2016 Honorees


“I respect feminists. My mother was a very strong feminist; she’s a feminist atheist– I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell every day, all day, coupled with, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”

By Chesley Turner
Photography: Amanda Friedman

Cobie Smulders is not a feminist.

Wait. Stop. Before you start trolling…. Let her explain.

“Oh, Lord. I don’t see it as cut and dry. I feel like it’s become more of a label and less of a movement, does that make sense?” The whole is-she-or-isn’t-she-a-feminist is a hot button issue right now, with impassioned pleas made for every camp and perspective. But let’s give credit where credit is due.

“I respect feminists. My mother was a very strong feminist; she’s a feminist atheist–I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell every day, all day, coupled with, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” So I have a lot of very strong females in my life. But I just…I don’t really like labeling myself as anything. But I respect and appreciate people who do.”

It’s clear that while she avoids the borders of a label, she’s grateful for the benefits that women have won over the past decades. From women earning a voice to women gaining equal footing in the office, and hopefully soon even in the Oval Office.

“If I could, I would vote for Hillary, for sure. I hope–I think–my husband will be, and he’ll be voting for both of us.” The native Canadian may not be a U.S. citizen, but she keeps an eye on American politics. With, of course, the obligatory acknowledgement of the Canadian Prime Minister: “Trudeau is a bit of a stud….”

So while she could do without the sweeping negativity that colors American politics, especially recently, Smulders knows what matters. “I just want some positivity. I can’t handle the amount of money that is being spent on things that could be going towards education. I want more gun control. I want all these things. And I think even being Canadian, I’m just as frustrated.”

Part of the perks of the great strides that women have made? We can speak up and speak out.

“This is why America is a great country: because you can have opinions, and you can have conversations, and you can be impassioned by things and do something about it. I’m all for that.” The impassioned citizen–whether she be a regular Jane or a movie star with a message–can raise a voice. “In this day an age, someone who is on a TV show or who is in movies can speak out and other people can learn from that and choose to believe in that, or choose to argue against it. It’s all a big conversation, and it’s exciting to see people speaking out on whatever their beliefs are.”

Granted, the ideas and acceptance of powerful women is still evolving, but like any aspiring professional with an ascending trajectory, Smulders has mentors in the industry. The first one that springs to mind? Pamela Fryman, the director of almost every single episode of How I Met Your Mother.

“I look up to her as someone who I want to emulate because she just has so much grace and she just handles every situation beautifully. And at the same time, she’s a woman who is so good at her job.” Fryman is a role model, Smulders specifies, because of the way she communicates with people and the way she still gets a job done while being a nice, normal person. “She was a huge influence on me, in terms of how to navigate this insane industry and how to deal with situations that are uncomfortable and how to sort of maintain your grace through all of that.”

However, Smulders is quick to point out that while a female mentor may be harder to come by in her line of work, there are a fair amount of men to learn from, too. “I mean, in this industry if you have any kind of longevity, any kind of success, it’s like one in a million. [Successful people] have such a range of experience to draw from and to learn from, so…I think if you could be with someone who’s been around for decades, it’s a blessing to learn from them.”

Now, she admits, she has some questions for the Power Women, particularly any who have figured out the mystery of marriage and motherhood in the modern world.

“Listen. I tend to have the mantra of, like, just do your best. But I’d love to meet a woman who’s like, ‘I’ve got it all handled. I’ve got it all figured out.’” She references her mother again, a woman who raised her to truly believe that she had all options open to her. Career options, school, marriage; everything was on the table, both because of her mother’s encouragement, and because of the era she grew up in. “It is the best one yet, for women. But it is really, really hard to have a career and a home life.”

With two small children (a seven-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old) and a thriving film career, those options come with struggles. Recognizing the clear benefit of having a supportive husband, a semi-flexible job arrangement, and financial security, Smulders knows she’s lucky. “But emotionally? And physically? That’s a whole other story. It’s a constant balance and it’s a constant conversation and it’s a constant negotiation and it’s hard. Because when I’m at work, I think about my children. And when I’m with my children, I think about work. One is always pulling you away from the other.”

She’s underwater, so to speak with a career and two children (“I have two small children, so I’m just focusing on keeping them alive at the moment…and them not turning into jerks.”), but that doesn’t prevent Smulders from supporting a very particular cause with passion.

“Before I got involved in theatrical stuff, I wanted to go to school and study to be a marine biologist. I never got that far, but I’ve always been an environmentalist.” As an avid supporter of Oceana, Smulders is highly knowledgeable about the benefits of ocean conservancy and preservation. “I grew up in Vancouver. We’re right on the ocean. I’ve always been connected to it.” Oceana, she points out, works for change at an impactful, legislative and corporate level. “They have the power to go to different countries and work with them to change the way that they do fishing, change the way that they drill, to protect different mammals and different aquatic life.” The sustainability of our largest natural resources and ecosystems is paramount to the continued health of growing populations. Not to mention: ignorance is rampant. “It is so scary that people are like, ‘Oh, having an island of garbage is, like, not a big deal.’ But it affects how we all live and how we will survive.”

Now, Robin Sparkles may have won her way into our hearts, but Smulders has two major fall pieces that promise to engage and thrill us.

Having worked on a number of indie films recently–including playing her husband’s ex-girlfriend in a short film he’s directed–Cobie identifies the unique character of the indie film circuit: teamwork. “You’re forced to band together to create something. When you do indies, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, you’re doing craft service and you’re the editor? Like, how does that work? How are you gonna do both?’ It’s fun because everybody has to pitch in, and you have more creative influence.”

The Intervention, which hit movie screens last month, is a serious-but-hilarious look at relationships, portrayed by a remarkable ensemble cast. Clea DuVall’s first movie as writer and director promises to be a sweet little film. “It was her first movie, and a giant undertaking, and she really just nailed it.”

Meanwhile, on the flip side of the coin, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the second Jack Reacher film, also premiers this fall. The very definition of a high-budget action piece, Smulders shares some unexpected insight into the film. “I have never been included more, creatively, in my professional life.” From advance fight training, to location scouts, to camera tests, to helping build her own wardrobe, Smulders was involved from the very beginning of the project. It was like she was roped into the dramaturgy of the film, getting in on the whole research process. “I have never been more a part of a project from the get-go than on that film. I did not expect it. ‘Wow! We’re going to go check out the jail! OK! Let’s do that! We’re gonna go to prison today, and see the inmates, and see how this is gonna go, shoot-wise.”

And that wasn’t the only interesting facet of Reacher filming. There was also Tom Cruise. \

“He was amazing. Incredibly supportive. Very collaborative. Very excited about everybody’s ideas, very open to change, very open to conversation. He also took such great care of us.” With scene after scene of fight sequences, Cruise, the resident action film veteran, ensured his cast was prepared, healthy, and cared for. “It was very physically exhausting. But because I was being supported so well, I felt I got through it. Which I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do at the beginning of the movie!”

Although Intervention filmed in Savannah and Reacher filmed in New Orleans, Cobie has been based in New York for almost three years. But that’s all about to change, so she’s enjoying it while she can. “I’ve just tried to absorb everything I can because I know it’s going to come to an end eventually. so I’ve just been having a nice love affair with the city.”

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