The Minimalist: Kate Bosworth on starring in SS-GB, escaping to Montana and why she’s happier than ever

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Helen Bownass
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Kate Bosworth may be the darling of art house cinema and a front row favourite, but she finds true contentment living on her remote Montana ranch. Stylist’s Helen Bownass talks to the incredibly zen actress

Photography: David Roemer

The average square mile of land in Montana is home to 1.4 elk, 1.4 pronghorn antelope, and 3.3 deer. Six people live in each of these square miles – to put that in perspective, it’s 650 in the UK. So it’s not exactly a buzzing place. Another fun fact about the rural state located in the northern United States: it’s where Kate Bosworth calls home. And it’s a long way from Hollywood (1,232 miles in fact) where Bosworth is a familiar face. She’s hanging out at her Montana ranch when I catch up with her (she also has a place in LA for when the entertainment industry calls). She lives there with her husband, filmmaker Michael Polish, 46, who she met while filming Big Sur in 2011, and frequently his daughter Jasper, 18.

That’s not a narrative we typically expect from our Hollywood stars. Particularly classically beautiful blonde Hollywood stars who hit the big time in their teens (age 14, in The Horse Whisperer alongside Scarlett Johansson) and go on to have an acting career spanning two decades. Particularly ones beloved both by the fashion elite (Bosworth was front row at the recent s/s 2017 shows for Raf Simons’ debut at Calvin Klein in New York and Henry Holland in London, and is old friends with Jason Wu) and the fashion civilian (her Coachella/street style looks get tagged by the hundreds of thousands). Yet Bosworth has curated a lifestyle for herself that fulfils something different.

Speaking to her, I get the strong impression of someone who has been on a ‘journey’. At times some of her turns of phrase do sound a little, dare I say, ‘inspirational Instagram quote’ and heavy on self-help/therapy speak, but her sunny intonation (I can’t pin down her accent, probably because she moved a lot as a child from LA to San Francisco before crossing the country to Connecticut and then Boston), her lack of superiority (“I was in a film called The Horse Whisperer” she says as if I might not know who she is or what she’s done) and how she has chosen wholeheartedly to pursue the things that fulfil her the most – peace, solitude, the outdoors, picking huckleberries – mean you can’t help but be swept along with it. In a time when we’re all desperately searching for authenticity, downloading a mindfulness app every day, it’s hard not to be envious of her surety and self awareness.

Career-wise, Bosworth has never toed the party line either. After a star turn in 2002’s female surfing movie Blue Crush – where she spent seven hours a day learning to surf – the 34-year-old has favoured indie thrillers and the cerebral, the most notable being the magnificent Still Alice, alongside rare tent-pole roles such as Lois Lane in 2006’s Superman Returns. Her current part is also a surprising swerve from the expected. The BBC’s five-part drama SS-GB, based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Len Deighton, debuted last month with 6.1 million viewers who tuned in to watch the alternative reality of what the UK would have been like had the Nazis won World War Two. It’s a series that has been equal parts subtle, smart and sinister. Playing journalist Barbara Barga, Bosworth is chic, complex, watchful and unknowable. With the series finale this Sunday night, it is a role utterly different to any other part she’s played, but I suspect Bosworth enjoys surprising people...

SS-GB is set in an alternate British history. As an American, how much did you know about that time?
I knew quite a bit but what I learnt more about was what happened after we won the war. I found that fascinating. I think the show appealed to me so much in that there’s a terrifying element rooted in historical facts. On set, there were huge swastika banners and men in SS uniforms and then all of a sudden they’re on their iPhone. It’s a reminder of what could have been, with a few details tweaked.

There’s a strong sense in SS-GB of knowing when you should stand up and shout. Is that something you can relate to?
Ultimately, I believe in the goodness of humanity. When that is threatened, I take a stand.

Barbara is a journalist and an observer of people, is that a characteristic you share?
Yes. I think it’s because I’m an only child. I was around so many adults at such a young age that I was forced to watch and observe. I remember a lot of adults saying, “You’re wise beyond your years”. I would say I’m an internal person.

You’re living a lot of people’s dreams by having a place to escape to in the country. What appeals about it?
It’s a slower pace of life, which is what I crave. It brings me back to the simple things that matter most: making a meal with my husband, listening to country music on our jukebox, picking cherries and apples off our trees in the orchard and making jams and cakes, swimming in the lake or playing pinball.

Presumably you also enjoy being able to switch off from the hectic pace of LA?
Yeah, we’re pretty off-the-grid. We’re never on our phone or computers, we’re just living. We live in a time where electronic thinking is so much a part of our lives but it’s important for us to unplug. It’s very quiet and very chill. I never feel lonely, I crave solitude. In many ways it feels like parts of Montana and Alaska are the last very wild places in America. A place where I can ride horses and attain that kind of purity and freedom. I remember always having a connection to Montana. I remember learning to spell it at a really young age and I thought “I really need to remember this because it’s going to be important to me”. Then I met Michael and I realised Montana was such a huge part of his life [Polish’s father is from there].

How does your step-daughter Jasper deal with the lack of WiFi?
Not very well [laughs]. But she’ll get there.

How many pets do you have there?
We call it our zoo. We have two cats, Teak and Neko, and two big black French spaniels, Sissy and Happy. They’re wild and crazy. They’re learning to live together harmoniously.

