Demi Moore Reveals All
12 September 2019
Ahead of the release of her candid new memoir, Moore opens up to close friend Lena Dunham about her dysfunctional childhood, past loves, and overcoming addiction.
Demi Moore turns up on the doorstep of my rental house in Wales in late July bearing gifts. She unloads them herself from the trunk of a black sedan, calling goodbye to a driver she’s known for two hours like it’s been two years. (“See you sooon, Bryan!”) There are biscuits. Gummies. Wildflowers. A room spray that claims to purify more than just the scent of a space. There’s a cashmere shawl (the one I’m now writing this in) from Debonnaire in London, the same chic out-of-the-way gift guru where she bought the patterned sack dress she’s wearing with scuffed Stan Smith’s, tiny shards of gold glinting in her earlobes and on her dainty knuckles.
The minute she sets her things down in the little pink bedroom upstairs (“I kind of like this girly one!” she says as she flops onto the bed), the halls begin to smell otherworldly, like a spa or the neck of a very cool girl at a downtown dinner party in the late ’90s. The type of fragrance that can’t be bought—it has to just waft from your pores as a result of having a honed aesthetic and your very own lease on life.
And she has both. In her about-damn-time memoir, Inside Out, Demi, 56, outlines her improbable journey from Good Old-Fashioned American Nothing to Hollywood Everything You Ever Dreamed Of. But what you get from this book that you can’t get anywhere else isn’t the rags-to-riches story but rather the honest and arresting way she details her slow drift into a different kind of emotional poverty, the sort that only decades of tabloid harassment and unchecked trauma can alchemize. She narrates, with the precision of a butcher’s knife, her divorces, addiction, and eventual isolation, but from this she pulls forth her most potent character yet: a fully formed, gives-no-fucks woman of wisdom. Well, she does give some fucks. It’s just that now they’re the right kind.
Let’s start where Demi does: a nomadic childhood crisscrossing America as she and her younger brother lived according to the whims of their charming, peripatetic parents, teenagers themselves when they met and fell into an unending love affair that would be referred to as toxic in the parlance of our times. This isn’t a Christmas-trees-and-quirky-pj’s childhood story. Think Dickens as seen by Diane Arbus, larger-than-life mania butting up against the poverty line. Demi recalls springing into action to revive her mother, who had overdosed in a bid to externalize the internal damage her relationship was causing: “The next thing I remember is using my fingers, the small fingers of a child, to dig the pills my mother had tried to swallow out of her mouth while my father held it open and told me what to do. Something very deep inside me shifted then, and it never shifted back. My childhood was over.”
Her childhood may have been over, but living according to her parents’ gospel wasn’t, and she continued to be a pawn in their dynamic even after it was made clear that her father, Danny Guynes, was not, in fact, her biological progenitor.
It’s easy now to applaud Demi for the bravery of these confessions, but looking back at her Vanity Fair cover story (August 1991, titled “Demi’s Big Moment,” that notorious image of her moon-shaped baby face plopped on top of a platonically ideal pregnant body, shining and full), you will find that she never conformed to Hollywood conventions of mystery: She was telling us all along. Throughout the article by Nancy Collins she lays bare her reality as the product of a parlor-floor war in which children were the casualty. Buried between snide comments like “exactly where Demi Moore stands in Hollywood is a matter of some debate” and “being Mrs. Bruce Willis couldn’t hurt a girl in Hollywood” (if this is her big moment, could you be a little sweeter, Nancy?!), Demi plainly states, “There is a man who would be considered my biological father who I don’t really have a relationship with.”
Lest we have any idealistic memories of a time before social media when a woman could be an unadulterated movie star, this profile makes it evident that beauty and ambition have never made cozy bedfellows. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who think I’m a bitch,” she said then, huddling with her firstborn, Rumer, in her trailer (she refused, despite strong gravitational forces, to let her children raise themselves, and this was the impetus for the break she took at the height of her box-office power to be a full-time mom in Hailey, Idaho). “I don’t fear to speak my mind.”
When I ask her about the skeptical, dismissive tone of a piece meant to herald her arrival, she says, “Thank goodness people remember the photo, they don’t remember the article.”
The woman I see before me today in Ystradowen (Vale of Glamorgan, Wales) is relaxed, not defensive, but also not defenseless. (“I have zero interest in being a victim” is a phrase she repeats and remixes throughout our week together.) She is less can’t-stop-won’t-stop toughness and more presence and peace. At night she changes into sweats and thick-framed black glasses, the look she adopts as her uniform when she’s home with her three daughters and eight motley dogs (some missing legs, chunks of ears, blind as bats but loved to the gills). It’s obvious, watching her yank the cherries out of an oatmeal cookie with a goofy pluck, that this woman has done the work.
Not the work of starring in Indecent Proposal and Ghost and G.I. Jane and every film that captured your adolescent imagination (though she has done that, and she also coproduced the Austin Powers films). Not the work of starting Thorn, an organization that uses technology to prevent sexual abuse of children online (she’s done that too). The work I speak of is digging deep into her own history and psyche to make sense of a past that has too often been reduced to headlines. (“Ashton Kutcher didn’t eat for a week after Demi Moore divorce!” Poor thing.)
“Everything that occurs in our individual lives informs us. Shifting, molding, presenting the opportunities for the exact purpose to get us where we are in the present time. Whatever that may be.” She twists and retwists her epic ponytail, like your favorite art teacher or Ariana Grande. “All the projecting of who they think I am [were] the very things that were pushing me out of two elements: my comfort zone, and my control. [They were] trying to get me to let go and really be who I am. And I don’t think that I knew how to do that.”
