As anyone who loves the arts will tell you: Judith Light is an actress's actress. Her work—which spans multiple decades, mediums, and genres—has a fervent fanbase who transcends the demographic breakdown. Love Broadway? Then you’ve been a fan for years. Newer to her IMDB page? That’s okay, her Transparent stans are no less loyal. In short, if you know, you know, and the fans that get it, get it.
In her work, Judith Light never wades in the shallow end. The same goes for her life: The award-winner always dives in headfirst, approaching every venture with the enthusiasm and curiosity of someone with one-tenth her accolades (this interview included). But therein, I suspect, lies her power.
Right now, she’s working on two wildly different, but equally compelling projects. There's Julia, in which she plays Blanche Knopf, an unsung publishing hero in Julia Child’s story. "It's also about the people around [Julia Child] who supported her. The women that people don't know," Light says. And Shining Vale, where Light flexes her genre-bending chops. "It's comedy; it's drama; it's horror— It's also talking about women and women's issues," she explains. As ever, she has range for days, applying the same willingness to go there that’s kept her career thriving for decades. She is not just a presence; her superpower is that she’s truly present in every sense of the word.
When we caught up over Zoom, she gave me every ounce of her attention (impressive considering she’s balancing a hectic schedule promoting not one but two projects). Our conversation about her work quickly transitioned to meditation, collaboration, and unpacking the idea of a Hollywood beauty icon. Ahead, get up-close and personal with character actor extraordinaire, Judith Light.
On Human Connection and Storytelling
For Judith, the power of connection is a constant source of joy, even amidst dark times. "I'm consumed with what's happening in Ukraine, I'm consumed with what's happening in the world," says Light. But, for her, small moments keep her grounded. "There are these bright spots, if you hold them well and remind yourself who we all are together, it makes a big difference for me." And that joy in collaboration, in people, comes across in how she speaks about her work.
The creators of Julia have "tremendous creative energy," according to the actress, which was why she was thrilled to tell the untold story of those who uplifted Julia Child to great success. "I'm playing Blanche Knopf, who is one of the heads of Knopf publishing with her husband, Alfred A. Knopf, who's pushed her out of the way," Light explains. "Her story is remarkable."
"She was at the time the most well-known renowned publisher in the publishing world, she was everything," says Light. But, she was pushed aside by her husband. "There's this quality in her of resilience and determination no matter what those obstacles were," she adds. "I've played women like that before. But in this particular case, this is a woman who nobody knows about."
She is not just a presence; her superpower is that she’s truly present in every sense of the word.
As for Shining Vale, Light describes it as a "triple somersault," combining horror, humor, and women's issues into one rich package. "It's talking about women and women's issues, menopause, and mental illness," she explains. "And I don't know how you create that within a framework that's entertaining," but the writers succeeded tenfold, according to Light.
"What we do is a team sport," says Light. And the hair, makeup, and costume pros are the linchpin that holds her world together. "I cannot do my work without them," she explains. "My energy goes into my own work, my own research, and my own personal work that I do [to prepare for a role]." But the dialogue she shares with the hair, makeup, and costume teams is the crucial final piece. "What is what's the texture? What's the feeling? What's is it that we are presenting? What is it we want to convey?"
On Beauty Tips
When it comes to on-set secrets, Light says it's less about tips, and more about the mindset she's learned from the hair and makeup pros in her career. "It's not so much the beauty tricks that I've picked up—it's more understanding the structure of my face. What looks good on me... warm undertones I know work best for me. A certain shape of lip."
As for skincare, Light is all about exfoliation. "I use Proactiv, and I've used it forever. It has been remarkable for my skin because it creates a consistency of exfoliation. Which is probably one of the most important beauty tips that you can give anybody. Just keep exfoliating and find a moisturizer that is noncomedogenic."
But, when Judith hits the red carpet, it's all about making a statement. "A rosier cheek and a paler lip—I tend to go in that direction," she says of her signature look. "But it's always interesting, particularly whenever you're playing a character, how do you appear on the carpet? That look either supports the character or is diametrically opposed to the character. So I always found that interesting."
What Beauty Means to Her
Light cites legends like Eleanor Roosevelt and Julia Child as women she considers beauty icons. For her, beauty is all about inner light. "They radiate; they resonate," she says of these women. "That's quite inspiring and astounding to me. Of course, they're all of those amazing Hollywood movie icons. (Katharine Hepburn, you know, tough, fabulous), but real beauty for me is within someone and how they are with other people: their generosity, their kindness, their spirit."
On Self Care
An avid meditator, Light returns to her practice twice a day. However, she's upfront about there being no magic pill for enlightenment. "Some days, it doesn't help at all. I said to my husband this morning, 'I'm going to meditate.' He said, 'Oh, have a good one.' When I got out of meditation, he said, 'How was it?' And I said, 'not helpful.'" But the benefits for her are long-term and strengthen her ability to quiet the mind. "When I find myself getting escalated about something. I just really do the best I can to take a breath. And then I find out how to relate to somebody around an issue that I'm in turmoil about."
When I asked about her mantra right now (the actress fittingly often shares powerful quotes on Instagram), she references her friend Paul Monette, the first openly gay man to win the National Book Award. "The only anger that's good for you is anger against injustice."
That philosophical bent runs through her life, and naturally, contributes to her unique ability to engage with all those around her. "There's nothing to get in life. There's only what you give," she says. "I noticed when I am not thinking about myself (or focusing on whatever issue I have to focus on).... When I make it about something else or somebody else, it transforms everything."