Hilary Duff wants to explain her outfit. The reason she has come to out interview in leggings, a battered t-shirt and a pair of golden goose sneakers? She's heading to dance rehearsal after lunch to prep for a video for her new album. it just happens to be the first album she has put out in seven years—and the kickoff single, "All About You," is already earning raves. But let's be honest. One quick peek at her Instagram shows what Hilary is really all about: enjoying ordinary moments with her son Luca, 2. Over the past two years, the singer and actress, 27, has scaled back on work to raise Luca—and also to navigate one of the most difficult times in her life. She and her husband, Mike Comrie, separated last January after 3 1/2 years of marriage. Now Hilary is in the midst of more change: She moved to New York City to film her new show, Younger, which debuts in January on TV Land.
As she scans the menu, I can't help noticing all her tiny tattoos, so she gives me the tattoo tour, which charts her life from her Texas childhood to her Lizzie McGuire days at Disney, through career highs (her first four albums, three novels, more than a dozen films) and family milestones. She has a wishbone on her arm because she and her older sister, Haylie, used to break them apart. A little anchor that reminds her to keep her feet on the ground. Her son's name. And an arrow that matches ones her mom and sister have, symbolizing "always moving forward and having a goal," she explains. "I believe in having good luck charms. I think if you focus on something good, then good things will come to you."
Your TV show, Younger, from Sex and the City's Darren Star, sounds like a must-watch. Do you remember the moment you were like, 'This is the one!'? Or was the timing just right?
No, the timing was terrible! And I think that's when everything works out: When the timing is terrible and it's going to totally screw your life up, sometimes you just go for it. I absolutely loved the script, but I was like, "I can't move to New York, so I'm going to have to turn it down." It was right after Christmas. Mike and I were just getting ready to separate, Luca was about 18 months old and I was halfway through making my record. But I get a call from Darren, and he's like, "Can you just come shoot the pilot? I will make your work schedule so easy."
I'm a huge Darren Star fan—I fight for good roles on interesting shows like that, so for him to fight for me, it felt like it was going to be a good match.
You have an album coming out in the new year. Why was it important to return to your music career?
I really missed performing. And I missed writing and talking about what I'm going through, what I love. (She picks up a shrimp with her fingers.) By the way, I love to eat with my hands. I think my manners went downhill since I've had a child. He's in the high chair, and I'll be standing up eating with him. I'm like, "Hilary, get it together!"
So what's the worst thing you've eaten with your hands that has made you think, If anyone saw me doing this right now...?
Noodles. Do you know how disgusting it is to eat noodles with your hands? I'll get food on my face from eating some of Luca's food. We'll go upstairs to get in the bath together, and I'll look in the mirror, and I'm like, "Sweet. Food on my face. How long has that been here?" Thank God we're alone.
It seems like you and Mike have a very good relationship while you co-parent your son.
We really didn't see it going any other way. We have a 2-year-old together. We love each other. Obviously it wasn't a rash decision that we made. We really are just trying to figure out how we are the most happy—whether together or apart—and we're doing it as lovingly as possible. We would hang out without Luca; we think it's important to keep a strong relationship no matter if we're married or not married. And we love our son. We both want to fight for happiness.
What has helped you stay centered during all these life changes?
I have found that since I had Luca and took a substantial time off, it really helped me. Before, I would make a record and be working on a movie and then do a tour, so I didn't have time to sit and breathe and just be comfortable with me. I got a broken heart during that time, and I had to do a lot of soul-searching. It was rough. It was an emotional two years.
Before Hollywood, you grew up in Texas. Do you think there is a little Texas still in you?
A lot of Texas in me! We grew up outdoors, going to the rodeo, running around barefoot and climbing trees. It was just very simple. And I think I was always scared of repercussions, like, how you would affect your family by doing this or that. That doesn't mean I haven't messed up. But my parents were the first to knock me down to earth when I bought my first house in L.A. and we were all living there. They were tough on me. I think it helped me hold on to my dignity.
What is your biggest health regret?
Constantly worrying that my body is not good enough. I work my butt off in the gym—and, yes, it's because I want to be fit, but it also puts me in a positive mind-set. If I don't have that for a week, I start to get more agitated and impatient; I get in a funk.
You're in a skinny-obsessed profession. Is that weird?
