Sophie Lee, the actress, author and mother of three keeps her feet firmly on the ground, while letting her creative inspirations soar. Here, the dynamic beauty shares her thoughts on motherhood, life-balance and her distinctive personal style.
Photographed by Hugh Stewart
Interview by Natasha Inchley
Sophie Lee is without sleep but hiding it beautifully. This morning, as with most, she was up at 4:45am for her daughter’s swim practice; the night before there was a writer’s deadline and now there is a cast of thousands preparing to photograph the author, actress and mother of three in her usually tranquil weekend beach retreat. Yet when quizzed on the topic of modern family life, Lee is warm, funny and self-deprecating, with amusingly dry takes on life’s daily moments.
Her passion for words and storytelling was ignited early on by her parents: “My Dad taught philosophy, and Mum taught Latin and English, and I often think the greatest gift they gave me was not putting a television in the house,” she says. “Obviously at the time you feel slightly deprived, but it meant that I accessed all the many, many books that were crammed on the shelves in our crazy family home in the bush.”
In turn, Lee spent a childhood conjuring make-believe characters and hideaways with her brothers: “Writing and poetry gave me a special thrill; I knew as a kid it was that something that made me feel like I belonged.” At twelve, she was chosen to represent her school at a creative camp on the Hawskbury River, which marked a turning point. “There was a poet in residence and the weekend was focused on writing and drama – I went as a writer but came back with a burning desire to act and my mother was just horrified,” she says, laughing. “I think Mum had hoped I was going to be a journalist but instead I went on to join a repertory theatre company and sign an agent.”
Indeed, Lee’s early success in film, television and theatre – highlighted by shining comedic performances in films such as Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle – not only further fueled her creativity but also afforded the actress a very grounded sense of self. Writing projects weaved in and out, and at 31 she penned her first novel, Alice In La La Land, loosely based on the actress’s experiences in Hollywood.
Currently working on a modern family epic, she likens her creative writing to a kind of collaging of ideas: with an acute awareness of script readings, Lee fills notebooks with dialogue to bring her characters to life. “The first draft is always hard, when you’re just chipping away you feel like you are diving off a cliff,” she says. “But you keep at it and strive to find a way to ignite an artist’s mentality, which means making the time to commit to the project and letting the washing pile up."
That said, Lee has always put family before her fame. Her acting work is shot around their schedule; her writing time comes largely late at night. When asked how she navigates the whole work-life-family balance she laughs: “I don’t have the answer to that because I don’t feel as though there is always balance. I do feel very privileged to be hands on with my kids. When they were really young I felt this constant guilt, like perhaps I wasn’t doing everything – working, looking after the kids, looking after my own health and fitness, burning the candle at both ends – whereas now, I feel my children need me to give them tangible signs of love. They’re only young for so long, everything else needs to fit in around them.”
Hence, the family’s beachside hideaway located on Sydney’s north coast – an airy light-filled space with bleached wood furniture and comfy linen sofas to curl up and read a book in. “It’s a place where we go as a family to relax and be in the moment. We unplug the computers, we never check emails or surf the net. Instead, it’s about mud crabs and enjoying the environment and switching off from the pace of modern life,” she says
Her personal style is also without fuss: the actress favours a kind of louche undone chic that combines buttoned shirts with interest – a pair of culottes, for example, or a leather skirt. Of her Country Road story, she says, “I love the idea of borrowing my husband’s shirt – it’s a cosy look, slightly tomboy-ish yet polished, which I like.” Her sartorial ethos is typically assured: “I love fashion. It’s fun and it’s fizz and it excites me – sale shopping with a girlfriend is my idea of heaven – but at the same time, you want [fashion] to work for you,” Lee explains, “you don’t want to have to think about it too much.”