The actress and LA mama on motherhood, her second pregnancy & strong roles for women
By Caitlin Wolper
Emilie de Ravin wasn’t the first to know she was pregnant again—her 2.5-year-old daughter Vera told her. Vera also was the first to predict that the baby was a boy, and, as time would tell, she was right. De Ravin—an LA mom and actress known for her notable and critically-acclaimed primetime TV roles on “Roswell,” “Lost,” and “Once Upon A Time”—will welcome her first son and second child with fiancé Eric Bilitch in a couple of months.
However, her pregnancy is a bit different the second time around. When she was pregnant with Vera, de Ravin recalls, she didn’t yet have a child, so she didn’t have to factor in needs besides her own. Her current pregnancy has thrown her a brand-new challenge: Managing a toddler while also managing her prenatal wellness.
“I still had time to myself [during my first pregnancy]. I still had: ‘Oh, I can find a new prenatal yoga class,’ or ‘I can go for a nice walk’ and really take that time to nourish and take care of [my] body and mind,” she explains. “The struggle during this pregnancy is finding time to do that.” She already swears by DockATot and Nuna’s car seat, and adds she’s excited to try out the SNOO by Happiest Baby with her child-to-come.
When de Ravin can fit in some “me time” and prenatal yoga between caring for Vera and acting, she feels “a massive difference, especially mentally.” That said, de Ravin won’t let pregnancy slow her down—she was on a project that wrapped when she was at 16 weeks: “There was a lot of ‘Oh, I think I should wear the flowy dress for this’ by the end of that job,” she laughs.
She and Bilitch—who’s also in the entertainment industry—often travel for work and take Vera along with them, whether it’s Vancouver, Europe, or Atlanta. Vera’s also traveled to her mother’s home, Australia, among many other global destinations. Even though her family is LA-based right now, de Ravin feels she isn’t necessarily raising Vera in LA (especially before she enters the school system), what with all their travel—but she says Vera loves traveling with the family, and it often plays a role in her dress-up and games of pretend.
“Every time she dresses up and gets her little bag together, I’m like: ‘Where are you going?’ and she says: ‘Oh, I’m going to Paris, I’m going to climb the Eiffel Tower,’” de Ravin laughs, adding that the family recently took a trip there. “She’s moving to Paris, apparently. Sometimes we, in these stories, get to go; sometimes she’s going on her own.”
Though de Ravin can’t predict if her daughter will choose to act, Vera definitely loves dress-up and dance (“I think I’m asked every day if we’re going to ballet.”). When de Ravin was packing before a move, she let Vera stand on the dining room table to help. “That became her little stage and she was singing ‘I’m a little teapot’ in her red tutu,” she laughs. “She’s definitely got that side to her.”
Her mother is clearly a model for this theatrical behavior. De Ravin started her career-defining role on the late-90s teen sci-fi drama “Roswell” at only 18 years old, playing alien-human hybrid Tess Harding. Only a couple years later, she appeared as Claire on the popular and critically-acclaimed TV series “Lost,” which follows an increasingly harrowing and complex tale of airplane crash survivors stranded on an island, and recently celebrated its 14th anniversary of the premiere. “‘Lost’ was an experience that changed my life in so many ways,” she says. “Not just my life; I feel like it changed the platform for TV. There wasn’t ever a show like that, especially on network TV. It really broke every side of the box and burst through.”
She spent six years filming the show, and got very close to the cast and crew as a result. “That’s a long time to spend with the same people being the same character in the same set with the same crew,” she reflects. “And then, that’s just sort of gone.”
She spent seven years as Belle (as in the protagonist princess of “Beauty and the Beast”) on ABC’s long-running “Once Upon A Time,” a role that she recently wrapped. The show, which combines modern life and fairy-tale to create a brand new story, is one she’s found appeals to all ages, and often brings families together in front of their TV.
There’s a commonality in all the roles de Ravin takes: She looks for characters somewhat unlike herself that both challenge her and carry “a positive reinforcement of what to do, what not to do: Something that people can learn from and grow from.” She adds: “I don’t want to play the same character over and over again, just wearing a different outfit or with different color hair; [otherwise] I might as well stay on the same job for 50 years.”
