“I’ve always tried to go with the flow“
Model and actor Rachel Roberts, the archetypal blonde with the infectious smile, epitomizes the image of the Southern California beach babe. Hailing from Vancouver, Rachel has been a mainstay in the fashion industry since the ’90s. She has graced the covers of countless magazines and her star turn in S1MONE was just the beginning of her pivot into acting. With no signs of slowing down, I caught up with Rachel at her home in California.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in Vancouver.
It’s a rainforest, so it was very different from the deserts of Southern California. Life doesn’t stop when it rains like it does in LA. I was a latchkey kid with divorced parents who both worked full-time. My father was a dentist from London, and my mother a Canadian hairdresser. I guess I learned to be self-sufficient at an early age. I rode my bike everywhere or took the bus. I had a small group of very close friends—quality over quantity—who were all very colorful and creative types.
Tell us about how you got into modeling.
My mother Lila modeled briefly in the early ’80s before returning to hairdressing. When I was 15, I was sitting in her hair salon when she asked me what I thought about trying modeling. She brought me to Liz Bell—my mother agent in Vancouver—who introduced me to NEXT in New York. I guess they saw something in me I didn’t see because I had to lose 40 pounds to start modeling. It was quite a leap of faith on everyone’s part, but with three months of daily boot camp and a strict diet I lost the weight and went to Europe.
You’ve spent your entire working life as a model. Why do you think you’ve been so successful in such a fickle industry?
It’s mostly thanks to my parents’ genetics, and luck. It may also help that I have a strong work ethic; I’ve only ever been late for work twice in 27 years. I started in the business in the mid-90s when models, who weren’t necessarily a household name, had amazingly successful careers. Though the industry has evolved in a positive way by finally embracing all ethnicities, ages, and genders, I imagine it’s not easy to start in the business today. Unless you have a social media following it’s hard to get your foot in the door.
At what point did you realize you had made it?
I spent the first three years of my career pounding the pavement in Milan, Paris, and London mostly shooting editorials and barely scraping by. On a trip back to New York I was sent to see Jennifer Starr, who was casting the Pirelli Calendar for Bruce Weber. As the daughter of hippie parents—and growing up going to a nude beach—nudity was never a big deal to me. They took a chance on me as the only new face in the calendar which then led to my first main story with Bruce for Italian Vogue along with campaigns for Ralph Lauren. As you can imagine, those jobs opened a lot more doors for me.
In addition to your prolific modeling career you also act. Talk to us about the parallels between the two.
Acting was a happy accident for me. I was the only one of my friends who wasn’t trying to become an actor. I was satisfied playing characters in front of a still camera. Though after being cast in my first film S1M0NE I got the bug as they say. There’s nothing like losing all sense of time and space when you are deeply immersed in a scene. Though, if I’m being truly honest, acting will always slightly terrify me. You aren’t just portraying the look of a character but embodying a whole person.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started to pursue acting?
I think it will always be a battle to prove people wrong when they meet a model-turned-actor. They just see a pretty face. Luckily, people like Milla Jovovich, Cameron Diaz, and Charlize Theron broke those stereotypes. S1M0NE was my first audition—I had no formal acting training—and they were looking at unknowns for the role of a computer-generated movie star, so it was a very specific role to study for. It was sort of a learn on the job experience which was terrifying opposite Al Pacino. After that, I had my work cut out for me to really study the craft and show people I could do more than play a robot.
If you think of your life in chapters what do you want to achieve next?
I try not to look ahead too much. I’ve always tried to just go with the flow. This chapter has been very family focused. I hope the next chapter will be back to traveling the world and working. My husband is a filmmaker and helping him produce his next film is something I want to focus on.
In retrospect, what has been your proudest achievement in life?
I know it sounds cliché, but my two children are by far my proudest achievements. It’s the job that challenges me to be a better human and rewards me more than anything else I’ve ever done. Helping to raise two human beings that will hopefully help make the world they are inheriting a better place is the biggest, most humbling gift.
Living through a pandemic has given people time to reflect. What have you discovered about yourself during this past year?
The pandemic has taught me to let go of what I can’t control. To stay in the moment as much as I can and enjoy the little things. I don’t idle well—kind of like my muscle car—but I’m working on patience. None of us knew what would happen and how long life and work would be put on hold. I have so much gratitude for my family and my health. It’s been hard for so many people and I’m very lucky to have my health, a roof over my head, and food on my table.
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