“I’ll have the chopped salad and an ice tea, please,” Elisabeth Röhm orders, as she plops her Louis Vuitton tote on the seat beside her. “It’s my everyday bag. It’s big enough to hold everything. There might be yoga clothes in here one day, a snack for my daughter, underwear, who knows. By the end of the week, you never know what you’ll find.”
A simple, nature-loving girl at heart, Elisabeth prefers walking or riding her bike to get around her Venice neighborhood. Today, she’s ventured out in her new electric Audi A3 Etron to our lunch interview in Beverly Hills wearing a summery Kate Spade dress paired with some classic patent-leather-tipped Chanel ballet flats and Tom Ford sunglasses.
The 5-foot-10-inch blonde is best known for her role as attorney, Serena Southerlyn, on Law and Order, though, more recently she starred in two critically-acclaimed films by director David O. Russell. She played Peggy, the sister of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, in Joy; and, Dolly Polito, in American Hustle. Elisabeth speaks glowingly of Russell and his attentiveness to detail. “He’s a genius and the premiere filmmaker of our time. Jennifer Lawrence nailed it when she commented that we are the paint on his canvas—one that is dense with richness.”
Now in her 40s, the Dusseldorf-born actor’s career shows no signs of braking. This year, she tacked on a dozen TV shows and movies to her lengthy resume—two decades since her small-screen debut as, Dorothy Hayes, on One Life to Live.
Elisabeth giggles when sharing her first-ever acting role. “I was a dominatrix in a school play called Bondage. I was terrible! They wanted to fire me, and I was like, ‘You can’t fire me—this is a school!’
A single mom, Elisabeth has one child, Easton, 9. “We were going to name her Grace, but when I was pregnant I had this dream,” she says. “In the dream, I’m picking her up at my best friend Tasha Smith’s house, and Tasha says she wouldn’t let me call her Grace, she wanted me to call her Easton. So I called out to her, Grace, come on, let’s go, and she ignores me. So I say it again, and she still ignores me. Finally, I said, C’mon Easton, let’s go! And she turned and came to me.”
Fixed on arming Easton with the tools she needs to succeed, Elisabeth has a formula. “Children often blame their parents for what went wrong in their life,” she says. “So I’m always questioning, how can I hedge my bet with Easton? In challenging times in her life, I’d like her to know that I gave her the tenets for a strong foundation: a sense of faith, responsibility towards others, and understanding of her self-worth.”
When Elisabeth was around Easton’s age, her father, who practiced international law, and mother, a writer, divorced. “I was angry and very upset, and it manifested in my schoolwork,” she recalls. “Oh, I was a real science project, and I got kicked out of Fox Lane school in New York. Nobody could figure out why I couldn’t perform, so they cast me in the category of special needs. Maybe I wasn’t throwing desks at teachers, but I was a troublemaker.”
Elisabeth ended up at a boarding school in Sewanee, Tennessee. “My mother didn’t have a lot of money to send me to a good school, so it was a bad experience,” she remembers. “We couldn’t leave to go anywhere; it was like lock-down—it was very eye-opening for me.”
Even more shocking, were the frank, terse words her mother delivered one day. “My mom said, ‘You need to understand that people think you’re a fuck up. So here are your choices: You can leave school, get a GED, and we can see the world together; or you can get serious about school and make something of your life.’” Like a bucket of ice water poured on her head, she woke up and turned her grades, and life, around—eventually receiving acceptance letters from Emerson, Columbia, and the college she attended, Sarah Lawrence.
One day, while away at boarding school, a fire ripped through her mother’s home, destroying the roof. With no money to replace it, the Red Cross stepped in and helped. Her mother urged Elisabeth, that if she ever became famous, to please give back to the Red Cross. And she has. For 15 years, Elisabeth has devoted her time to the charity. She trained as an emergency volunteer and traveled to support their efforts in Cambodia and Vietnam. “They’re not only the first responders, but they stay when everyone else has left. In training, I learned how to deal with people’s emotions and to give them the care they need. I also learned about disaster preparedness, like for earthquakes.” Stockpiled with food, water, duct tape, and flashlights, Elisabeth jokes with her friends about whose house they’ll all be coming to when the big one hits.
Elizabeth takes out her phone and pulls up an app that keeps her up to date on current events. “It’s called The Skim. It gives you 10 minutes of reading on what happened today.” And though she’s not thrilled at how invasive these devices have become in our lives, she’s also joined the social media bandwagon. “I hate it!” she says, “It’s an addiction that feeds and fuels a short attention span. Back when we were kids, we’d have eye-to-eye conversations and contact, and we’d know how to say how’s your mom, but now there’s an avoidance of each other. My friends have millions of follower—I have, like 3. At the end of the day, I’m at a point in my life when I want long, meaningful relationships, and to work with people that I love and admire. I don’t do drama; I’m too old.”
On other charitable fronts, Elisabeth supports Global Green, Best Friends, St. Judes Hospital, and the American Heart Association.
@GENLUX shoot with actress Elisabeth Rohm by photographer Embry Lopez at Quixote Studios West Hollywood.
Art Direction: Stephen Kamifuji
Photographer: EMBRY LOPEZ / EmbryLopez.com
Stylist: SANDY PHAN / SandyPhanStyle.com
Makeup: ALEXIS SWAIN / CelestineAgency.com
Hair: MARINA MAGLIACCIO / TheRexAgency.com
Styling Assistant: LILIAN FU
Photo Assistant: KEEGAN DUNLAP
Location: Special thanks to Quixote Studios, West Hollywood