Megan Fox is improbably beautiful. Looking at her neatly contoured nose, plump lips, and dark-browed, searing blue eyes, it’s easy to see why she found fame in a comic-book franchise. Her face is so perfect, it could have been drawn on – some man’s idea of feminine beauty designed to titillate teenage boys.
Perhaps as a result, Megan hasn’t really moved on in the public imagination from the 21-year-old who starred in the first Transformers movie alongside Shia LaBeouf in 2007. In that year, she must have sold a million men’s magazines, and her fashion and beauty choices largely catered to that demographic. And yet it’s apparent from speaking to her at home in Los Angeles, with her 30th birthday on the horizon, that she’s grown up to become someone quite different: spiritual, pensive, homeloving, and unusually insightful about the Hollywood film industry. “I would say most people assume that I’m not very smart or educated or earnest,” she says frankly, “because I have this image that I’m sort of narcissistic, chasing attention, and wanting people to like me. It makes me laugh because I’ve done plenty of interviews and when you read the article from beginning to end you can see that I’m not your typical music video model.”
Megan has appeared in a music video – a short film for Eminem and Rihanna’s Love the Way You Lie – but also two blockbuster Transformers films. Perhaps slightly less well-remembered are her roles in Jennifer’s Body, a tongue-in-cheek horror movie with Amanda Seyfried (of which she is most proud due to her love of comedic acting), or rom-coms, such as This is 40, and Friends With Kids, which starred Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig. But, as it turns out, Hollywood wasn’t all it was cracked to be. Admitting she wasn’t in the “right place” to be tackling the juggernaut that is America’s film industry, she burnt out, fast. After a rather acrimonious split from the studio behind the Transformers franchise, she retreated home to lick her wounds. “I think there’s a lot of growing personally that I needed to do, to control my passion...I really wanted to be a mum, and I wasn’t yet, and I really struggled with that; I was just too young to see where I wanted to go.”
But Megan isn’t a quitter, and has long since moved on – settling her differences with Transformers director Michael Bay, to then be cast as the reporter April O’Neil in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie last year, to reprise the role again in a sequel slated for a 2016 release. “In Transformers I was a kid, I had no idea what I was doing,” she candidly admits of her acting skills that have often been called into question. “There was nothing for me to do [in that movie], but then I did nothing and that was my own call. I don’t take it personally because in some ways I acknowledge and agree. But at the same time, both established comedians and Quentin Tarantino have come up to me and said, ‘I really liked Jennifer’s Body, you were really good in that’. The people whose opinions matter liked it, so I’m OK with that.”
It’s a surprise – given what we are taught to expect from the preternaturally beautiful – that Megan is laugh-out-loud funny in person, particularly on the subject of her husband and children. She describes being almost housebound by the different nap schedules of Bodhi, 4, and Noah, 2, her children with former Beverly Hills 90210 actor Brian Austin Green (she is also stepmother to 13-year-old Kassius, Brian’s son from a previous relationship). The couple have a strong relationship, having been together six years before marrying in 2010, but like all parents of young children find that their time together is now at a premium. “We ask his mum to come once a week so that we can go to dinner, go have sushi or something like that. But now that they’re so young, it’s just insanity.”
Part of what makes these little vignettes of family life so entertaining is how greatly at odds they are with the public image of Megan Fox as a love interest in a short dress, sitting on the back of a motorcycle, or the red-lipped femme fatale on the red carpet. Nowadays, her sartorial choices are strictly child-friendly. “Every day when I go downstairs to make coffee I wear a different kimono and my older son loves it,” she laughs. “He’s obsessed with my collection! When we went on vacation to Hawaii he wanted one because he always sees me in these amazing, long, crazy kimonos. So I got a Missoni piece for him and he wears it and he’s so happy and proud and he’s singing all the songs from Tarzan... I like being magical and I like having freedom when I dress. I have some Cherokee background in me so I’m in for anything tribal or Native American.”
Megan recognises, of course, that her fans don’t necessarily want – or expect – to see ‘edgy, boho Megan’ out in public, but understands that being glammed up for awards ceremonies and the like is a necessary evil. “I’ve never had fun getting dressed up and going on the red carpet because there’s pressure there,” she explains. “You’re not just getting dressed because you think this is an amazing outfit. You’re getting dressed because there’s an obligation from your side to a certain designer and then you have to go and walk the carpet hoping that someone else isn’t wearing something similar… These concerns are more for my stylist than for me but I’m surrounded by everyone else’s concerns about the make-up, the hair... I’m just sort of the mannequin that they send out, so it’s just not a fun process for me.”
That said, her red-carpet look has evolved over the years: her most successful ensembles exuding a certain timeless glamour, in lace or jacquard by Dolce & Gabbana, sweeping silk gowns by Ferragamo, or a sharp tailored Armani suit (her CV includes a stint as the face of Armani cosmetics and her wedding dress, a silk chiffon creation with a sweetheart neckline that she wore to the private ceremony on a Hawaiian beach, was by Armani Privé). With an increasing personal interest in fashion, Megan’s favourite outfit from our shoot is the pink, white and cream Oscar de la Renta ensemble she wears on our cover. With make-up pared back, and a natural aesthetic running through the photoshoot, we see a glimpse of the relatable woman rather than the marketable girl. It’s refreshing, and more Megan.
