Home cover story Malin Akerman

Malin Akerman

by devnym

Sweethearts aren’t always flirty and fun. Sometimes they know how to get down to business. Maybe it’s just this town. It has the power to transform every girl into a strong woman, sharing her opinions, accomplishments, and plans. New York moves even Hollywood’s loveliest ladies to profess what really, well, moves them.

For Malin Akerman, that means bringing a unique global view to the table. Born in Sweden, Akerman’s parents moved to Canada when she was two. Her father moved back to Sweden when she was six, so all those school vacations became three months a year of visiting dad in Europe. “It’s interesting – Sweden and Canada, politically, are quite similar. There’s no big difference in national healthcare; there is similar neutrality when it comes to wars. Culturally, Sweden is a little bit more conservative. I grew up in Toronto. It’s an ethnically diverse city with freedom and individualism and a mix of cultures.” Akerman grew up the child of two continents, of two cultures. “Whenever I was in Canada, I knew that I had been brought up very Swedish. I can’t pinpoint it, but I knew I was a little bit different. But then, whenever I’d go to Sweden, I’d feel a little different there too.” Years later, the fruit of all that dual-habitation is a bright and understanding mind. “I really appreciate it now. It really opened my eyes to the world.”

Now living in America with a residency green card, Akerman navigates the severe political differences of the USA. “I personally feel like universal healthcare is great. You know, in Sweden, you can pay for a better spot in line, you can pay for better health care options, but you can always go [to the doctor] if you have a problem.”

Culturally, America fares a little better. “Every country has its pros and cons. One thing that I really love is that it does definitely breed entrepreneurs and individuals. There’s incentive to do better and be better… it’s the American Dream kind of thing – it’s really true.” Alright, that hackneyed phrase that conjures up images of bootstraps and peace marches, assembly lines and the smell of new money; that old jargon actually still has quite a bit of merit. “I never understood that phrase until I lived in America. I’m also spending most of my time in LA and New York, but I just feel like everything is doable. It really inspires me.”

There’s no denying New York weaves its spell of dreams-to-be-accomplished on everybody, no matter if you’re here to film a show, or just to see one. “New York has so much culture, so much history. You can really feel it when you walk through the streets.When I visited, I went to see two plays on Broadway. Everywhere else, you go to dinner and a movie. In New York, you go to dinner and a play. It’s unique and lovely.”

Clearly, we’re dealing with a unique and lovely girl. And what does she turn her international attention to next? Africa. Akerman is currently working closely with Opportunity International, an organization that arranges microfinancing for small businesses. Reaching out to assist people with no identification cards, bank accounts, or loans, Opportunity International acts like a bank. And 71% of its benefactors are women. “It brings people in as groups, vouching for one another. Then the group helps pay off the interest, collectively.” With loans from $50 into the $1,000 range, women can start a business, sustain a family, and send their kids to school. Akerman has been to Africa twice to put boots on the ground and see how things work. “The moment they get money, they send their kids to school – that’s where my heart is, kids being our future. It’s important to teach them properly and inspire them to want to make the world a better place.”

Perhaps one of the most wonderful attributes Akerman shares about Africa is its people. “You come back, and all of a sudden, everyone’s on their Blackberry. Everyone has something to do. In Africa, it’s very much like everyone lives by the minute. They’re there in the present. There’s nothing else to be done. Asking how everyone knows each other in the community is really beautiful. They welcome you right in and tell you stories. They laugh, they’re relaxed – even though they don’t have much they seem happy. From an outsider’s point of view, they have so much to face. They know that as well, they’re in dire need of more financial security. But at the base of them and their search is a beautiful people, living in the moment.”

Working with organizations like Opportunity International has put Akerman in contact with some remarkable people. She finds role models everywhere. “I look up to – oh, wow – a lot of people. Anywhere from my parents and their struggles and how far they’ve come in life, to a former sex slave from Cambodia who breaks into brothels and saves young girls, to Bill Gates, to Dennis Littky. People who are revolutionaries really inspire me. Those are my idols.”

But then, she admits, she’d also go crazy if she got to meet a legendary singer. In fact, “I was just at the White House Correspondence Dinner, and I was in the same room as the President of America. He was laid back and telling funny stories, and there were so many powerful people there. It was just really exciting.” And seated next to her at dinner? Mayor Bloomberg of New York. “He’s such a charming man. We had a lovely table with many wonderful people. I felt like the greenest person there. I left thinking, ‘I’ve got to learn everything.’ You get so inspired by all these people. I just love people who are doing something, people who are trying to make the world a better place. That takes a smart person, and a person with a lot of guts.”

So when you’ve got the smarts and the guts, what do you do with them? Akerman’s number one item on her bucket list? “It’s an easy one: to have kids of my own. Well,” she catches herself, “not easy. Also, I would love to open my own school with Dennis Littky’s curriculum.” She references the education visionary for the second time, evidencing her real interest in the man who has opened 65 charter schools that take drop-outs and class failures and boost them to a 99% graduation rate. “He’s changing the way we educate kids. It’s fascinating.” Rounding out the bucket list is a dream borne of international-mindedness – and an Italian husband – “Perhaps, when I’m older, I’ll own an olive orchard in Italy. In the meantime, I want to see the world.”

So where can we see this continent-trekking, sometimes-flirty, sometimes-serious sweetheart? “I just finished the pilot for an ABC show called The Smart One, so my future is in limbo right now.” In the meantime, Rock of Ages comes out in June. “Filming that was a great experience. It’s an amazing cast and every single person, honestly everyone, sang their own songs. I assure you that Mary J. Blige can definitely sing. And Adam Shankman’s comedic timing is brilliant. Everyone can relate to this film. And the music is great! It’s all the hair bands: Bon Jovi and Journey and Foreigner and Def Leppard. Stuff I grew up on.”

Well, every serious girl needs a little fluff in her life. Especially if it comes with some rockin’ 80s costumes. But Akerman has some great perspective to share. “If you’re constantly striving to be a successful person, as opposed to a successful actor or lawyer or accountant, that makes all the difference. Find time to work on balance. We all get strength from that. Check in on yourself, and look somewhere else when you’re hitting the same wall. I like to think everything happens for a reason. So believe, and keep trekking forward.”

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