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A natural alternative

'I wanted to do something positive for women,' Ricki Lake says about 'Business of Being Born.'

January 19, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Ricki Lake recalls it was "trippy" when she did a cameo in the musical version of "Hairspray" and especially "surreal" watching young Nikki Blonsky playing Tracy Turnblad, the role she made famous in the John Waters' 1988 classic.

"Nikki Blonsky was just like me," she says. "She was plucked out of nowhere. Physically there is a sparkle both of us have. But to go on set . . . and here I was 38 -- I was old enough to be her mother!"

Motherhood is a subject Lake loves to talk about. She's the adoring single mom of two young boys. And her first foray as an executive producer, the documentary "The Business of Being Born," which opened Wednesday, was inspired by the successful at-home water birth of her second son in 2001, which was guided by a midwife.

"I wanted to do something positive for women," says the now 39-year-old Lake. "I love midwives. It feels like I had this dream but also I wanted to stir up these questions I wanted to ask. I put my credit card down and bought the equipment."

And she teamed up with her friend, director Abby Epstein ("Until the Violence Stops"), to make "Business," which follows several pregnant New York women as they weigh their options to have their baby delivered at a hospital or at a birth center or at home with a midwife. Besides home video footage of Lake's delivery, Epstein captures several of the women giving birth naturally at home.

The film will be available next month on Netflix, and Lake and Epstein also have a book deal to expand on "The Business of Being Born."

Her decision to have children with midwives, she says, reflected the first time she had done extensive research and made concrete plans. "I have always been easygoing," Lake says. "I don't think things through too much. I still don't. When I speak, I am better off the cuff. With my talk show, I did very little homework."

Lake's seat-of-the-pants-approach to life also compelled her to audition at the age of 18 for "Hairspray," though she hadn't a clue who Waters or star Divine were. "I went to a local audition in New York," she says. "I don't even remember how I heard about it. Even making the movie, it was like we were all kids learning how to dance. It was when I went to a screening in New York that it dawned on me, 'I am the star of this movie. This might actually affect my life. I may get another job from this.' "

She certainly didn't turn into a Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears when success hit her at such a young age. "I felt I was of age," says Lake. "I am really levelheaded. I am exactly who I was 20 and 25 years ago. . . . I know how lucky I am."

Still it hasn't always been easy. After her option wasn't picked up to continue on the ABC series "China Beach" when she was 21, she lost her house and more than $300,000 that she had earned from her acting.

"I was dumb," says Lake. "I bought my house thinking I needed a big house, and I didn't. 'China Beach' dropped me. I was stuck with this mortgage I couldn't pay.

"Then the housing market went bust. I couldn't sell my house, so the bank took it away and I lost all of my money. It was really a valuable lesson. I own my house outright now, and I will never be stretched. I know the value of the dollar."

The "Ricki Lake" daytime talk show, another leap of faith, saved her.

When she was approached to throw her hat into the talk-show ring, she says, "I said, 'Oh, a talk show? OK.' "

When she began the series, which ran from 1993 to 2004, Lake says, her executive producer put her in therapy. "He thought it would be so much better for me to be in touch with my own kind of work and personal journey," she says. "Therapy has been really beneficial for me in my relationships. I was in couples' therapy for years. I am still in therapy. I go every week."

Though she continues to act -- Lake appeared in the Lifetime movie "Matters of Life and Dating" last fall -- she says she doesn't get to go on auditions very often.

"I hope that changes," she says. "I think I am on people's radar right now."

Of course, producers may have a hard time recognizing Lake these days.

At one point, she was 260 pounds. She is now a size 4. "I [recently] lost about 40 pounds. I went from being a chubby person to a thin person. I don't have any lumps."

But her weight loss and the new documentary take a back seat to her sons Milo, 10, and Owen, 6.

"Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing," she says. She broke up with her husband, artist Ron Sussman, four years ago. The two are now divorced.

"It was a very difficult divorce, but he was there at the premiere in New York. He is so proud of me. It just feels so good to have this project about my becoming a mother. I truly believe, even though I am having this great success right now, I am going to go down in history as the mother of Milo and Owen Sussman."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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