Left to her own stylistic devices, away from the media glare, she is naturally becoming more aware of the power of fashion. “When I was young I used to put on trousers and a T-shirt. Now I’m constantly online wanting to buy the newest fashion, changing my closet, getting rid of old stuff… I’m just more aware of fashion now, more inspired by it. I see it more as an art form, which I didn’t as a kid.”
Of all the S/S15 lookbooks that have found their way to Megan, her favourites are Saint Laurent and Isabel Marant – news that may be unwelcome to those waiting in the wings to dress her. “My personal style is really different from my stylist’s, so we’re going to have to sort of meld the two,” she laughs. “I’m developing a much more distinct personal style.” A lot of actresses would simply fire the stylist who wasn’t on the same sartorial page, but Megan is too calm – and karmic – a person to entertain such an idea. If there’s a difference of opinion, they’ll work it out.
She’s similarly sanguine about the ageing process: “I’m really conscious about taking care of my skin, not being in the sun too much, using the right products. I have a genetic advantage in that my family doesn’t seem to age poorly: my sister is in her forties and she looks exactly like she did 15 years ago. However, it’s different when you’re in Hollywood and you’re being shot with super-HD cameras. I have a friend who is two years older than me who only sleeps on her back because she doesn’t want to get wrinkles. It’s around me but I’m not panicking yet.”
This unflappable approach to life comes, she believes, from having endured a tough upbringing. Bullied to the point of being an outcast in school, and with strict Christian parents at home that pushed Megan to the point of rebellion, she learnt to be very self-reliant. “I never liked school as I don’t do well with authority figures putting boundaries on me, so it’s always something I’ve acted against. And I spent a lot of time out of the house because my parents were so strict. But I think I kinda benefitted from growing up in a place where I always saw myself as an outsider. It means that I’ve been able to adapt that kind of attitude as an adult, and [when things are difficult] go, ‘You don’t get it, and that’s OK’. I think in a way, how the kids at school dealt with me, and the way that my parents dealt with me helped, because there was all this pain in my childhood, but now as an adult I transcend that and just sort of learn to live with it. My life is not about seeking other people’s approval because I know it isn’t going to come.”
That said, it isn’t a lesson she wants her sons to learn. “I don’t think I need to teach my children with harsh words or with punishment. I believe that if I love them the right way, there’s no need for that. I’m a free-spirit mother.” She regrets now that she wasn’t “a better influence” on Kassius when he first came into her life aged two (her relationship with Brian began when he was 30 and she just 18). “I don’t talk to Bodhi like he’s an adult, obviously, but I listen to everything he says to me and I believe in him: I believe that he sees things I don’t see, I believe he has things to teach me, and so I don’t act as a disciplinarian or an authority figure per se,” she explains. “I don’t ever want to be a restrictive force on him; I want to be an expansive force. I don’t want him to feel like, ‘Oh here is Mummy, here she comes with all her rules’. I want him to be inspired by me because he constantly inspires me as well. Motherhood has really deepened me and has given me so much perspective. I’m very dedicated.”
Despite slipping into sample size dresses on the set of our shoot, her children have, she admits, taken a bit of a toll on her physically, revealing that she found the baby weight more difficult to shift after Noah than with Bodhi. With little time for exercise – she works out only a couple of times a week – she controls her weight largely through a “clean” diet with an emphasis on eating enough protein. “I don’t need a lot of bread,” she says. You get the sense that while she accepts that her career is built on it, looking good doesn’t mean a great deal to Megan. More important are her family, her spiritual life, and the issues she is passionate about – particularly relating to what she sees at times as a slightly corrupt Hollywood system. “I’m a fighter and I’m an impulsive warrior, but I’m not a strategic warrior. When I see something I act immediately because I’m passionate if I see something wrong,” she says. But she’s also working to control her passion – recognising that she can’t fight every battle. Her most pressing struggle is to balance the needs of her children with a demanding career schedule. Waving the feminist flag for equality, she says, “[My kids] need me to be who I am. I have to remember that a part of them growing up is to see my independence and eccentricity, because that’s going to help make them who they need to become, too. So I have to stay true to my task, because that’s essential to them growing up and being healthy.”
The shooting of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 is set to start in New York next month, as is the promotional work for Zeroville, a forthcoming comedy-drama directed by James Franco. But work, she explains, must now be worth taking time away from her children for. She is selective about her projects and works for fun, not financial reasons. “I don’t sit back and have a game plan and make decisions about my career like other actors do,” she says. “I have no ego tied up into my career at all. If I get pitched into a movie I do it and that’s that, it doesn’t matter if it’s weird or small or huge. I trust my intuition.”
This juxtaposition of public Megan and private Megan is something of an enigma, but a welcome one. While it’s all too easy to judge a book by a (very pretty) cover, it’s often only when you’ve read the first chapter that you truly understand the depth of its character. The same is evident with Megan. On the surface she may still be the brunette who was plucked out of relative obscurity to become Hollywood’s newest pin-up eight years ago, but look a little deeper and there’s a spirited – and spiritual – woman who has softened round the edges and become a vision of substance and serenity. There aren’t many actresses with this much inner beauty and, as it turns out, she is one star that doesn’t need Hollywood to make her shine.
Styling by Katie Trotter. Photography by John Russo. Interview by Emily Baxter. Words by Emma Bartley. This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia