It’s been a long trek to this little photo studio in the heart of Los Angeles, where actress and The OC star Kelly Rowan is shivering a bit as she poses prettily in a strapless evening gown, standing outside in the strangely chill October afternoon air. For the Canadian native started her journey towards fame, fortune and international stardom far away from here, back in Ottawa, where she was born and raised.
In that sense, the weather is in keeping, one supposes, with her upbringing, and brings together the elements here, so far away, in Los Angeles. “I moved to Toronto when I was 12 and grew up in Toronto. Then I went to New York, and then I went to L.A.,” Rowan recalls, now out of the chill, and dressed in her normal uniform of T-shirt and jeans and a warm, tailored wool jacket. “I’ve been here for a really long time, for 15 years. But I don’t quite know where home is yet. I’ve been a gypsy my whole life, really.”
Her nomadic lifestyle began quite early, when she was just a teenager and landed a job as a fashion model. “I started modelling really just to pay for college,” she remembers. “I was 15 when I started working and then I went to Japan when I was 17.” Those early successes led to work in commercials, and by the time she was 21 (without that planned college degree), Rowan had shifted from modelling to acting, moved to the United States, and never looked back.
She studied acting in New York, and by the late 1980s was getting steady work in television, everything from daytime soap operas (Another World) to sitcoms (Growing Pains) to trashy dramas (Dallas), all work that she’s proud to have had. “When you start out, you do things because you need to pay your rent!” Rowan chuckles. “And there are so many ups and downs in your career. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to do this for a living, but there are years where you’re just trying to put it together. When I first started, it was just about trying to get experience and learn. I’ve sure done my fair share of bad television!”
Finally hitting it big with roles in films like Assassins opposite Antonio Banderas and Sylvester Stallone and with Samuel L. Jackson in 187 helped the soft-spoken actress to establish a solid career as she moved through the 90s. Mixing in more television, made-for-TV movies and feature films kept Rowan working steadily, but she was not quite becoming a household name—or an instantly recognizable face.
Rowan is interested in controlling her own destiny by writing, directing and producing her own projects; she’s determined to create meaningful roles for women of her age and experience.
Then, as the determined thespian was approaching her 40th birthday (which, by the way, she won’t quite admit to, as various sources give her birth year as 1965 or 1966 or 1967, and when asked to pin it down, Rowan just smiles a Cheshire Cat grin and says, “Let’s keep everyone guessing because it’s kind of fun, isn’t it? It’s so funny. There’s a whole gamut of choices out there of what my age is and it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day”), she booked the show that would really change her life.
Taking the role of the messed-up wife and mother Kirsten Cohen on the hit show The OC gave Rowan the opportunity to really strut her acting stuff, with story arcs that have included struggles with alcoholism and emotional problems. Plus, being on such a high-profile show rocketed her into stardom (along with her younger co-stars Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, and Adam Brody, who plays her son), and definitely changed her level of fame, both personally and professionally. “When you are on such a popular show, you become more recognized, everywhere, even when you’re travelling internationally,” she says. “But honestly, the phone is not ringing off the hook with other offers! But it does open doors. I believe it helps me with what I’m trying to get done now. It might move things along a little faster or easier in some ways.”
What she’s trying to get done, now that she’s got some serious celebrity clout, is to meet a threefold set of goals. Rowan is interested in controlling her own destiny by writing, directing and producing her own projects; she’s determined to create meaningful roles for women of her age and experience; and just as importantly, she’s dedicated to bringing prominence to uniquely Canadian stories. To that end, Rowan joined with L.A.-based producer Graham Ludlow and formed a production company, the credits of which already include the made-for-TV film Eight Days to Live, the true story of a Canadian teenager who was trapped in his car for eight days as his mother (played by Rowan) doggedly searched for him. Co-produced by Shaftesbury Films, an all-Canadian entertainment company, it was the highest-rated movie ever to air on the CTV network. The film immediately cemented Rowan’s fame at home, and guaranteed that she would be able to continue to make her career plans come true.
“It’s getting harder and harder for women to find good roles and good stories in Hollywood, and I realized that a couple of years ago. And I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those people who is just complaining about the fact that there is no work,” Rowan says. “And I think that the only way this is all going to change is if women make it change. So I’m out there and being proactive. We’ve also produced In God’s Country, another film for Canadian television about polygamy in the Mormon Church [in which Rowan also stars], and I’m putting the elements together on an adaptation of a Canadian novel called Chasing Iris that we adapted as a feature film. Hopefully I’ll direct that as well.”
Concentrating so much of her energy on her burgeoning career does mean some sacrifices in her personal life, however. When asked if she’s dating anyone, Rowan demurs politely. “I don’t really want to talk about my private life,” she says, but does admit that it’s been tough to keep up too many committed relationships over the years. “I’ve got no animals, nothing like that,” she giggles. “I tried to have a plant, but that didn’t work out very well!”
“It’s getting harder and harder for women to find good roles in Hollywood.”
What the vibrant beauty does make time for is a serious regimen to keep herself looking years younger than she really is, starting with a strict diet that centres around raw foods. “I had hypoglycemia when I was in my 20s and I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired,” says Rowan, whose slim physique and clear skin proves the success of her program. “I didn’t understand what food would do to you and how much that affected you. Then I started working with this naturopath here in Los Angeles who really gave me a great education. Since then, I just eat organic and I eat a lot of raw things. I’ve been doing it for so long now, though, it’s sort of second nature.”
But she credits her special eating habits with helping her keep up with the demands of her career, a fact that makes her determined to remain dedicated to the program for her lifetime. “It changed my life, really, because I wouldn’t have the energy and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I worked so much last year and I always have a tremendous amount of energy. So it lets me do everything that I do and be healthy at the same time. So that’s really why I do it.”
And while Rowan knows that staying slim and beautiful is an integral element in keeping her career going strong as she enters middle age, she isn’t one of those dysfunctional Hollywood stars that madly exercises for hours every day with a fear of putting on even a tiny bit of fat. She’s got a pretty normal routine that she tries to keep up with—when she’s not spending 14 hours on set, that is.
“If I can get to the gym three days a week I’m lucky. I don’t beat myself up with things like, ‘I didn’t go to the gym today, I’m so bad’, because that’s not helpful. Plus, my diet, if you want to call it a diet, is really good because I eat really well.” The delicately beautiful blonde willingly admits that while she may not be exercising every day, she’s certainly doing everything she can to stave off the aging process, especially when it comes to her face. “I definitely have a wonderful facialist that I visit pretty frequently, because I wear so much make-up all the time and it’s heavy make-up. When I’m not working I try not to wear make-up, maybe just a little gloss and some concealer or something. I moisturize a lot and I try to take care of my skin. It’s really a function I have to do because of the job. I mean, I’d still be doing these things if I wasn’t doing this, but I’ve just been in front of the camera for so long that I’m just really conscious of keeping everything moisturized and drinking a lot of water.”
And one thing that Kelly Rowan promises to avoid is falling into the aging-actress trap of nipping and tucking in the search for eternal youth. “It’s weird to think about altering yourself, because you can’t go back. It looks a little strange, too. And this is why I think that just doing preventative things like eating properly and taking care of your skin and having the facials and that kind of thing, that’s all you can do. At the end of the day, you can’t beat it. We’re all going to get older. So I think that if you also work on your insides and being really fulfilled with what you do with your life, then maybe you get the focus off of the vanity issue.”
She’ll stay in Los Angeles for a while longer, certainly for as long as her starring role on The OC is still going strong. But Rowan misses her Canadian roots enough that she’s just “bought a place up in Vancouver”, partly because she’s been shooting the films she produces there (and will continue to do so, purposefully bringing her business back to her home country), and partly because she’s still looking for the place where her long gypsy-actress life journey will finally come to rest.
“I don’t quite know where home is yet. It’s not Los Angeles, even though I have a great place and I have great friends. It might be Vancouver. It’s nice to have a place there, so that I can kind of go in and out of there when I want, but I don’t know if that’s it either. I do know that when I go back there I go, ‘Oh, right. I remember.’ Canada is just a gentler existence. We’ll see. Time will tell.”
Fashion Editor: Elisa Kosonen. Styling: Ashley Sinclair. Hair: Steven Mason for Exclusive Artists/Redken. Makeup: Mai Quynh for The Wall Group. Shot on location at Milo Studio in Los Angeles.