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Brooke Shields talks about embracing middle age after a lifetime in Hollywood

Shields said that she's looking forward to starting her next chapter, even after a lifetime in the spotlight.
/ Source: TODAY

Brooke Shields has undeniably become an icon over the last five decades, and she's not done yet.

From kick-starting her modeling career as an infant to starring in her first, albeit controversial role, when she was 12 in “Pretty Baby,” the multi-hyphenate has solidified herself a spot in the pop culture zeitgeist forever.

On this week’s Sunday Sitdown, Shields opened up to TODAY’s Willie Geist about her enduring career in the entertainment industry, the role her mother played in her early career, and some of the tough moments she’s faced recently as a mother herself.

Despite living much of her life in the limelight, when asked by Willie if she looked back on her life and couldn’t believe she experienced those moments, Shields doesn’t describe those moments as anything out of the ordinary.

Brooke Shields and Sunday TODAY's Willie Geist get together at Bacall's Family Steakhouse in New York City for this week's Sunday Sitdown.Taylor Walton / TODAY

After becoming the youngest model to appear on the cover of Vogue and appearing in a controversial Calvin Klein Jeans ad, Shields found herself in high demand. As a teenager, she starred back-to-back in the coming-of-age romances “Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love” and after she finished up her homework, she’d find herself at the famous Studio 54 in New York City - along with her mother.

“It feels extremely familiar because I was home by midnight,” she said. “And I was at school the next day. So there was this weird sense of normalcy. Mom would go sit and drink in the roped-off section. I would go and dance like a crazy person for two hours and go home.”

In her 2014 memoir “There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me,” Shields explored her relationship with her late mother, who was notoriously protective of Shields throughout the early years of her career.

“She was hated for the most part because, you know, nobody could get near me,” Shields said. “But she also taught me manners, taught me ethics, you know, raised me as a good Catholic girl. But hard work was always there. And nothing came without it. And I think that kind of work ethic makes you say 'I'm going to just keep going because nothing really undoes you.'"

At the peak of her career, Shields made the decision to pursue higher education and enroll at Princeton University. During her interview, the model reflected on that decision and the backlash she received at the time for pausing her high-powered career out of fear she’d be forgotten after those four years.

“It didn't occur to me not to go,” she admitted. “And I had been working for so long by then it was almost like a vacation...I didn't even think about it, thankfully, because I was in for a real shock when I got out of college. It was like, ‘Who? I'm sorry, what?’”

Ultimately, Shields’ decision to go to college didn't end her career. The actor starred in runs on Broadway for “Grease” and “Cabaret” and shone in her role on the Emmy-nominated sitcom “Suddenly Susan.”

Shields wed tennis player Andre Agassi in 1997, but the couple ultimately divorced in 1999. She has been married to screenwriter and producer Chris Henchy since 2001, with whom she shares two children: Rowan Francis, 18, and Grier Hammond, 15. Rowan is currently a freshman at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

During her conversation with Willie, Shields got emotional about her daughter's departure - a pain that Willie himself can relate to as he prepares for his own children, 14-year-old Lucie Joy and 12-year-old George William, to go out into the world.

“Honestly, enjoy these four years, ‘cause it's gonna be like a limb has been cut off of your body,” she warned him. “And you'll still feel it. There'll be a phantom—“

Willie chimed in, finishing Shields’ sentence with, “Right, the phantom pain.”

“If you've done it right they don't look back," Shields joked.

As her children enter new stages of their lives, Shields is also opening a new chapter. She's focusing on her lifestyle brand, "Beginning Is Now," which she hopes will help women embrace middle age.

"I feel as if I'm just beginning. I feel stronger, I feel sexier," Shields explained. "Why aren't we allowed to be sexy in our fifties? ... I thought 'God, why can't we be celebrated for what our next chapter is?' The women that I know, they're self-sufficient. They're not looking to be saved by anybody, and they sort of say, like, 'Well, God, what's next? This can't be it. I'm not done.'"

Shields also brought that theme to her newest movie, the holiday rom-com "A Castle for Christmas," currently streaming on Netflix. While she's not sure what her next project will be, it's likely that the Hollywood icon will remain on our screens for years to come.

"I've been pounding the pavement since I could crawl," Shields joked.

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