Have Your Career and a Child Too

by Randy Maitland

Ambyr Childers Plays the Babe of the Fam in PTA’s The Master
if you ask Ambyr Childers, 24-year-old actress and mother of one, if she’d like something to drink, she says, “Oh no, gosh, no thank you,” so sweetly it’s as though no one has ever offered to buy her a latté and it’s just about the nicest thing ever. If you ask her if she’s been busy, her eyes widen as if suggesting the answer is already in her face. “Yeah—really, really, really busy,” she confirms, nodding her head as many times as she says, ‘really.’ If you ask her how famous she wants to be, if she wants to get to the point where she’s stalked and having to shave her head and bash out car windows, she laughs, and says, “Listen, I back Britney. If I was Britney Spears I would have shaved my head and beat the shit out of people too, so…I give her total credit for doing that.”

She takes a second and reconsiders.

“No, I just want to work. I know with the industry comes fame. But it all depends at what level, and it all depends on how the media perceives you, and the rest of the world looks at you. So you can’t really put it on the meter, ‘How famous do you want to be?’ I’m not in this industry to be famous.”

It’s just past ten in the morning, we’re at the upscale Beverly Glen Market Place Starbucks, where ideas of fame don’t seem particularly relevant and a queue of elderly women wait gravely for the not entirely inattentive young girls in green aprons to serve them their complex beverages. In the double-paned windows adjacent the serving counter, the fresh sunlight finds itself muted and diminishes before weakly reaching our table in the back nearer the restrooms. There’s the ambient roar of an espresso machine, cellphone chatter and piped in music. I set the recorder on the table between us. Childers looks impassively at the device before beginning the rundown of all her recent work.

She’s in two upcoming films, one already with Oscar buzz (The Master). The other, Gangster Squad, had its release delayed because a scene echoed the events in Aurora, CO a little too closely. She’s just finished a pilot for a TV show on Showtime set to begin filming in January, and another flick called We Are What We Are, that she won’t describe beyond it being a psychological thriller and “kind of gross.” Oh and if that’s not enough, she has a little two year old, London, to care for, along with husband, producer Randall Emmett (who produced Childers’ horror vehicle, Playback, in which she starred with Christian Slater).

Part of what is now being called ‘New Young Hollywood,’ Childers began acting at the age of 12. Her childhood in fairly homogeneous but rapidly growing Murietta, CA, was typical. Her parents owned an underground construction company and she went to the public schools within the district. “Normal kids, normal household,” Childers concludes.

She is the middle child, two years younger than the oldest, who is now an engineer, with a baby sister in high school looking to attend college in the fall on a basketball scholarship. Like Murietta’s federal congresswoman, Republican Mary Bono Mack, widow of Sonny Bono, Childers golfed—really rather well, and had earned herself a scholarship to UC Riverside. But instead of college and the links, she chose to go to New York, when she landed the part as Colby Chandler, a rebellious car-stealing teen, on the soap All My Children. Then she met Emmett, married, and in early February of 2010, gave birth to London.

“It changed my life completely,” says Childers. So much so, she sees herself now as a mother first, and an actress second. Asked if she ever brings London with her on set, her response is an emphatic, “Yes!”

London was with her during filming for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. “It was good, it’s going to be good I think. Paul is the master. He is so good. I’m blown away. He is a true filmmaker. I would only be so lucky to work with him again.”

Now in theaters, it’s possible The Master is one of the more beautiful, beguiling and frustrating films in recent memory, but in the way that L’Avventura is, revealing and constituting layers that become the images of self-production and the records of its disjunctions. In short, it’s a love story—about L. Ron Hubbard inspired Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) attachment to Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, fucking amazing btw) who is nearly folded in half with grief. It’s a legitimate film, shot on 65mm stock, with legitimate performances, and is something of a masterpiece.

Childers plays Dodd’s daughter, Elizabeth, the innocent faced allumeuse. In her most ominous scene, she sits next to Quell. Without eye contact Elizabeth slowly reaches over to squeeze Quell’s inner thigh. He winces at the contact, as though injured. Later, during a family dinner, she tells her father “Freddie is a problem” because he wants to seduce her. It is a brief character reveal and Childers plays it without any hint of irony, which makes it powerful.

Her character for the new Showtime series, Ray Donovan, explores similarly explosive terrain. Childers plays a crazy, Britney Spears-esque character who hires Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber), the eponymous hero, to fix her problems. It all seems so different from the person sitting across from me, I tell her. She giggles at the suggestion and says, “Yeah.”

“But some days, it’s a lot.” She admits working full time and being a full time mother can be exhausting. I ask her who she looks to and Childers smiles. She had a good example—her mother. “My mom was a very dedicated mother. She found a way to keep a good balance, running my father’s company and taking care of all of us. That, I think, is something I learned from her, that it is okay to work and still have a family. I know some people find it hard, but I love what I do and she drilled it into us that we could do whatever we wanted and still have a family.”

“But let me get this straight,” I say. “Your daughter is almost three. You made this decision at such a young age.”

“Well it’s something that I wanted. I knew I always wanted to be a young mother. Now looking back, I definitely wouldn’t have changed it. My daughter and I will hopefully grow up together and I’ll teach her things and it won’t be like I’ll have to think way back to, you know...”

“Listen,” she says, “People forget that women are supposed to have kids young, and mind you, some people choose to have careers first, which is totally acceptable and I’m cool with that, but for me, that wasn’t what I wanted.

“When you have a child,” she continues, “you learn different things about life. You learn what’s important, you learn what you like, you understand who you are more as a person. It’s a weird thing.”

At this point, both our attentions yield to a woman much younger than the elderly crowd. Holding a wobbling toddler by its grubby paw, the woman attempts to steer it to the counter without knocking over the display of coffee beans and coffee mugs near our table. It’s like she’s pushing the one shopping cart with the messed up wheel. As they stumble past, Childers and I begin to imagine what damage that child could do if it were ten feet tall.

“It’d be Jurassic Park level chaos,” I say.

“At two it is challenging,” Childers confirms, and looks at me as if to suggest I’m being a little dramatic. As I stare at the woman and her kid, Childers resumes speaking. “And then there’s the next stage, the threes. And the threes are worse than the two’s.” She stops for a second. Maybe she’s noting my terrified expression. But what she’s saying now seems more for her benefit than the interview. It’s like she’s telling herself what’s to come, and of course she knows what to do. “You just have to take things day…by day…by day…by…” And she trails off into a knowing chuckle, far ahead of her years.

Photography: Guy Lowndes at GuyLowndes.com.

Styling: Eunice Jera Lee.

Hair: Rob Talty for TheMagnetAgency.com.

Makeup: Jo Strettell for TheMagnetAgency.com

Beauty notes: Moisturizing Toning Lotion and Optimum Moisture Serum by Ioma, Photo Finish Luminizing Foundation Primer, Sheer Focus Tinted Moisturizer in Luminous, Photo Op Under Eye Brightener, and Image Factory Waterproof Shadow Liner in Brown with Gold Flecks by Smashbox Cosmetics, and Lip base and Rouge Vibrant Cream Color in 09 by Sensai by Kanebo. Maximista Thickening Spray by Oribe.