
Soon after things picked up, I stopped going on commercial auditions as an actress. I realized I was spending 20 hours a week to drive to the casting office in Santa Monica to audition against 200 other people and not get booked. Why do that when I could spend that time developing great content on my show and online and have advertisers come to me? The choice was easy.
I saw the importance of social media early on and made that a priority. It would not be an exaggeration to say I spent 40-plus hours a week focused on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to increase my following and reach new potential listeners. It’s grueling but so worth it. Social media is like free advertising for businesses, and if you learn how to use it the right way, you can reach more people and hopefully they’ll like what you’re offering. Which, in my case, is a whole lot of pictures of me and my daughter going on adventures in La La Land.
Beyond the podcast, how is actually being a mother in Hollywood for you? How do you raise your daughter while balancing two careers — your night job in news and your day jobs as an actor and Motherhood in Hollywood podcast host? What kinds of childcare or other support help do you have to enable you to thrive in your careers? What is your hope for your daughter in watching you do what you do as you grow your career life? Do you have any concerns for her in this environment? In Hollywood? And in the world?
I love being a mom. It’s the only thing in my life I feel like I was truly born to do. That being said, I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be a mom. Chris and I waited a very long time before we jumped on the parenting train. We were married 10 years before we started trying. Now I look back and say, Why did we wait so long? And the truth is, we just weren’t ready. Everything happens at exactly the right time and for me, motherhood is one of those things.
I have been very lucky to continue to work in the news business since having my daughter. I work weekends so I can stay home with her and run MIH during the week. I realize this is not possible for everyone and I don’t take a second of it for granted. Before my daughter, Channing, was born we looked into childcare and realized it wasn’t an affordable option for us, so we made it work. And since I know a lot of moms in this business worry about childcare, I made a list on my website of childcare options for entertainment-industry families in L.A. These also include last-minute options because sometimes as an actor or someone in the industry, you find out that you’re got a gig and it starts the next day. So it’s good to have options available. There’s a wonderful place in Studio City called WeVillage that has been a last-minute lifesaver for me.
I also have an incredible support system of friends, aunties and “guncles” around me who have stepped in when I was in a bind. These amazing people helped me out more than they will ever know. So I encourage new moms to reach out to people in your community and get a list together of people you can call for help. Honestly I have taken Channing to auditions with me since she was 2 months old and it’s been a very natural transition for us. She’s used to it now and knows exactly what to do when I’m reading my part. You have to remember that most casting directors are parents, too, and they understand the nature of the business. No one has ever been rude or harsh with me when I’ve had to bring her. And I’ve actually booked more in the last few years than I did before my daughter was born. She’s my good-luck charm!
One of my favorite stories to tell is the time I auditioned for Jane the Virgin and had to take Channing with me. I had auditioned for this show several times and really wanted to book it, so I was particularly nervous. She sat down in the room with the incredibly supportive Alyson Silverberg and waited for me to finish. And as we were leaving she said, “You did a great job, Mommy.” And I almost burst into to tears because I realized she’s who I’m doing all of this for and I want to make her proud. So no matter what comes next, I have succeeded.
I don’t worry too much about raising her in Hollywood. My hope is that we raise her with enough common sense and good judgment that she won’t get involved in the materialistic side of this town. At 5, she’s already a smart cookie and so kind. I just want to make sure she never loses those parts of herself no matter where we live.
You recently were recognized as a 2018 Webby honoree for your podcast. What was it like to find out that you were among such company as Oprah and others?
I am so bummed to miss out on attending the Webby Awards next week! It truly is an honor to be recognized for all the hard work I put into this show. The episode that won was the interview with Jenni Pulos, so I’m not the only one who felt the love from that episode. I will definitely watch the livestream next week — and I am definitely shouting it from the rooftops because there were 13,000 entries and I am thrilled to be included!
Hollywood is starting to take note of differences, and be more inclusive, but stereotyping is still alive and well. Have you had to deal with any types of bias, for example, not being a paper-thin Barbie but a very real and beautiful person and mom?
I don’t feel included, but I don’t feel excluded either. I have worked on almost 40 film and TV projects but all in very small roles. It feels like no one in a position of power has ever thought of me as a leading lady, and I constantly get passed over for bigger parts. I’ve been told by my team that I’m not a big enough “name” and that’s why I don’t get on certain casting lists. I get so mad because: Really? Are we still doing lists? I really wish the big agencies, studios and production companies would take a moment and realize that maybe not everyone on their “list” is who the public wants to keep seeing on TV or in films over and over again. What happened to the art of discovering new talent? People are so scared to take a chance on an unknown or risk a new project and that’s why we keep seeing the same movies, sequels and reimagined films over and over again. Why take a risk with a mom who created something out of nothing when you can regurgitate a previous hit?
That being said:I love every producer in this town and if they want to hire me I’m available.
Being a woman in Hollywood now feels like an act of resistance and even more important as a way to be a role model on a larger scale in society. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I used to shy away from the word feminist because I don’t think I fully understood what it meant. Don’t send hate emails! I know I’m not alone when I say that knowledge is power and the more I’ve learned about other women’s struggles, and their stories, it has opened my eyes. I am a feminist but probably not in the way people think I should be. And that’s OK with me. I don’t have to be anything anyone else expects me to be, and that in itself is pretty damn feminist.
Sunday is Mother’s Day. It’s like the Oscars of being a mom. Do you plan on celebrating with your family in Hollywood?
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Actually, I am going back to Oklahoma to visit my mom for Mother’s Day. She just had surgery and I want to surprise her with a visit — so don’t tell her! When I come home I plan to give my girl lots of cuddles and celebrate.
I’m having Chris on my show as a guest this week to talk about our anniversary — 17 years! — and a few other things happening in our lives. He’s actually my favorite guest and the person I feel the most comfortable talking with. We’ve toyed with the idea of starting a new podcast with the two of us talking about nerd stuff, but then I realize I can’t add another thing to my plate. I have some pretty exciting announcements coming out this week, and in typical Hollywood style, I’ll announce it on my Instagram.
Life has given me an incredible gift these past few years and I cannot wait to see where it leads. I hope eventually it leads to a series regular role or I’d even take one of the films Melissa McCarthy passes on. But no matter where it leads, I am enjoying the ride with my girl by my side and I hope one day she is proud of what her mama has created. I’m not a perfect mom, but I can play one on TV!