De Ravin craves the challenge of playing complex characters dissimilar to herself, and the research it requires. And with the range of different personalities and character circumstances she’s taken on over the course of her acting career, the rewards she’s reaped from her hard work and diligent research are clear.
“For me keep a character fresh, therefore to keep the viewer interested in watching and engaged in watching what I’m doing, [I need] something that is challenging, something that I can learn from,” she says. “Whether it’s anything from a different talent the character has, or an accent, or a belief system—something I have to dip into the knowledge pool and really learn and do some research for—[I have to] open up my mind and my heart to new things and new experiences. I find that the more open you are and the more hungry you are for knowledge in life in general, whether it’s acting or anything else, then the more giving you can be and the more interesting of a character I can develop from that.”
With Belle and “Once Upon A Time” as a whole, one of her greatest challenges was portraying a famous, pre-existing character but still imbuing her with complexity that didn’t stray from her personality and story. “I’ve got all these children that are watching her, wanting to be like their favorite character; let’s give her something…an extra strength to her, an extra positivity to her,” de Ravin says. “Also, [show them that] everyone makes mistakes, and there is no perfection; there is no perfect princess or perfect life or perfect world. Everything’s messy, and that’s not a bad thing.”
That’s the type of life lesson de Ravin hopes her kids would get from her acting work as well. “I would like them to be hopefully more inspired by things that I can teach them as a parent as opposed to through my work, but at the same time, there are things that are appropriate life lessons, whether it be conflict or love or whatever, [that] can be taught through film and TV: It’s a very prominent part of growing up now, or just our world in general,” she says. “A child sits down and watches something and it makes a much bigger impact than it does on us…They’re just this massive, magical little sponge.”
That’s another reason she takes on challenging roles: She wants to play strong, realistic women, roles she’s starting to see more often. “It’s not just what I pursue or what I would like to pursue,” she says. “It’s also what’s being presented is changing a lot too, in at least what I have seen.”
She adds that in the future, she does want her children to understand that as much as she loves her job, it’s still work, and hard work at that. “I love what I do, I’m very lucky and blessed to be able to still be working in this industry—it’s a tough one, and it’s a strange one, it’s a crazy one. But it’s work, and as much fun as it is, it’s a job like everyone else has,” she says. She then adds with a laugh: “They can learn about the craziness of it later. Keep it more in the fun part for now.”
After she has her son, de Ravin figures she’ll go back to work—not right away, but likely in 2019. Of course, it’s all up in the air for now, as is the nature of entertainment. “You never know what projects are going to be around [in the future]. Is it something that I’m going to be into? Is it something they want me for?” de Ravin says. But luckily, she adds, she does work in the sort of industry where she can bring her kids along for the ride (before they’re “properly” in school—Vera currently attends a half-day pre-school).
“There’s such flexibility when they’re little… It’s a place that you can share with your children: If you’re working on location and it’s somewhere cool, they can come hang out and watch and travel with you,” de Ravin says. “It’s not like I’m going to close myself in an office all day and I’m not allowed to bring to my children, so that really is a huge bonus.”
She starts to say that, all the same, she loves to be home with “her” (Vera) and amends it to “them,” including her baby-to-come. “It’s going to be a big change; whatever happens will happen,” she says. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it with Vera, and that all worked out really nicely.”
She’s on a break from work as she waits for her son’s arrival, and has been passing the time with Vera, who’s excited to have a baby brother. Vera’s also keeping her mom busy, between reading together (“She memorizes me or Eric reading [books] to her and then she’ll sit down and sort of read them herself in this animated voice, playing it out.”) and helping out in the kitchen from her stool: “I think she enjoys the tasting process,” de Ravin laughs.
They also pursue outdoor activities together as a family, something both de Ravin and Bilitch believe to be an enormously important facet of early childhood. “She loves swimming, she likes going swimming together… I always try and find some activities with her, like little family farms or veggie farms or the beach or going for a walk, going for a hike, just exploring; even just being out in our garden and gardening together and looking over all the flowers—and then she’ll find the ants,” de Ravin says. “That reminds me of me, just loving, when I was as little as this, the tiny things outside that you find, whether it’s a tiny little part of a seed or figuring out where this came from, or where does that insect live, and all the tiny wonders. [It’s] super soothing and calming, too, doing that with her. It really puts life and everything else that’s going on in the world into perspective.”