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Taking Life by the Horns

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
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Lydia Hearst is not your average heiress. Sure, she’s got the standard bases covered. There’s the astronomical wealth thanks to grandfather and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose stature was immortalized in the movie Citizen Kane.


There’s the tabloid-worthy family drama. Mother Patty Hearst was abducted and brainwashed by a terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, at the age of 19 in 1974 and served time in prison for crimes committed while under their control before her sentence was finally commuted by Jimmy Carter in 1979. Shortly after her release Patty married one of her bodyguards, Bernard Shaw, with whom she had two children—Gillian and Lydia—and remained with until his passing in 2013.


Lydia has dated a solid string of high-profile men, including actors Kevin Connolly, Jeff Goldblum and Justin Bartha among others, before settling down with her current boyfriend, TV host and CEO of Nerdist Industries Chris Hardwick.


Finally, there’s her exceptional and unique looks and an heiress-favored career as a model and actress. Lydia, who is the perfect embodiment of the big-eyed, doll-faced look favored in fashion in the early 2000s, spent roughly a decade as a top model before slowing down of late following a turn as a judge alongside friend Naomi Campbell on the reality TV show The Face. Although she has dabbled in acting for years, she’s now diving into that career full steam ahead, having shot five films and a TV show in the last year.


But, despite all the makings of your standard socialite, Lydia is a decidedly different breed.


While cousins like fellow AVENUE cover subject Amanda Hearst were raised in New York and the Hamptons, Lydia and her sister Gillian spent their childhoods outside the New York circles in Wilton, Connecticut. She attended the local public high school and enrolled briefly at nearby Sacred Heart University before being plucked from relative obscurity by Steven Meisel for the cover of Italian Vogue.


“My childhood was pretty normal, all things considered,” Lydia says. She did spend time on the set of John Waters movies watching her mother act, beginning with Cry-Baby when she was in preschool, but she lacked the awareness of that it was especially unusual.


“I thought it was exciting and fun to see this whole magic movie world, but it was a different era,” Lydia says. “You couldn’t Google. People didn’t have cell phones, people weren’t texting. Even the whole concept of tabloids and paparazzi—it existed but not to the extent that it is today. Privacy was very different. It was something that people actually had.”


She was lucky that the paparazzi weren’t documenting her back then. Her outfit of choice? A fluorescent pink or purple turtleneck with leggings, and mismatched socks with jellies, topped off by a scrunchie.


“It was a terrible look, but I was so proud of and so passionate about it. I don’t know what I was thinking but I thought I looked amazing.”


Lydia and big sister Gillian were close from the beginning, riding horses, swimming, biking and drawing together. “The close bond that we had as children grew into a lifelong bond and friendship,” says Gillian.


Today the two live in the same apartment building on West 57th Street, close to both Hearst headquarters and Central Park, where Lydia gets to playing doting aunt to her two goddaughters, ages 1 and 2, whenever she’s in town. A “big kid at heart,” Lydia loves running around and playing with them.


“Growing up, Lydia was kind, caring and adventurous. I think part of Lydia’s charm is that she has maintained a lot of those qualities. She still looks forward to experiences and what each and every day brings,” Gillian says.


Lydia’s energy is seemingly boundless, and she pours it into all sorts of odd and eccentric hobbies and interests.


“Right now I’m learning to ride a bull. I’m not talking the mechanical bull that’s in a random bar. I’m talking a real, live 1,500-pound bull. It’s just something I always wanted to try.” Lydia says. Always obsessed with watching professional bull riding, she decided to enlist rodeo legend Gary Leffew to teach her the ropes. “I’m not bad actually. I mean, I’m sure he’s putting me on more of the weenie-esque bulls, but it’s still a bull.”


Before taking on this latest challenge, she went to circus school and mastered motorcycles. “I have a brain that never shuts off, and I love staying stimulated and active, which is probably why I’ve learned so many different skills. I feel like there’s 24 useful hours in every day, so why not use them? What else are we going to do with life, really, if we’re not always living and

growing?” Lydia muses.