In one particularly nostalgic passage in the book (she’s not overly nostalgic; more of a poetic been there, done that), she describes watching a beautiful neighbor at the West Hollywood apartments that her mother dragged her to in a bid to escape her father’s alcoholism. This young woman, so self-assured, present, and ambitious, was Nastassja Kinski, and they would while away afternoons running lines for Nastassja’s auditions. Demi wasn’t drawn to acting by Shakespeare or the French Nouvelle Vague. Just an older teenager who was raring to go. “She had this sense of herself that I so wanted. Even though I didn’t know what it was. To me, she represented a sense of freedom that I couldn’t even fathom. It was a sense of belonging. [And I felt] if I could fit there, then it would mean it’s okay that I’m here…that it’s okay that I was born.”
But when you’re raised by people who define themselves by each other, it’s hard to imagine a life where you rule your own kingdom. In the book, Demi describes herself, age 16, seeing her first husband, Freddy Moore, up onstage with his band. “Watching Freddy, I was blown away: if I could be with someone that captivating, then maybe I would be captivating too.”
When she married Bruce Willis, we made sure to remind her that she could do anything she wanted, push as much as she dared, and she would still somehow be Die Hard’s wife. (The Vanity Fair profile devoted a good portion of its word count to an interview with Bruce in which he evaded questions about his wife, because a man’s evasion is always more interesting than a woman’s honesty.) Then the wife of a man 16 years her junior. (That ’70s Show wife.) Then wife of no one.
Demi loves dolls—dolls and toys. She collects them by the roomful, a hobby she describes as becoming an obsession in the wake of her divorce from Willis. “I love figurative art,” she says. “And when I look at the little faces of things that I have, whether they’re like little animals or little something or others. I’ve always got little faces looking at me. If you go up and look at my carry-on bag, I have a little bear, and I have a little Dil Pickles, you know, from Rugrats?”
Wait, wait, wait. Did the star of Striptease just tell me that she travels with a tiny stuffed Rugrats doll? She takes me upstairs and unveils him in her suitcase, cleaning his knobbly little head before holding him up for me to examine. “I usually have a monkey in my purse too. It started with one I call purse monkey.” Little faces everywhere. What a metaphor for our stares.
But, no, she tells me, rupturing my determined but clumsy metaphor. The doll faces are funny faces, “reminding you not to take your life too seriously and to remember the importance of play.”
The other faces are the ones of people trying to take from you,” she says with a nod. They were there when her second marriage ended. They stalked her third. But she did manage to hide some of her life from prying eyes, including the late miscarriage at about the same time that she was accused of being a grandma-aged bride at 42 (40 freaking 2). She hid her private reaction to public humiliation, saying simply, “As a woman, a mother, and a wife, there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.”
And she managed to keep her children sacred. When she talks about Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah (she was doing offbeat celeb baby names before all you Kardashians were a twinkle in your mothers’ eyes), she softens. Becomes some other substance; no longer that granite monument to deflected pain. “My daughters offered me an opportunity to start to change the generational pattern. To be able to break the cycles…” Motherhood, she says, was her only absolute goal and the only destiny she can be sure she’s fulfilled, and that includes “mothering myself.”
We have early call times. Tomorrow is her first day on set in Cardiff shooting a television series based on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which she plays a woman banished from a society where people control their emotions with a drug called soma. Now she sells her body because she’s never learned to experience it as her own.
She says she has to study her lines, that we should get to bed. But then she’s dressing me up, tying a vintage Yves Saint Laurent scarf around my head and explaining where I can get the cocktail dress I want. (Stella McCartney, though will anything look as good as the custom dress Stella made her for Princess Eugenie’s wedding that made Instagram users go crazy calling her “mother” in the good way? Nope.) Now she’s describing how not to panic on a forthcoming date. (“It’s just a chance to connect!”) Now she has her character teeth in to test them for tomorrow, and how does she still look so good with these jagged fake teeth in?
She feels my head. She says I feel hot. She can’t stop momming no matter how hard she tries, and when I send Tallulah a text describing her mother feeling my head in this lacy pink bedroom, she writes back simply: “Safety.”
In Inside Out, Demi asks a very straightforward question with no easy answer: How do you find safety if the ground is always moving beneath you, if the goal posts keep changing? “The kind of love I grew up with was scary to need and painful to feel.” But she found it, right where it had always been: “Learning that I’m okay with just me was a great gift I was able to give myself.”
The other gift is sobriety, something she achieved in her 20s, lost in her 40s, and got back as she headed into her 50s. “In retrospect, what I realized is that when I opened the door [again], it was just giving my power away.” She pauses, the eventual headline already forming between her brows, and speaks slowly, turning each word over in her palm. “I guess I would think of it like this: It was really important to me to have natural childbirth because I didn’t want to miss a moment. And with that I experienced pain. So part of being sober is, I don’t want to miss a moment of life, of that texture, even if that means being in—” She takes a breath, then smiles. “Some pain.”
I’m in bed now, new shawl on. (Safety.) She’s pacing outside my door, back and forth to brush her teeth, and grab her beloved can of Red Bull from the kitchen. (She doesn’t apologize for what she loves anymore.) The next morning I take a photo of her in that darn pink bedroom, among her Gucci and her Dil Pickles doll and her script pages strewn across the bed. “What kind of face do you want?” she asks, before settling into a half-grin. “Never mind, I’ll just do me.”
Demi Moore’s memoir, Inside Out, hits bookshelves September 24. Her latest film, Corporate Animals, will be released September 20.