Editor’s note: This interview and photo shoot were conducted many weeks ago—before the coronavirus pandemic forced North Americans to practise social distancing and self-isolation. We have chosen to move forward with publishing this piece because we believe that self-care is more important than ever, as is our desire to help our readers find inspiration and escape.
For South African actress Jodi Balfour, pursuing personal wellness does not come all that easily.
“I’ve never been a great self-soother, to be honest,” she says, seated on the bed of her Los Angeles home’s guest room as her blonde rescue dog sunbathes outside. “When I probably need to practise those things the most is when I resist them the most. I’ve sort of found ways to trick myself into doing things that actually make me feel good by them not necessarily being the most obvious things, which is probably cooking. And the act of buying fresh flowers, and spending time cleaning and pruning my surroundings, makes me feel so much more at ease and so much more at peace.”
With an impressive and busy IMDB that includes Netflix’s The Crown, HBO’s True Detective, and Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, Balfour might be excused for not having her self-care routine down pat. Still, it’s something she works on daily, and with a job in image-obsessed Hollywood, the self-love piece becomes more important than ever. With such a demanding career, it’s really no wonder she focuses a lot of her downtime on making her beautiful home—which she shares with her aforementioned dog as well as her partner Alex Ashbaugh—into a truly calming oasis. It’s one of the ways she’s learning to prioritize herself; more on that below.
“It’s almost like I can’t really start to mine through whatever’s going on, or whatever I need to come down to a more peaceful place, until things feel really orderly. Once the outside is peaceful, the inside can maybe start to be peaceful. So it’s been more creating environments for myself, whether it’s coming home from a long day that was a little bit stressful and stopping at Cookbook down the road—which is the cutest grocery store in all the world—and getting some fresh flowers, getting a bottle of wine and some very minimal things for dinner. And coming home and putting some music on, starting to make a meal, popping a bottle of wine, putting flowers in vases around the house, and just creating atmosphere is sort of my failsafe these days.”
“My sister got really into essential oils and she’s been educating the family. If there isn’t diffused mist wafting in your face, you’re not at her house. And especially in LA where it’s so dry, diffusing feels refreshing even if it’s just that visually you can see steam coming out of it. I’ve gotten really into scent in the last little while. That’s the great thing about a diffuser rather than a candle, actually. It’s so evocative of an intention, which is so nice.”
“I see a facialist in LA who’s sort of been my north star in terms of what to do. Her name is Terri Lawton, she’s old-school; she’s been doing facials in Hollywood since like, the ‘70s. What I love about her is she doesn’t encourage a bunch of cosmetic stuff. But that said, you leave her sessions with a whole bag of goodies. She does a lot of Biologique Recherche products, which are incredible and I use a lot of; and then also right now I’m kind of obsessed with my friend Neada’s skincare line that she’s slowly being releasing, it’s called Lesse. It’s so incredible. She just released a cleanser and I just started using it. I’m really, really, really impressed.
And honestly other than that it’s just a routine of getting facials probably once a month. I was bad at washing my face at night when I was younger, but now I do not go to bed with makeup on. I’m still not good at staying out of the sun, I just like the sun too much. But SPF and not going to sleep with makeup on are my only two real things, and then I put on my face what people tell me to put on my face.
I do masks, I’ll do that much. I’ll do a face mask once a week, maybe twice a week.”
“Reading honestly has been the more constant respite. Sometimes I know if I’m just irrationally grumpy for a string of days, almost certainly the remedy will be to lock myself away for two hours and do nothing but read a book. It always makes me feel better.
I read so haphazardly because I read so much for work that sometimes it’s the last thing that I reach for, and at the same time crave—because it’s such a different beast, obviously, reading copy or reading scripts to reading an actual novel. So usually I read fiction for that exact reason, because I want to just totally escape.”
“I eat everything. But if I’m scrolling through food blogs or looking at recipe books, the stuff that gets me excited to cook is always the vegetable dishes. I’m really consistently impressed by Alison Roman’s stuff, we have both of her cookbooks. I cook out of them all the time. And then I always go to Heidi Swanson as well, she has a site called 101 Cookbooks. The way she cooks vegetarian food is so exciting and so satisfying.
I feel like if I was taking care of myself, the meal I would make is slow-roasted salmon with brown rice and a large assortment of vegetables. I’m definitely someone who likes six to seven dishes in a meal. I need there to be roasted cauliflower, some Japanese sweet potatoes, some steamed bok choy, a tahini sort of dressing, a pickled radish or something, brown rice, and salmon. I’m not satisfied if there aren’t five colours on my plate. I certainly eat with my eyes as much as I do my stomach, for sure. So something that’s feeling like it’s going to feel good to my body, but also is still stimulating and exciting and not a bowl of soup, which bores the shit out of me even though I know it’s really good for us and we need to be eating more broths.”
“I recently got back into dancing which has been a quiet joy.
Before acting the thing that I did first and foremost was ballet and then contemporary. It was an enormous part of my life, my god, I was dancing probably 10 hours a week when I was 16 all the way through to one of my electives in college. I somehow finagled the system and was able to take ballet as an elective while I was studying theatre. It’s been a huge part of my life and brought me so much joy and I just didn’t do it for a long time, almost a decade.
There’s a place in town called The Sweat Spot that has open dance classes and that’s been my go-to workout lately. It’s best to not even look at it as a workout but just going and doing something that I’m super passionate about. In the back of my mind, one day I’ll have to play a role where I’m a dancer and that’ll just be the best thing ever.”
On fresh flowers
“My favourite flowers are things in the protea family, because I’m from South Africa and they remind me of home. The king protea is our national flower. I love things in that wildflower territory, and they do happen to have a lot of stamina. But then I also really love ranunculus which is what I have in the bathroom, and peonies, and the more delicate things as well.
[Buying fresh flowers] just feels like yet another expression of where you’re at, I think, which is probably why I like it.”
On having a dog
“She gets me outside all the time. We live close to Elysian Park, which is this fairly urban but beautiful sprawling park; I take her there almost every day, I would say. And just talk about easy access to joy: getting home and having this ridiculous little creature—she gets so excited when she sees us. It’s Alex’s favourite thing: she sees us and she wags her tail so hard her whole body ricochets. It’s so sweet. She’s an endless source of pure, simple happiness, which is not to be underestimated these days.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.