Do you think living there has changed you into a different person?
No, in fact I feel in many ways it brings me back to myself which is why it’s important for me to have that time there. Being quiet and feeling sensitive to myself is important personally but also professionally; to be able to tune into the internal and bring the volume down on all of the other noise. I feel happier now than ever before. My work-life has never been more fast-paced so to have this and the balance of home and family means everything.

How have you learnt to navigate being a step-mother?
When I first met Michael, I explained that Jasper is number one – no question. To be there for her and support her life is critically important to me. I also felt it was essential for her to feel very loved. I met her when she was 12-years-old, which can be a very confronting time for young girls. I just wanted her to feel loved, and I thought the rest would fall into place. And it did.

Is there anything you went through that you hope she won’t have to experience?
I hope that she creates art she feels proud of – she is a musician and actress. I hope that every memory is a good one, and if it doesn’t feel good, to try and not repeat it. To listen to your gut. And to try and not be so hard on yourself – it will all be OK. In fact, it only gets better. The 30s have been the best decade for me. I tell her this all the time.

You’re very romantic with Michael on your Instagram feed. Was it a carefully considered decision to be so public about your relationship?
I am most comfortable in my truth. We share a deep love that is a major part of my life, both as a wife and as an artistic partner [the pair are frequent collaborators on film and TV projects]. I am proud of him, of us. I believe love inspires love. Love is everything, the only thing.

You’ve been in the industry for 20 years, does it feel like that long?
Yeah, it does but in a positive way [laughs]. Life gets so much better with experience. I don’t think I fully processed the unsettled part of being a teen and in my 20s. I think some people are built for that, you can see it in their art, their angst-y rebellion is so amazing. I couldn’t wait to grow up and become more experienced and calmer because I was quite shy. I wonder if that goes back to being an only child and moving around – having to meet new people was quite challenging. Now I’m older, I don’t have any trepidation of putting myself out there and that’s something that comes from experience, even something like – I mean, I’ve done it a million times – but going to Oscar parties. It’s this part of my life that I’m really enjoying. If you hang in there long enough then people are going to have a bit of respect for you because you’ve held on to this crazy old ride of Hollywood. One of my big passions is mentoring younger people. I didn’t have a mentor and I wish that I had. If there was anything I could change I would have reached out to more people who had experience, to better understand the road that came before me. I was just so shy that the thought that anyone would talk to me was ridiculous.

Often when people have been in a career for that long they think about changing or taking a sabbatical. Does that cross your mind?
Oh my god yes, in a nice [protecting my] sanity sense. One day maybe I’ll take more than two weeks’ holiday at a time. I’m a workaholic. There are certain things that I’m exploring outside of acting. I’m married to a filmmaker and we have a production company together. We have four television shows and four movies in pre-production and right now he’s shooting a movie we’re producing and financing called No Masters about human trafficking. I want to work with people who are good, creative and authentic. It’s something I hold as a priority and should always be that way but it’s not. People get into the industry for other aspirations. I’ve always loved what I do in a very pure way so to be able to have some control from beginning to end and hopefully inject some of that purity is important.

That idea of authenticity is a growing cry isn’t it? We’ve reached peak everything and it seems like everyone is searching for something more real...
Yes! We’re at a tumultuous time and authenticity is most important. Telling authentic, important stories is critical. It fuels my fire.

In 2001, you deferred your place at Princeton to pursue acting. Does studying still have any appeal?
I fantasise about this all the time. I am an avid reader, I am very curious and my interests are diverse. I can absolutely see myself continuing my studies at the right time. I would study literature, creative writing, psychology...

When it comes to getting parts you once said: “You have to understand that Hollywood does not want you. You will not allow them to say no.” Where did you get that fighting spirit?
My name, Catherine, means “strong-willed and determined”. I feel I was born with a fire, and a drive, a passion. Anyone who knows me will confirm this. Everything I have, I have fought for. I like the fight. Nothing good ever comes easy.

You also mentioned a conversation you’d had with Helena Christensen saying: “I need to share my life, particularly with more women, and feel comfortable about being vulnerable.” How have you learnt to become more comfortable with that?
This sentiment has grown with me as I have grown older and I treasure it. One of the great gifts of age is being able to have the experience to pay it forward. There is no real road map, the only resource we have is to hear from others that came before. Equally, I call on women who have more experience than me. It’s important to ‘lean in’ together – Sheryl Sandberg is one of my favourite women. Fashion forward

I know you’re a keen art collector, what appeals to you aesthetically?
I must have an emotional connection – I have to love it, to be intrigued.

If I wanted to buy something now that would have value in years to come in, what should I invest in?
An Ed Ruscha [an American artist from the pop art movement]. I am friends with his daughter Sonny, and she took us to visit her dad at his studio recently. I was pretty star-struck. But he is lovely and grounded; we picked oranges and grapefruits in the garden behind his studio.

What’s the most culturally nourishing place you’ve ever visited?
I love Morocco for the vibrant colours and the light. At dusk, the atmosphere turns a violet hue. I once rode a camel into the Sahara desert and slept under the stars during an electric storm. That was magical.

Finally, you’ve been posting some of your own pictures on Instagram, have you always been a keen photographer?
I have always appreciated photography, but it wasn’t until I met Michael that I learned how to shoot. I photograph using a Leica M9 – she’s manual and, in that sense, I feel that I am always chasing the truth. It’s different spending time with a manual camera in this age of instantaneous ease. But like I said, nothing good ever comes easy.

SS-GB concludes on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One

Photography: David Roemer/, Rex Features