As an actor, she’s famous for kicking butt on the big and small screens; as an entrepreneur, she helms a modern wellness empire, The Honest Company. But when we sit down with Jessica for our interview, it’s not in a slick boardroom, trendy restaurant or on the set of her new cop show (more on that later), but on wooden stools by a bathtub in her LA home. As we talk about the pressures of business and Hollywood, Jessica gently washes her adorable 18-month-old son Hayes’ hair and occasionally breaks into Old Macdonald Had a Farm. “He’s just started singing this song – it’s so sweet!” she says with a smile.
It’s a refreshingly low-key scene for a business and entertainment mogul, but then, Jessica’s not really the type to show off. The 38-year-old mum of three – she also shares two daughters, Honor, 11, and Haven, eight, with husband Cash Warren – describes herself as “really shy”, a kid who chose acting because it allowed her to feel like somebody else.
By Hollywood standards, though, she’s a bona-fide star. She got her big break starring as a genetically engineered rogue soldier in the cult TV series Dark Angel; then came big-screen blockbusters Sin City and Fantastic Four (where she met entrepreneur hubby Cash). Then, in 2012, she unexpectedly stepped back from the spotlight to pour her energy into an idea she’d been brewing since her first daughter was born – a line of safe and effective baby, beauty, personal care and home products.
“It took me about three years of hustling and struggling and trying to get the business off the ground,” Jessica explains candidly about The Honest Company. “I realise now … it was a little bit too early. The consciousness around non-toxic and safer products and the transparency and quality of ingredients, and [whether] things that are in your everyday products can potentially be harmful to you – that wasn’t ever a consideration until not that long ago.” Jessica brought the issue into the mainstream conversation, lobbying lawmakers to pose greater restrictions on toxic chemicals in consumer products. “I think a lot of people thought it was a conspiracy theory, right? Like, ‘Oh [sure] that thing is poisoning you,’ but it really was! And they’ve banned a lot of stuff because it really is harmful, even in small doses. I’m grateful that I’ve been at the forefront of the conversation and I’ve been able to highlight such an important issue.”
On a personal level, Jessica says she’s slowly learning to dismantle the armour she built to protect herself from the entertainment industry’s “piranhas” when she started acting at the age of 12. “I didn’t really break open until I had kids. And that’s when I started to feel,” she says. “My husband’s a vulnerable and open person and his family are vulnerable and open and non-judgemental. I think just watching them and how they operate allowed me to feel like, it’s OK to be flawed, it’s OK to feel, it’s OK to mess up, it’s OK to say sorry and keep it moving. It’s a lifelong lesson and in combination with my kids – because as much as you want to protect them from stuff and as much as you want to always make the right decision, you don’t – it’s really humbling on a daily basis.”
Watching Jessica, Honor and Haven change Hayes’ nappy together and get him ready for bed, it’s clear she’s a hands-on mum. Yes, there’s a nanny hovering in the background, but with parenting, producing, acting and running a highly successful business, life must get exhausting. How exactly does she avoid burning out? “I don’t. I burn out. It happens all the time,” she says, settling onto the couch with a blanket. “I know the signs – I start to cry for no reason and I get really short-tempered about dumb stuff – that’s when I know I’m getting close to burnout. [The last time it happened, I’d] just finished [L.A.’s Finest] and I went straight back into Honest and it was a lot. The hours on the show are long. Spiritually and mentally it was hard.”
Massages help. So does blocking out weekends to focus on her family. And she doesn’t bother stressing over punishing workout regimens or restrictive diets. To shape up for her action role in L.A.’s Finest, she hit the gym a grand total of three times a week. “I’ve had trainers and stuff. It’s just so hard and I get so bored,” she admits. “I was breastfeeding. I’d just had [Hayes], so I did work out consistently … and it took a while. I was just doing 45 minutes three times a week at the gym. I don’t like to do things alone – I’m not disciplined enough – so I like to go to classes that play loud, violent music and I like people to yell at me, because it motivates me.”
Read more of our chat with Jessica – including her management style and mantra she lives by– in the September issue of Women's Health, on sale now.