You probably recognize Poppy Montgomery from her breakout role as FBI agent Samantha Spade in Without a Trace, which ran for seven successful years. She has also appeared on the small screen in Party of Five, Glory Days and Unforgettable. Currently, she’s playing a much lighter role than her CSI one. On the fun summer drama Reef Break, which she created, she plays a free-spirited thief, who, among other things, surfs and rides skateboards. We caught up with the mom of three and stepmom to two, who co-parents son Jackson, 11, with her ex, and raises her son Gus (4) and Violet (6), with husband Shawn Sanford. We spoke to the Australian-born actress about her modern family, Reef Break, and going to school pickup in her PJs.
Congratulations on Reef Break. What has it been like shooting in Australia?
I’m from Sydney but we were shooting in Queensland for 7 months. The kids loved it when they were there, but I have 5 kids so it was logistically challenging. Until they were on summer break, with school holidays, they were in Los Angeles.
What did they most love about it?
Kangaroos, sausage rolls, meat pies – pretty much everything Australian.
You have a modern, blended family. Can you explain what you’ve done to make it work well?
The adults have to put their differences aside and make sure its all about the kids. Kids want harmony and people to get along.
What do your kids think about your job?
As they get older they think it’s cool. My four-year-old doesn’t understand yet, though. This morning I was in hair and makeup and he said you’re so beautiful—all those eyelashes! I don’t think he’s grasped it yet. Violet is my 6-year-old and is precocious and she loves it…all the glamour and girly girl stuff. But then they come to set and they get bored.
Ha! What’s your favorite part of this role?
I kind of created this one [for myself], and developed it and sold it to ABC International. I wanted to do something beachy and fun and action-packed. I wanted to play myself more than I had been. It’s really a blast. We went straight to series which was exciting.
Is this the first time you’ve been on the business/development side of things?
No —I executive produced Unforgettable and did a pilot with Neve Campbell called Sworn to Silence. It’s good to know that there is no expiration date on trying new things.
Amen to that! Do you have a “mom uniform?”
When I’m not at work I look like someone dragged me out from behind a shrub. I wear sweatpants and no shoes and my hair is in a bun and I don’t wear makeup. I don’t have a mom uniform – I should! My kids would be less embarrassed at drop off, but I’m in my Curious George pajamas and a shirt I haven’t washed in 4 months.
And you probably still look fantastic! How are you staying in such amazing shape with such a busy schedule?
I have a ton of help. My husband is hands on. We have a 16-year-old who is incredibly helpful. And we have nannies who help us. But there are times where I throw my yoga mat on the floor anywhere and get a workout in — it’s not just physical but also psychological.
You’ve made the Sydney to LA flight with little ones a bunch. Any useful tips?
Schedule your flights around nap time or night time if you can. Don’t fly in the morning when they’re full of energy and want to run around. I’m a big believer in iPads. I will resort to that…I’m not like ‘Let’s play and color.’
Too funny—and same! What was it like going back to work this time?
The first time I was a lot more nervous and anxious and I still have that. II don’t really feel like I got better at it the second time and to be honest, the third time. With my daughter Violet I went back to work at 5 weeks. With Jackson I worked until I went into labor, and with Gus I went back to work when he was 4 months old. For me it was the same concerns, guilt, separation anxiety…and finding time for myself.
Basically, what we all go through! Do you have a proudest parenting moment?
No…I don’t. I have a lot of mom guilt moments but I don’t know what my proudest parenting moment is. Working too much, not working enough, being too hard on them, not being hard enough on them, basically everything gives me mom guilt. The easiest way to deal with it is to accept it. Say ‘Cool, I’m having a mom guilt moment…moving on!’ Guilt is an inactive thing; it doesn’t change anything. In fact, feeling guilty makes me feel worse. Then I’m mad at myself and I feel guilty cause I’m mad.