Yeah. The second I had Luca, I went to go get my hair blown out at the salon, and I hadn't stepped outside in, like, 15 days. I was learning how to be a new mom, and I needed to go get my hair done. Then they're like, "Hilary Debuts Her Post-Baby Body!" I was like, I'm not debuting sh-t right now. I'm just going on an errand run! There is way too much pressure on women these days. It took me a whole 10 months to build a baby.
You lost the baby weight in a sensible time frame.
Oh my God, everyone was so hard on me because it took me a year and a half to get my body back! When I was 17, I weighed, like, 98 pounds. I was totally obsessed with everything I put in my mouth. I was way too skinny. Not cute. And my body wasn't that healthy—my hands would cramp up a lot because I wasn't getting the nutrition I needed. That constant pressure of wanting something different than I had? I regret that. I feel like there was way too much time spent thinking about that. This is the body that I have. I have a very athletic build, and I am so proud of what my body has done for me. I had the best, healthiest, strongest pregnancy. And I feel good about myself. But I feel like I'm always in a 5-pound battle, because being 5 feet 2, everything is going to show on me!
You look so toned. How did you get in such amazing shape?
I lost my baby weight from boxing, and I have this awesome trainer, Gabe. I was already there, but I definitely shed, like, 10 more pounds from doing two-a-days for two or three weeks, an hour each session. I live in a cul-de-sac, but I have a big hill, so I would run the hill, then box in my cul-de-sac. My neighbors would come outside, and it was funny because it sounds like gunshots—the pow-pow-pow of boxing.
Let's say you're trying to fit into something in your closet. Do you amp up your workouts?
Two weeks before shooting my show, I'll definitely cut back on salt and I won't drink. And I'll run a mile or two every day. Then three times a week I train. I have an awesome gym I train at where there's only two pieces of equipment machines: a treadmill and a VersaClimber. It's this big open gym with ropes and big weighted balls and sledgehammers. And we do all these Spider-Man crawls down a track. Now I work out three times a week for an hour. And I'll run a track or do a stair. And I'm dancing all the time. I forget how much I love to dance!
You've got great style. What clothes make you feel most you?
I really like Raquel Allegra for everyday. She makes great little cashmere sweaters that have, like, little torn bits. I'm slightly disheveled in every area of my life. I love distressed stuff. I like things to look well-loved, you know? But if I'm going to an event, I probably don't want a baby stain on me. (Laughs) I'm usually working with, like, two stains at a time. Three, I'll change my shirt.
What would you say you're most grateful for right now?
Every day, Luca would top the list. I'm just so grateful for his health, and he has the best spirit. I could cry right now. (Her eyes well up with tears.) I just see so much of myself in him and so much of Mike in him. He's a little combo baby. And I'm grateful for the drive that I have. I don't think everyone knows what it is to actually get this off the ground. It's a lot of work. And it's a lot of me missing quality time with my little guy. Maybe it was because I was trained by the mouse.
The Disney mouse! I just have a crazy-good work ethic. I work to the bone. I don't really have to work; I want to work, and I feel fulfilled from it. And there's a good response happening, so it drives me, pushing me forward. But I really am trying to cherish all my time with Luca because I know how busy I'm about to be. I'm so into him. I'm grateful for him always. Top of my list. Every day.
My Favorite Things: Hilary shares her all time loves and new discoveries.
Favorite herb or spice to cook with:
"Thyme. I make a lot of chicken!"
Favorite online quiz:
"I took an Orange Is the New Black test online to see which character you are. I was Red! It makes sense. I love to cook. I can be pretty bossy. And I think I'm a leader."
Favorite healthy snack:
"Fruits and veggies with lime and Tajín chile on 'em"
Favorite move on the dance floor:
"I'm a bit of a booty shaker."
"Does Instagram count? I'm totally addicted to it. I also love A Beautiful Mess."
Favorite guilty-pleasure TV show:
"The Bachelor—I'm not so guilty about it either! I'm sure people judge me for that. They don't know what they're missing."
Favorite skin products:
"I love the Sunday Riley line. It has this oil called Juno—it smells like the earth; you have to get used to the smell—and I just press it into my skin at night. And there's a serum I put on top called Good Genes. I never go to bed without it, no matter how many drinks I've had!"