Celebrity mama Shirly Brener is an actress and producer with ambition! While working on her MBA, the mom-of-one is also dipping her feet into all sorts of roles and projects. A self-proclaimed “over achiever,” Shirly opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her 5-year-old daughter Mila who has entered the world of acting and modeling, her roots in Israel and her career and family goals.
CBS: Tell us about your 5-year-old daughter Mila. We hear she’s into modeling and acting. Tell us about her career.
SB: “Mila often comes to visit mommy on set. She has been traveling with me for work since she was 2 months. When she was 7 weeks, I got cast in a lead in a Weinstein Company film – The Killing Grounds opposite Armand Assante. I had to go to Eastern Europe for 2 months. I took Mila with me and I was still nursing.
From an early age she knew to be quiet when the director yells ‘Action.’ She has since traveled with me to Germany, Israel, New York, Louisiana, New Mexico and many others on work. And when I shoot in LA, her and Sandra, her nanny often come and hangs out in my trailer.
Now that she is bigger, she likes to come and sit behind the camera with the Director and the Script Supervisor and yell ‘action.’ Everybody on set gets a kick out of it. Also when Mila was 6 months, she got signed by Ford models, she has since done campaigns and shoots and commercials and movies. She is a pro at this. It’s fun for both of us, for her a film set is like a giant playground and for me it’s a chance to still spend some time with her while working and not missing her so much.
Mila has done campaigns and shoots and editorials ranging from Fit Pregnancy, SELF, JC Penny, Baby Talk and has done commercials for Honda and WalMart. She is the face of fashion label Saurette and has been in a movie that won second place at the People’s Choice Awards: What Goes Around.
The only reason this worked out for us is because I’m in the biz. I’m not sure that if I were a mom from a different industry that it would be easy to pursue. It takes a lot of time, work, attention and dedication. You have to drive all over for auditions and shoots. You have to constantly be in the know in the biz, take professional pics, make resumes. I am so familiar with the biz, with agents; with how it all works that it was the natural thing. Also Mila growing up with an actress mom, it’s obvious that she would seek the same. Kids often want to emulate what their parents do.
Nevertheless, if there are moms that are seriously considering this, they should first make sure that the kid wants it just the same. I often see at castings moms that probably always wanted to be actresses and sort of missed that boat and are now pushing the daughters, while the little girls could care less about it. Also make sure that the whole family is on board, like I said, it a lot of work it’s not a hobby. And find a real agent, somebody with credentials. I hear that there are a lot of agencies full of charlatans that take your money and never get the kids appointments and bookings.”
CBS: Does Mila go to a regular school or does she have tutors?
SB: “Mila goes to a private school called Applied Scholastics Academy. The ratio is 4-5 kids per teacher. Its phenomenal. The technique is that they progress at their own rate, she also studies Hebrew 5 hours a week and most of the kids there come from families of Israeli or Jewish backgrounds.
She also goes to a Sunday school at Wilshire Temple and then again learns all the holidays, the songs, and the food. I am big on extra curriculars for Mila. She has ballet, tap, swimming, musical theater, karate, voice lessons, piano and private tutoring in math and English.
I believe in enriching your kids as much as you can. My parents facilitated that type of education with me and it’s helped me become a really well rounded person. I come from a background and family of over achievers, I guess I’m bestowing that concept on my child. It’s a very Japanese and Chinese way of upbringing. Over there it’s part of the culture and I believe that’s why ultimately their economy education system, art, sports and country have prevailed. Recently we started teaching Mila snow skiing and next will be water-skiing in the summer. She is fearless and loves her lessons. If we ever miss any of them she sulks and is sad the whole day.”
Tell us about the fashion label, Saurette. Is it just for kids? When does it debut?
SB: “Saurette [is a fashion label created by] Lisa Kanusse who resides in New York City. She is the head owner and designer and she is so talented; I think her brand is amazing. Mila has been their face for 2 years, heading their campaigns. It’s a beautiful ,classy line for little girls. I’ve befriended Lisa via Mila’s work for the brand and she is a lovely woman. Maybe one day I’ll do some biz with her. It has debuted. I think she sells in high end select stores all over the nation.”
CBS: Are you hoping to try for baby No. 2 one day?
SB: “Yes! Even though I grew up a single child (and loved it) I always wanted more than one child. I’ve been talking about baby No. 2 now for 3 years and been chicken and not done it. I’ve finally put it on my goals for 2010-2011. I have to plan everything, I’m a bit OCD like that. But now that I’ve decided I’m going to go for it, hopefully by this time 2011 it will already be a reality.
I love kids and I love being a mother, I think that later down the line when you’re older and you’ve had your career, your family and their love is what you have to lean on. I certainly have my viewpoint on that and am passionate for it.”
CBS: You’ve been tackling some pretty heavy subjects in your roles lately (a bipolar schizophrenic abusive mother in Touched and in Letting Go you portray a woman with manic depression). Does mental illness run in your family? Why have you taken on these hard roles?
SB: “No , there is no mental illness in my family. In fact I have not been exposed to much of it throughout the years except what research I’ve done. In Letting Go and in Touched, I play characters who are manic depressive.
