Paula Wagner, 73, began her Hollywood career as an actress. She went on to be an agent, managing top names including Sean Penn, Demi Moore, Liam Neeson and Tom Cruise. Cruise/Wagner Productions subsequently made blockbusters including the original Mission: Impossible trilogy. She has also helmed a number of Broadway shows including, most recently, Pretty Woman: The Musical.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be a classical pianist. I began studying piano when I was six. I started as an actress at the local theatre at 13 years old and went through to my early thirties as a professional actress — I did movies, television, Broadway and all of that.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
I grew up in a small town in Ohio and rode the school bus to public [state] high school. I went to Carnegie Mellon, one of the top drama schools in the US. I also studied with Sanford Meisner, one of the great acting teachers of all time.
Who was or still is your mentor?
I have too many to name, but I want to say my mother, a unique and brilliant woman whose curiosity led her down so many paths, from studying geology to raising fish and raising dogs — and raising children. My father too. He said: “Hold yourself in high regard and make sure everyone else does as well.”
How physically fit are you?
Very. I’ve been doing yoga since the early 1970s when it was considered strange. Pilates, cardio — I try to do something at least five times a week.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Ultimately, talent prevails. But ambition lends focus and the framework within which talent can be actualised in a satisfying way.
How politically committed are you?
More so than ever.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I’m not wildly materialistic. I really like designer clothes. Maybe that’s not such an extravagance. I take time out for myself.
In what place are you happiest?
Wherever my husband and family are.
What ambitions do you still have?
Obviously, to make the great movie and the great theatrical piece. That’s a very specific ambition. I want to create something that’s culturally relevant and has lasting social significance. And I want to redefine ageing. I want to truly make 70 the new 50.
What drives you on?
I’m just beginning the age of wisdom and I have a long way to go. I feel like I’m just starting out on this path. I love life, I love its mysteries, I love the fantasies, I love the unexpected adventures and I love taking on challenges. I love inventing and exploring and finding new things. I like getting to the top of various metaphorical mountains. As a woman, I have always had to prove I can do things that aren’t expected.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Being a mother. I have great sons, Zach and Jesse. Careerwise, I’m really proud I came so close to my childhood dream.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I have simple tastes. I’d like to own a theatre.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Arrogance from ignorance.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
Hopefully she’d be thrilled that I’d finally figured it all out and I’m striving to achieve some wisdom. She’d be surprised that I wasn’t an actress but that I’d produced a lot of big movies.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
My baby blanket. I named it my “nuh”. My parents lost it on a vacation in Florida and I wasn’t ready to let it go.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Human aggression. And global warming.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
We all exist in some way, somehow, eternally. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. I wish we weren’t so primitive, then we’d know the answers better, but I do believe the soul has an afterlife.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Eleven. And still counting.
‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’, Paula Wagner’s first West End production, is at the Piccadilly Theatre; prettywomanthemusical.com
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