By Dorothy Cascerceri | August 15, 2014 | People
By day, actress Ali Larter wields guns and possesses superpowers, but come night, the Cherry Hill native can be found baking pies and spending time with her family. Here the cookbook author and star of the new TNT drama Legends talks about leading a double life.
She films her own stunts, bakes cookies for her three-year-old son, stars in Hollywood blockbusters, and pens cookbooks, but ask Ali Larter how she does it all and she will simply laugh. “Balance is such a joke,” she says. “I have no idea how to balance anything. I just do the best I can each day.”
That “best” continues to strengthen the Cherry Hill native’s staying star power. A new TV project, Legends, from the executive producers of Showtime’s Homeland, premiered in mid-August. A new feature film, You’re Not You, about a woman with ALS., hits box offices this fall. And given the chance to share the screen with high-profile names like Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean and Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, Larter is pushing herself with new challenges and career highlights. “I was so excited to work with Hilary Swank,” she says. “She takes on these incredibly difficult roles where the women are so strong, but she’s able to let you see into the vulnerable side of them without making them look weak.”
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On Legends, Larter’s in charge—she plays Crystal Quest, a strong-willed woman who is a member of the FBI’s Deep Cover Operations Team. And due out next year is The Diabolical, a supernatural horror flick in which she plays Madison, a mother battling against the odds. It’s a juxtaposition not lost on her. “I liked the idea of tapping into my maternal side [to play Madison] before going off to play Crystal on Legends,” she says. “Crystal’s not married, she has no children, and she’s chosen her career over the path of being a mother.”
Though Larter, 38, has had quite the career, maternity might be her favorite role yet. For her, nothing takes precedence, whether it’s her LA family, which includes her son, Theodore (“Teddy”), and her husband, actor Hayes MacArthur, or her tri-state–area family, which includes her mom and dad, now living in the Lehigh Valley. “Being a mom, a daughter, a best friend, and a wife... all those things make life worthwhile,” she explains.
It’s part of the reason she returns to the Philly area a few times each year, mostly for holidays, and even visits the Jersey Shore when she can, taking time to relax in Long Beach Island, Stone Harbor, or Margate, where her parents met. “It’s so nice to have a chance to get back to your roots,” she says, wistfully. “Hearing everybody’s accents makes me feel at home—and hearing how everybody’s kids are and what’s happening in their lives is really the gem of coming home.” Larter, whose first job was checking coats at Cherry Hill’s Caffe Aldo Lamberti, says a bonus is the local cuisine: “Few people know what it tastes like to have a really, really good hoagie.”
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It only makes sense that food is a highlight of her homecomings with her own burgeoning culinary career, beginning with the September release of her first cookbook, Kitchen Revelry: A Year of Festive Menus from My Home to Yours. The book is a year’s worth of entertaining ideas and recipes, and she says writing it required an enormous amount of self-discipline—in more ways than one. “When I was creating the cookbook, me and my girlfriend Tracy [Zahoryin], who I developed it with, laughed because we’d be testing and testing recipes, and then we would have to stop for 10 days and cleanse because we were gaining so much weight. Then we’d start testing again and then stop again.”
The book was inspired by Larter’s love of cooking, which she calls her “true passion,” as well as family recipes, such as her mom’s down-under apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust or the “chocolate delight” her great grandmother “Nanny Margaret” used to make. “You serve it with unsweetened whipped cream, which is one of my most favorite things. No need for the joke there,” she says with a laugh.
She’s referring to the famous whipped cream bikini she wore in 1999’s Varsity Blues, the movie that established her as an actress (and sex symbol). But a breakout TV role—single mom Niki Sanders on NBC cult favorite Heroes—helped establish her as a growing actor complete with superpowers. “The first season of Heroes had this incredible impact on people,” she says. “I loved the idea of being able to go inside myself and kind of believe there was going to be an answer to some of these greater questions.”
According to reports, the show is returning in 2015 as a 13-episode miniseries called Heroes: Reborn with new characters, though NBC brass has not ruled out cameos by previous cast members. Larter is close-lipped, but she says serious projects along the lines of Heroes and her silver-screen work interest her more now than comedies. “I love getting to tap into the emotional underbelly of people and why they do the things they do,” she says.
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She admits, though, that she prefers TV to the big screen because the hours allow more time to focus on family and her budding cooking career, including early-morning baking sessions with her son. “I love going to set,” she explains. “When I’m there, I’m there and I’m present. But as a working mom, I arrive on time, and the second I wrap I am out of my trailer and on my way home to Teddy. He’s my little sous chef.” With a cooking show in development, Larter is working to combine her passions and is constantly posting recipes to her website (kitchenrevelry.com) and social media.
She and MacArthur, her husband of five years, met on the set of National Lampoon’s Homo Erectus, of all places, but they’ve managed to preserve a strong foundation at home despite their on-camera work. “We don’t have traditional careers in the sense that we go to 9-to-5 jobs everyday,” she explains. “So we’re really lucky we get to spend a lot of time together parenting our son. It’s such a huge part of our lives, and I feel so lucky to be sharing this adventure with him.”
Amidst all of her success, Larter doesn’t think of herself as a superstar and credits her family, particularly her dad, with keeping her grounded. That sense of purpose has led her to work with charities such as Art of Elysium, a nonprofit that helps hospitalized children. “My dad has always reminded me of how lucky I am to do this, and I completely feel that way,” she reflects. “I get to do what I love and have this career—I’m always pinching myself.”
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