Actress Lisa Rinna on sex, love and the drama of raising teens
By Robyn Burnett & Christopher Giardino
Colourful and courageous, Lisa Rinna is a force to be reckoned with. Known originally for her roles as the feisty Billie Reed on NBC’s Days of our Lives, and the scheming Taylor McBride on Melrose Place, after 27 years in the industry, Rinna has no intention of slowing down.
At 51, the Hollywood mainstay has a resume that includes performances on Broadway in Chicago (with her husband, Harry Hamlin), stints on All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, showing off her moves in Dancing with the Stars, hosting Soap Talk on SoapNet, and writing the New York Times bestsellers Rinnivation: Getting Your Best Life Ever and The Big, Fun, Sexy Sex Book. Lauded for having one of Hollywood’s best over-40 bodies, she’s also released a series of exercise DVDs — Lisa Rinna: Dance Body Beautiful.
While it’s safe to say the mom of two teen girls — Delilah Belle, 16 and Amelia Gray, 13 — is anything but ordinary, when it comes to her family, she cantors. “I don’t know if there’s anything that makes us unique [as parents] other than the fact that Harry and I are in a business that most parents aren’t. We live a family life just like anyone else.”
Rinna is a prime example of how to pursue diverse interests and raise kids. She never shies away from trying new things, and when it comes to her daughters, she strives to lead by example. “You can’t create a passion in somebody — they have to have their own,” she says. “I think living out my own will teach them you can do anything you want in your life.”
Praise is one way Rinna tries to inspire confidence in her teen girls. “I think it’s really important to tell them how beautiful they are, how smart they are, and build them up in a way that is authentic,” she says, but adds that when it comes to comfortable, ongoing parent-teen communication, it’s not always easy. “I’ve really tried to express that we’re there for them and love them unconditionally,” says Rinna. “It’s tricky because at this age, they want some privacy.” That said, thanks to the geography of Los Angeles, she’s found a fail-proof way to encourage communication. “We have to drive a lot here, and one of the benefits is that you have time in the car where a lot of talking can be done,” she says.
“Because we’re not face-to-face in an uncomfortable situation, even if I don’t say anything, I can sit and listen and learn so much. They tell all in the car. You just need to keep your mouth shut and let them talk.”
Having worked on soap operas and in reality television, Rinna has heard some pretty colourful stuff. When parenting her daughters — specifically in the trying moments so associated with the teen years — she says she uses advice a doctor offered years earlier.
“My pediatrician said, if you can get a handle on tantrums when kids are small, you’ll be much better off when they are teenagers. Because the same thing goes on; whether they’re two or 12, it’s the same kind of tantrum.”
As for keeping the girls grounded while living in celeb-ridden Los Angeles? “I don’t think it matters where you live; I try to keep them grounded and realistic in an unrealistic, social media-crazy world.”
With 230,000 Twitter followers, Rinna is no stranger to the power of the Internet. Her awareness of this, alongside her own comfort with her sexuality (having shared her methods of overcoming a low sex drive in Rinnovation, written The Big, Fun, Sexy Sex Book and posed for Playboy), makes her very conscious of the importance of talking to her teenage girls about sex.
“It’s tricky because it’s the last thing they want to talk about, but you’ve got to talk about it,” she says. “I just make it part of the conversation. I think the more you make something taboo, the more taboo it’s going to be.” She adds that she’s a big believer in waiting, and doing all she can to make sure her daughters are old enough to deal with everything involved with intimacy.
“Sexuality is obviously something that they are very well aware of. They know everything at this point thanks to the Internet, but I think it’s really important for parents to instill good morals and values, and let them know what’s right, what’s wrong, when to wait and when they’ll be ready.”
One way Rinna stays ba lanced is by finding time for herself. “It’s hard, but you’ve got to carve it out. I have to be in a good place or everybody suffers,” she says.
“I grew up as an only child, so I’m certainly good at making time for myself.”
A big stress reliever — as well as her favourite fitness undertaking — is yoga. “I practice quite frequently because it’s the best mind/body/soul workout for me. I go to a class and come out a different person.” She also loves hiking, spin, Pilates and dance classes, but says getting her daughters on the fitness bandwagon can be trickier. “The truth is, if you leave them to their own wills, nothing’s going to happen,” she says. “I use force and say ‘This is what you’re doing right now.’ That works. I threaten, I take phones away or I bargain. It sounds harsh, but it works. Delilah just did dance camp for two weeks.
She wanted nothing to do with it, but she went and had the time of her life. That’s how I keep them active: do it by force. I make them be active.”
Rinna’s diet choice is her own, however. “I’ve been vegan for two years now and I like it. It can be challenging,
but everything’s challenging. It makes me feel better — I get sick less, have more energy, and it seems to work well in keeping me feeling good.”
The other great element in Rinna’s life is her long-time relationship with her husband, actor Harry Hamlin. Married for 17 years (together for 21), she says their secret to staying connected is simple: they spend time together. “We just went for an hour-long hike to talk. We often spend a night at a hotel. You have to create opportunities where you can be intimate. If you don’t, you just grow apart.”
Rinna and Hamlin have worked together on a handful of projects, including TV movie Sex, Lies and Obsession, the critically acclaimed TV series Veronica Mars, and in a Broadway production of Chicago, where Rinna played Roxie Hart to Hamlin’s Billy Flynn. “I just love working with him. I think we got to do the greatest thing [actors] can do together — Broadway every night, eight shows a week.”
While Rinna’s stint on Dancing with the Stars led to the creation of dance fitness DVDs, her latest endeavour, Sing Your Face Off, has inspired some new ideas as well. “I’ve always thought it would be fun to do a cabaret show — that might be something I would do.”
Singing is not new to Rinna’s repertoire, however. “I’ve always been singing, I just never really pursued it heavily as a career,” she says. “But I was singing in high school, I did musical theatre. When I first got the
role of Billie in Days of Our Lives, she was actually a singer. So it’s been sprinkled throughout my career.”
More recently, Rinna is focused on her QVC fashion line, Belle Gray (named after her daughters) featuring casual, chic California-inspired styles. She’s also considering other projects — there are rumours she’ll be joining the cast of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Whatever comes next, Rinna’s attitude is always gung-ho: “If that’s meant to be, then I’m up for it.”
Having written two lifestyle books, Rinna is no stranger to analyzing what works in her life. “If I was going to add a chapter about raising teenagers, I would [talk] about keeping your kids close and not being afraid to find out exactly what they are doing at all times,” she says. “When they push you away, pull them in, hug them and tell them you love them.
Whether you have a nine-to-five job, are a stay-at-home mom, whatever it is, [being a mom] is hard. We all know it. We all just try to do the best we can.”