Monique in Touched is also a bipolar schizophrenic or a borderline personality disorder, she is a physically and mentally abusive mother. It’s from some of the same creative french team that did The Class. We just returned from it opening the International Film Festival at the Dominican Republic. An 8-day extravaganza where we opened it in a different city every night. It was very well received. It’s based on a real life story of one of the female producers, which is scary to think that this was somebody’s. I play Monique who has two sides of her. One of them so menacing to her child it’s unfathomable.
Being a mom and having a child, this role was very difficult to adapt to because I could not imagine ever abusing her verbally and definitely not hitting my child physically. I had to find sides of her that are soft and that have compassion in order to not come off as a pure monster. I cannot even begin to describe how I went about prepping for this one. The usual methods, online research, documentaries, films, real people that I interviewed. I have to go from extreme sides of emotions in a matter of seconds – it’s very challenging.
I’m glad to bring a film to life that encourages awareness of abuse, which is a growing epidemic in many families globally and I’m glad to send a message of forgiveness. Coming from a Jewish background and a Holocaust survivor grandmother, I realize that if we cannot forgive, we cannot move on in our lives and soar to new heights as people.
I really enjoy playing characters that are emotionally complex and challenged and that come from a darker place. It’s definitely challenging as an actress/artist and it’s the complete opposite of who I am. I’m sort of pretty much a ‘together and optimistic’ kind of gal.
It’s fun delving into the opposite of who you are. And as an artist, it provides great depths in which to go to. Turning into other characters is part of any acting job. The real challenge is to find yourself in each of those roles, or if the character is far off from you, do enough research and find things such as manner of talk, way of walk, props, costume, hair, etc. that make you feel and behave as this person. I immerse myself in my vision, my art and I do all it takes to bring the character the raw reality that think it deserves.”
CBS: Do you publicly speak out about the turmoil in your homeland of Israel. Do you go to Israel often? If so, can you give us an idea of what life is like for the people of Israel?
SB: “I’ve taken a stance of not discussing my political views publicly. I’m not sure it is the correct measure in today’s world. I have friends from the business that are very outspoken politically re. Israel. It’s ironic because I’m a pretty opinionated person. I do my share of educating my circle of colleagues, friends and those around me re. Israeli politics, but I try to keep it more intimate.
I agree with the old adage that politics and religion are tough topics to discuss as they carry so much history and baggage for people and it’s difficult to change people’s viewpoints that they grew up with and their sets of deep seeded beliefs. Mostly there are many misconceptions about the Gaza Strip and the disputed territories. Many think that we are occupying another nation. Nothing further can be from the truth. Israel is actually the one supplying them with food, electricity and some order.
It’s organizations such as Hammas and Jihad that encourage violent acts such as the suicide bombers and incidents such as the recent Flotilla that destroy the correct perceptions and we try to give an idea what it’s like for the people of Israel we really need a documentary and whole article dedicated only to that.
In all seriousness, life in Israel is always on edge. The constant political threat turmoil and the fear from inside the country as well the neighboring countries – most of them not democratic – make the people always on edge. People often mistake Israelis for being aggressive, indeed we are, but it’s the composite of our country that made us this way.
Israel is the only westernized nation amongst very religious fundamentalist counties that call for violence against any westernized notion (just take cue from 9/11 and realize that that’s a daily fear in Israel). People work very hard and make very little money. It’s very advanced in areas such as medicine and technology but because it’s a young country that has existed only since 1948 there is still many third world elements: Bad roads, poor pluming, old cars.
The rich are very rich and the poor are very poor. There is harsh juxtaposition. But like any country in Europe, France or England, it has great hotels, culinary experiences, nightspots, etc. The beauty of the country – Mazada, The dead Sea, the ancient city of Jerusalem – are unmatched and Tel Aviv is like any cosmopolitan center anywhere in the world with art, theater, fashion, food, clubs and celebration. It’s the city that never sleeps. The beaches are spectacular and tourism is the main income as the country does not have many natural resources.
I was born in Israel, to Israeli parents. My father was a famous swimmer and mom was a famous actress. I came from a lineage of very interesting folks. My grandfather Mila (yes I named my daughter after him), was one of the first shipping tycoons in the ’60s and my grandmother Michal is the ancestor to the first president of Israel, Haim Weitzman, and is part of the Wietzman family, which are practically the closest thing in Israel to the Bushs or the Kennedys.
In the late ’90s I ended up visiting Israel for a couple of months. I decided to go on some meetings and castings and I booked my first job as a series regular on the most popular nighttime drama (The Israeli version of The OC) I ended up with a 3 year contract. Simultaneously MTV brought to Israel the Singled Out format (the show was hosted locally by Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra) I was named the host in Israel and did both shows concurrent on 2 different networks.
The size of the country, the visibility on two major networks and the history of the family made me an overnight star. I ended up on the cover of every major magazine and was a popular guest on late night talk shows and morning shows alike. I ended up working like crazy, hosting two radio shows, having a column in a magazine, doing feature films, TV series regulars and campaigns for Burger King, the milk company, Planet Hollywood and others. Those were amazing years and I got the best training in the every aspect of the biz from every angle.