She has found a partner-in-crime in boyfriend Chris Hardwick, an actor, comedian and TV host, best known at the moment for being the host of talk show Talking Dead, which follows The Walking Dead on AMC. Their high jinks are documented all over Instagram, although Lydia cringes at the mention of selfies—“Chris is one of the best and most famous selfie takers ever and I never know where to look. I always look confused; it’s just awful.”


Their courtship was a drawn-out one. They didn’t go on a date for seven months after first meeting on the set of his show and then most of their first month together took place over FaceTime thanks to their crazy travel schedules. But it wasn’t long before the two were spending holidays with each other’s families.


Lydia’s face changes whenever she talks about Chris. She blushes and smiles and giggles. “I don’t think I knew it was possible to be this happy,” she says, clearly head over heels in love but declining to talk about future plans. “I don’t want to jinx anything!”


They match each other’s feverish energy level and love of childish antics while sharing an obsession with horror films. Lydia’s passion for the macabre extends beyond fandom though—from her 30-pound Egyptian Mau named Anubis after the Egyptian god of death to a résumé that includes an increasingly length list of dark roles.


This fall alone, she comes out in three such roles. In September, she will star in #Horror, Tara Subkoff’s directorial debut, alongside Chloë Sevigny, Taryn Manning, Natasha Lyonne, Timothy Hutton and Balthazar Getty. She follows that up with a role as a “disgusting junkie” in Condemned. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, her TV show South of Hell premieres as an eight-episode marathon on WE TV. In that show Lydia stars alongside Mena Suvari in a tale of “demons, obsession, possession, drugs, and good versus evil.”


“I’ve played some really messed-up roles,” Lydia admits with a grin, relishing in describing the makeup applied to make her look exceptionally disgusting. “I love the more sort of intricate and detailed, and maybe a little more grotesque. I pretty much wake up smiling every morning, so it’s a little exciting to go to work and be so dark. Especially coming from a background in fashion, where I got to dress up and be pretty every day, I’m a little bit more drawn to the more vile roles.”


There seems to be no length Lydia won’t go to for a juicy role or a great shot, as anyone who has seen the work of friend and photographer Tyler Shields can attest to. The two run around the world going on adventures with their friends and taking over-the-top pictures. On every trip Lydia brings two suitcases—one with her actual clothes and one full of her “if I feel like shooting something awesome” clothes.


“We have done a lot of crazy things,” Tyler says. “She once jumped off a building for me, flipped herself across a street, ate an entire bucket of fried chicken and rode a train nude. She—again nude—climbed a 100-foot mountain of obsidian for a photo. It

was one of the most daring and badass things I have seen anyone do in a long time!”


Their most recent collaboration was a bit tamer but far more personal. Chris, Tyler, Mena Suvari and a group of friends joined Lydia as she returned to Hearst Castle for the first time since she was three years old and took a series of romantic, retro images throughout the property.


Lydia is in the midst of launching an organization to conserve, restore and preserve the property—a piece of history that bears her surname. The extravagant home of William Randolph Hearst, which was frequented by the Hollywood and political elite in the 1920s and 1930s, is a National and California Historical Landmark open to the public, yet no major restoration work has been done on the property since its original construction.


She is working alongside Friends of Hearst Castle to get the organization up and running and hopes to launch by next summer with an event she’s considering calling the “Young Entertainers White Tie Soiree.”


“The castle is a piece of history that I want to save for the future,” Lydia says. “The ceilings were actually collected from places all over the world, often from either Spain or Italy, and the rooms were built around these ceilings, so the ceilings themselves are a work of art.” What’s an heiress, even one as unique as Lydia Hearst, without a touch of the traditional?


 


Photographed by Benjamin Russell

Styled by Emily Barnes

Hair by Yoichi Tomizawa for Oribe Professional at Art Dept

Makeup by Grace Ahn for NARS

Fashion Assistance by Kacey Bennett





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