While many dream about living their lives in the Hollywood spotlight, Natalie Wood's daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, is getting real about what it was actually like growing up as the daughter of the late iconic actress.
Ahead of the series Growing Up on Screen, which airs Tuesday, March 30, Gregson Wagner, 50, and her husband, actor Barry Watson, 46, sit down with OK! to exclusively discuss Wood's legacy as well as the rewards and challenges that Hollywood stardom offers.
"As a child, you don't choose to be in the spotlight, it's just kind of thrust upon you just because of who your parents are," Gregson Wagner candidly explains of growing up in the entertainment industry, noting that the constant attention came with its fair share of pitfalls.
The daughter of Wood and British producer Richard Gregson says she learned to be "extremely, overly polite" from an early age, "and sometimes that was to the detriment of being true to myself." She confesses that "it was hard to find a balance."
In addition, Gregson Wagner admits that it was difficult to grieve after her mom — who tragically drowned at 43 while on a boating trip with her then-husband, actor Robert Wagner, and Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken in 1981 — died when a time in her life that was supposed to be "such a private affair" wasn't "private" at all given Wood's celebrity status.
And while she enjoyed seeing how happy everyone was when they were near Wood and her stepfather, Wagner — whom Wood married for a second time after welcoming Gregson Wagner with her former husband — the High Fidelity actress says she never thought much of the glitz and glam of Hollywood life while growing up in the limelight.
"When I was living that life, I wasn't really aware that it was that different of a life," she recalls of her childhood, noting that she knew her family was famous because "wherever they went, people seemed to be really happy to see them."
The brunette beauty also credits her parents' emphasis on family as one of the reasons she was never caught up with the obsession of Hollywood. "My parents were so normal," she tells OK!. "The emphasis was always on family life and friendships and the weekends on the boat and in the pool." She adds that she "was not one of those children who walked in looking at [Hollywood] with rose-colored glasses."
Now as a parent herself, Gregson Wagner and her hubby choose to live their lives as normal as possible, explaining that they would "rather stay home than go to a Hollywood party."
"We put our kids first," she says of daughter Clover Clementyne, 8, and sons Oliver, 15, and Felix, 13. "We live a simple life, and I think we both learned that from our families."
After seeing so closely what Hollywood was like behind the scenes, the parents-of-three offer advice to fellow parents with children who are in the business.
"Find other outlets, as many other outlets" that have nothing to do with the business, 7th Heaven alum Watson tells OK!. "Just let them be kids as long as possible. Make sure you remember that they're still a kid and let them have those kid moments," he insists, adding that those pivotal times in a child's life "don't necessarily happen if you’re on the set with grown-ups all day long."
Gregson Wagner looks back fondly on the life of the iconic West Side Story actress. She produced Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind and wrote More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood, both last year, to "really illuminate [Wood's] world."
Gregson Wagner shares that her mom "fought for equal rights among men and women, was incredibly liberated" and was "more than just a great performer." However, she feels Wood's "life and her work was overshadowed by the night she died." She adds, "I wanted to take the focus off of that and put it where it belongs, which is on the magnificent life that she left [behind]."
After Wood died when Gregson Wagner was 11, she launched her own acting career, starring in Two Girls and a Guy, First Love, Last Rites and more. She confesses: "I was searching for my mom in those years I was acting, trying to find a way to be connected to her."
Though she drifted away from a life primarily behind the camera lens, Wood's daughter holds the lessons she learned from her mom close to her heart. Recounting a quote from one of Wood's favorite books, Little Prince — which reads: "it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye" — Gregson Wagner says she thinks it means "you lead with your heart, and [Wood] definitely led with her heart."
"And I think I lead with mine," she adds. "She was definitely heart centered."
Gregson Wagner and Watson will introduce Wood's life during the TCM series Growing Up on Screen, which airs Tuesday, March 30.