I’m very grateful for those years and they have helped me immensely with forwarding my career later on. I still go back and fourth. Most recently I shot the Israeli crime drama Honor about two feuding Moroccan families (Godfather like). And I did some entertainment field reporting for Y be 10 and E! Entertainment Israel. I enjoy having an international flare and the capability to work in various countries and locations.
I still travel there on work frequently. I’m now going to the premiere and release of Hit List with Joey Lawrence and John Savage directed by Minh Collins. I play the romantic comedy lead, Charlotte. She starts of as a sort of Bridget Jones kinda gal, a lovable loser. I created a girl that’s sort of clumsy, wears glasses the majority of the film till she blossoms. Charlotte is very different than me but very much the same. It’s a quirky dark comedy about a girl that falls in love with a hit man in a very unusual way. I got to play the character from 18-30 and that was a challenge bringing something new to every age. I enjoy immensely doing comedies. The genre gives you the freedom to explore all sorts of things that tend to be more constrained in drama.”
CBS: When do you have time to work on your MBA? Why are you pursuing this master’s degree alongside your acting career?
SB: “I’m a total overachiever, I have to be the best in everything. I’m not competitive with other people, I’m mostly competitive with myself. How can I outdo myself? If I have a goal and I pursue it, I always find time for it. My concept of time is that time is a vacuum and we fill it with that which we decide. There is no such thing as ‘no time,’ its about creating that space.
Growing up in a family of venture capitalists, MBAs and generally folks who respected the academia, I was pretty much an oddball, picking a path in entertainment. I’ve always known I wanted to be an actor. But I also always knew I had this other keen business sense that has to be utilized in some form. It’s sort of the idea behind the notion that if your father were an architect, you would know a thing or two about blueprints. Well, my dad was certainly not an architect, but he is an established businessman, so it’s only natural I would know something about business.
Attending college was a ‘must’ but ironically was again the epitome of the dichotomy which lay within me. Double majoring at USC in art history and film critical studies and then continuing to a master’s at Pepperdine in business administration. Always seeking to bridge the gap between business, academics and the arts.
The women’s liberation of 1968, those ambitious feminists really paved they way for women like me in the Hollywood landscape today. Who would have ever thought it possible to be a working actress with a strong passion for the arts, while simultaneously holding a VP position at a highly respected studio film company?! Welcome to entrepreneurial Hollywood of 2010, with role models such as Oprah, Barbara Walters and Sherry Lansing, that have proven, yes, we indeed can pretty much do it all.
Having the business background has helped me immensely when producing films, reading budgets, dealing with banks and investors and my high paced, very demanding yet super exciting as the VP of business development at Radar Pictures (The Last Samurai, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, All about Steve).”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
SB: “I’m about to start shooting a National Lampoon teen horror, titled Cheerleaders Must Die. It’s a total homage to authentic grindhouse horror. I play the lead: Ms. Hammer who is the coach to a high school cheerleading squad. We all go to a training camp and bad things start to happen. I love that Ms. Hammer, the mentor that all the girls look up to, turns out to be something quite different. I joked around with the producer a few days ago that if I’m preggers by the time this starts shooting we would have to write it into the story line that Ms. Hummer has a demon child growing inside of her. I’m watching a lot of films as research: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Birds, The Shining, Psycho, etc.
I also have a few years to look forward to with the new contract I signed as a VP at Radar Pictures. I’m looking forward to producing movies over there, create content, and working efficiently help to take this company as it expands into its next phase.
I also have Brener Films, my production company and currently have 2 films in pre production. Asleep At the Wheel, directed by Billy Chartoff starring Donald Sutherland, Rosie Perez and Justin Chatwin and Everyone Wants the Kush, with a likewise exciting cast (can’t disclose yet). A hysterical comedy in the vain of Superbad written by Brian Hernandez ,Younger Robins and my hubby Bruce Rubenstein.
Lastly, I’m pitching and selling TV shows and formats. Its all very exciting.”
CBS: Are you working with any charities?
SB: “I’ve always saw my role as an actor and artist to help those around her as well as spread her giving to other causes that are dear to me. Growing up, I was inspired by my grandmother Michal who founded GAN-HAYELED, an after school facility for children with disabilities and has dedicated 30 years of her life to ‘give.’
I joined the Board of Directors of The Haifa Foundation raising contribution for the city she was born Haifa for notable causes. In this process, she helped raise monies for the local schools, universities, parks, old peoples homes etc. and also helped raise some money for her dear grandmother’s cause.
I also volunteer at Narconon, a successful world wide drug rehabilitation organization. I’d go to the Newport Beach location and help around, keep company to the recovering addicts and do chores at the center. I continue promoting it in the press and being an ambassador for it.
Currently I’m also an ambassador for the Israeli Film Festival in the US. This year we celebrate the 25th Silver Anniversary. This is a festival that brings awareness for Israeli film making and the entertainment industry to US recognition and worldwide awareness. It’s through our movies and our art that the world can really see what goes on in Israel with films such as Waltz W Bashir, Adjime, and Bourfort. I help raise contributions, am a spokesperson and raise awareness to the festival.”