Earlier this month, on the eve of South by Southwest in Austin, Brooklyn Decker accepted the Austin Film Society’s Rising Star award at its annual Texas Film Awards. The montage of clips that preceded its presentation featured bits of her screen debut, a supporting role in the Adam Sandler comedy Just Go With It, and pieces from her work in Peter Berg’s Battleship and the 2012 romantic comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And while there were also scenes from her ongoing role in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, in which she co-stars alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston, Decker says it was watching early film work—the earliest of which is just less than a decade old—that left her misty-eyed.
“I was watching thinking about how much more power I have now,” says Decker, who has lived in Austin since 2009 and is married to retired tennis champion Andy Roddick. “Not as an actress, but as a woman who’s now 31 years old, I have so much more power in my decision making. And when I looked at the reel, I felt like a kid in a lot of that. I really noticed the shift from a 22-year-old’s first movie to the 31-year-old who can and does make different decisions and has two children. I’m so happy to feel like a woman now.”
Decker is quick to credit her 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover with opening doors in Hollywood, but on this week’s National Podcast of Texas she told Texas Monthly that part of the power she feels she’s wielding now stems from consistently exceeding expectations and disproving that there’s something somehow inherently less serious about a model-turned-actor or model-turned-entrepreneur. (In 2017, Decker and cofounder Whitney Casey launched the app Finery, a “Wardrobe Operating System” that tracks clothing purchases and suggests outfits.)
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“I’m constantly having to prove myself more than my contemporaries,” says Decker. “There’s a general skepticism I think that exists when you start as a model. I also think people feel freer to act as a puppeteer [with you] because that’s your past. And whether or not they are conscious of that, I’ve felt that projected upon me. I’ve had to work that much harder to prove that I deserve to be at the table.”
With a sprawling conversation on The National Podcast of Texas, Decker discusses her proudly warts-and-all approach to social media, considers the impact of #MeToo on Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the modeling industry, and considers, as she prepares for the sixth and possibly final season of Grace and Frankie, what comes next.
Highlights (condensed and edited for clarity):
On still being labeled a model
I certainly do not want to bite the hand that fed me, because modeling is what created an incredible amount of opportunities for me and gave me a career at the age of 18. It opened the doors in more ways than I ever could have imagined. But it’s funny, I was modeling full-time for maybe five years and I’ve been now in business for three years and doing film and television for ten years. And to this day the introduction is almost always “model.” And it’s, “How do you love being a model?” I certainly don’t reject that part of my life. I loved a lot of it. But it is funny that the first thing that you do really does define you.
On Sports Illustrated
Thank god for Sports Illustrated, because they were really the first ones to see me, hire me, and also say, “Let’s do a video diary. Let’s write a profile. Let’s find out where you’re from. Let’s put your name on the page.” That seems so trivial. But at that time they were the only publication that was actually putting your name on the page and adding a little bit of personality. We were modeling swimsuits, but I think something that goes largely unnoticed is that that issue has always had a female editor and has always been edited 100 percent by women. And so it’s the vision of what’s beautiful from a female perspective. And I really think that’s special. What Sports Illustrated did that people have finally caught on to is realized that their relationship with these models was actually a brand partnership over a series of years. You got on Letterman and did these things that you wouldn’t have otherwise done. You were business partners in a sense, and it’s a lifelong relationship. They recognized that you have a business and are a businesswoman and this is your career. And we were treated as such, instead of, as so many people at that time were, treating you like you were a puppet.
We want people to shop smarter. If you’re going to spend, buy something new, don’t buy redundancy. We have so many redundancies in our wardrobes. And women only wear 20 percent of what they have. You forget what you own or you do the event dressing where you say, “I have an interview, I need to get something for it.” Instead, maybe look into what you have? And I don’t know what informs that behavior. I don’t know if it’s cultural. I don’t know if it’s social media showing us something new all the time, therefore we feel like we have to consume, consume, consume. But there’s a little bit of like what Marie Kondo is doing. I really respect that, because for us millennials, we’ll wear an item of clothing four to five times. Think about the contribution to waste. And so I’m a big believer in reducing, in being smarter about what you have. And peel back your clothing—who’s making it? Was it made from deadstock? You should do the same with your tech. You should do the same with your food.
On pitching her app for venture capital
Think about patterns and think about when entrepreneurs go in to raise money. They walk into a VC [and they have] a certain look, right? They’re typically male. They’re typically a college dropout. They might have a hoodie and jeans, they might have their Patagonia vest and a pair of Allbirds. There’s a very clear pattern of successful entrepreneurs. And then my business partner and I walk in. I’m a first-time entrepreneur. She is not. But we’re both new technical founders. And we’re fashionable. We both like clothing and we’re wearing the atypical uniform for an entrepreneur. I think they don’t recognize that as the successful look, so maybe they’re hesitant to invest? And again, I think that’s all subconscious. I don’t think that people are intentionally saying, “I’m going to not give you a chance because you’re women.” Or “I don’t understand fashion, so I’m not going to invest in it.” I don’t think that’s what it is. I genuinely believe that there is not a pattern recognition when we walk into the room.
On social media
I have no strategy when it comes to my social media. It’s the only way I know how to be. I’m just a pretty raw person. And if it’s humiliating and funny, I think that’s better. I find that more interesting. I get a lot of feedback about my social media when I’m out and about. I feel like people talk about that more than they talk about anything else that I do. But I think most people in my position, most people who have a show to promote or who are an “influencer,” whatever that is, post more regularly [than I do]. I actually am breaking all the rules not posting regularly. I can go a month without doing it. I tend to post when I’m not with my kids, and you can tell when I’m really bored and lonely because I’m posting a lot. But there’s no strategy. When I feel like saying something, I say something.
On her husband’s retirement
He’s very black-and-white. And he decided the morning he announced his retirement that he was going to retire. There was no discussion prior. We discussed it that day, but it wasn’t like something he had been chewing on for six months that he had talked about with his family and with his coaches. He woke up and knew that that was the day, and it happened to be his 30th birthday. And he did it so beautifully and naturally. I think what I realized is, the last two years of his career, he would get an injury and they would say, “You need to take four weeks.” And he wouldn’t do it. He would take two weeks. He pushed it. He was pushing, pushing, pushing constantly. The losses were harder to take. And the injuries were harder to recover from. And I think what I realized when he retired was that the reason why he was able to make that decision in one day was because he had been deciding to retire for two years, even though there weren’t conversations about it. And I think if there’s any lesson to be learned, he was so happy he went out on top.
On #MeToo and modeling
The reckoning was coming, and it’s not over. There’s so many more stories that haven’t been told and that probably will be told. But here’s something interesting about modeling. It’s disgusting in a lot of ways and people behaved disgustingly in a lot of ways, but it is actually one of the only businesses where women make significantly more money than men and have significantly more opportunity than men. And in modeling, women actually have more power, which is really funny because I don’t think fashion actually gets credit for that. It’s one of the few industries where, although men are still running the big brands and it’s ultimately their advertising that fuels the magazines, women have decision-making power. The editors and models? They are female and they are running that industry.