"Hi," Blake Lively says, extending her free hand.
Her other one is occupied, cradling her swaddled newborn, who nurses at her chest. She sits down on a couch, props a pillow on her lap and continues breast-feeding.
She acts as if it's not a big deal — having her baby here, in this hotel room with us — but it kind of feels like seeing a unicorn. The actress and her husband, Ryan Reynolds, have been secretive with the press about their daughter — even before she came into the world four months ago.
Lively hoped to conceal her pregnancy until she gave birth but shared the news at seven months because she found out that paparazzi had taken pictures of her (and her growing stomach) on vacation with Reynolds. When James was born in December, there were no big magazine cover reveals, and the couple did not even share her name for months.
But there it was in gold letters hanging from Lively's neck: James. I am asked not to describe what the baby looks like — but how do you really describe a infant anyway, other than cute?
"Thanks for that," she says. "Please don't describe my areolas, either."
It's a Sunday evening, and the 27-year-old has just finished a weekend-long press junket to promote "The Age of Adaline," her first movie in three years. She's been given occasional five-minute breaks between press obligations for "motherly duties," which proves challenging.
"I wish my child adhered by the Lionsgate press schedule," she says with a sigh. "This is practically the first time I've left the house."
So maybe, by weekend's end, she just wanted to be with her kid. And it was nice to have James there; nice to see Lively with James — or 'Bunny!' 'Smiles!' 'Bubba!' — cooing and giggling, blissed out and proud.
She's proud of "Age of Adaline" too, in a way she hasn't been about her work in a long time. After playing Upper East Sider Serena van der Woodsen on the CW's "Gossip Girl" for six seasons, Lively was creatively tapped out. Because of the show's rigorous production schedule, she didn't feel the program was about the quality of the content. "If it was about the content," she says, "they wouldn't hand us our script pages minutes before shooting.
"You're part of this machine — this pop culture phenomenon — but as an actor, the quality of your work is definitely compromised because of that. When I finished the last season, I didn't feel good at it anymore. I didn't feel stimulated. It had become muscle memory, but not good muscle memory — like bad-habit muscle memory."
Feeling creatively unfulfilled by acting, she decided to start her own company: Preserve, a lifestyle site she launched last July. The site spotlights food, fashion and decor that Lively is into and tells the stories of the artisans behind the products.
Lively has always had an impressive sense of style, serving as her own stylist instead of hiring a professional as most other actresses do to help her choose her outfits. She even helps friends pick out their clothes, like her "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" costar Amber Tamblyn.
"I text Blake pictures with options, and she'll tell me what to wear," Tamblyn says. "She's just really good at that stuff. I was in a hotel room with her recently with clothes strewn everywhere, and she picked something up, looked in the mirror and said, 'OK, let's go.' And she looked amazing. It just comes naturally to her."
But critics didn't take as kindly to Lively's advice on Preserve, which immediately drew comparisons to Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop. Its layout was compared to the promotional campaign for a horror movie, a website for Jim Beam whiskey and the Instagram of a millennial living in Austin.
"You feel like you're in high school and being bullied," Lively says of the negative reviews. James, who was bouncing on her lap, gurgled. "Excuse me! She has a lot to say on the subject. She hates bullying."
Lively acknowledges there are things about Preserve she's eager to improve — mainly the user experience, which she said is challenging — and providing "ways I want to shop that aren't out there yet on other e-commerce sites." But she's going to stick with it.
"I'm a lot better at this than I am at acting," she says, seeming completely serious. "I always feel like I'm faking it when I'm acting. I do the best I can do to tell the story in the best way, but I always feel really lucky when I get a job. I feel confident when I'm cooking or decorating. It's something I control beginning, middle and end. That ownership feels good."
Frankly, Lively has not always received positive notices for her acting. "Gossip Girl" wasn't exactly a critical darling, and some of the movies she's been best in — small indies like "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" and "Hick" — weren't widely seen. But she would like to be taken seriously as an actress — an ambition that became clear with her small role as a Boston hooker opposite Ben Affleck in 2010's "The Town."
Lee Toland Krieger, who directed "Age of Adaline," says he thinks Lively's acting chops are often discounted because of her reputation as a fashion plate. (She's been the face of L'Oreal, a Gucci franchise and Chanel handbags.)
"There's an inclination to discount somebody when they're so beautiful," the filmmaker says. "Blake is aware that it's not gonna be one movie that necessarily reinvents her from the success of 'Gossip Girl.' I think she knows it's a marathon, not a sprint, and she's chipping away at it little by little. She's a serious actress who's not just consumed with being a fashion icon — even if she is 5-foot-10 and looks like she was genetically made in a DNA lab."
In "Adaline," Lively plays a woman born in 1908 who gets into a freak car accident at age 29. After the wreck, she never ages — a predicament that has kept her from maintaining long-term romantic relationships.
At first, the actress was not interested in reading the movie's script "because I thought, 'Oh, this just sounds like "Benjamin Button" with a chick.'" But when she did, she thought it read like a novel, and she liked the idea of playing a woman who lived through multiple decades.
Still, she was worried that some of the plot elements — like playing the mother of 82-year-old Ellen Burstyn — might come off as preposterous. And she was intimidated by the veteran actress, who didn't come "bubbling into set," she says. They didn't speak at all until they were acting — but it was their scene work, Lively says, that allowed the pair to "open up our own personal dynamic." Since then, she and Reynolds have invited Burstyn to stay at their home, which the veteran star says gave her insight into who Lively really is.
"She has wonderful taste that's a bit unusual. She's a true artist," Burstyn says. "And Ryan's a wonderful man — the two of them together are a spectacular couple. Now that she's a mother, I have a feeling she's going to be pulled more and more to staying home."
Lively does want more kids. "It's addictive," she says. She comes from a big family she's close to; her sister, Robyn — the star of the '80s flick "Teen Witch" — was with her all weekend during the junket to help out with James. But she's already signed up to work on a film with "World War Z" director Marc Forster that will take her to Beijing to play a woman who regains her vision after years of being blind. Until then, she's spending most of her time with Reynolds in Vancouver, where he's filming Marvel's "Deadpool."
"Having a baby is just living in the constant unexpected," she says. "You never know when you're gonna get crapped on or when you're gonna get a big smile or when that smile immediately turns into hysterics. It might be like living with a drug addict. But you have a baby and you think, 'I can't imagine ever not having a baby,' because they grow up so quickly. I'd be an 80-year-old woman with a baby if I could."