In 2006, Geena Davis sat down for a lengthy Q&A with Oprah Winfrey about her career in feminist films such as “Thelma and Louise,” her then-fledging activist work against gender stereotypes in entertainment and her happy marriage to neurosurgeon Reza Jarrahy.
Davis told Winfrey for her O magazine that she and Jarrahy, an Iranian-American who is 15 years younger than her, “just hit it off” when they met through friends in 1999. The Oscar winner also said they joked about him becoming her fourth husband. Davis laughingly told Winfrey: “I said to him, ‘How stupid are you? You’re going to become someone’s fourth husband.’”
But it turns out that Davis may have lied to Winfrey about something significant in that interview: whether or not she and Jarrahy were actually married.
That’s according to a deposition obtained by TMZ in their divorce case — which may not really be a divorce case because the 63-year-old Davis claims they never legally wed.
In the deposition, Jarrahy’s attorney brought up Davis’ interview with Winfrey while questioning her. “You bragged about your marriage to Reza and what a great husband he was, correct?” the attorney, Stephen Kolodny, asked.
Davis said she did not specifically recall the interview, whether it was on Winfrey’s TV show or for her magazine, according to the deposition. But Davis conceded that Kolodny’s description of how she talked about Jarrahy sounded correct.
At that point, Kolodny then “dropped the hammer,” according to TMZ and asked, “You lied to Oprah?”
“Yes,” Davis conceded.
Reza Jarrahy and Geena Davis attend an event in Beverly Hills in 2002. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images Archives)
The reason that Davis is in the situation of committing what TMZ called “the unholiest of sins” — lying to Oprah Winfrey — goes back to the unusual circumstances of the September 2001 event that the actress has long presented to the world as her fourth wedding.
People reported that Davis and Jarrahy tied the knot in a private ceremony in the Hamptons. In a joint statement issued at the time, Davis and Jarrahy said, “We are very happy and we look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.” The couple subsequently had three children: a daughter, now 17, and twin sons, 15.
Davis also gushed about Jarrahy in a 2006 interview with Good Housekeeping. As with Winfrey, she talked about how marriage No. 4 was the charm. Davis was previously married to Finnish film director Renny Harlin, actor Jeff Goldblum and restaurateur Richard Emmolo.
“I really did feel that I had turned a corner, that I had pulled off changes that were real and permanent,” Davis told Good Housekeeping. “And it was exciting to know I was marrying someone who I can be cranky or selfish in front of and he doesn’t run screaming from the room or judge me for it. It’s like I discovered a whole other way to live.”
Jarrahy was identified as Davis’ husband in media photos from film premieres and other events through the 2000s, and as recently as 2015.
In May 2018, Jarrahy filed for divorce, blaming the split on irreconcilable differences, People and TMZ reported. He said he and Davis separated in November 2017.
Jarrahy subsequently asked for spousal support, for joint legal and physical custody of the children and for a property split, the outlets reported.
But Davis countered by saying she did not want a divorce — because she said they had never been married in the first place, People and TMZ previously reported.
In her court filing, Davis said she and Jarrahy “knowingly and voluntarily chose to have a marriage-like ceremony, fully aware that it was not legally binding,” People reported.
In her deposition, Davis admitted that she and Jarrahy hired a wedding planner and caterers; they even had a Catholic priest to participate in the ceremony, during which they exchanged vows and a ring, TMZ reported. Davis said they “intended” to get married — “to be really married” — before having children. At the same time, she said they made “the intentional decision not to file for a marriage license” before the September 2001 ceremony — though she did not say why, according to the deposition.
In her court filings, Davis claimed that she and Jarrahy checked “single” on tax returns, did not own property as a couple and “never had a joint checking or savings account, never had a joint retirement account.” She also stated that Jarrahy did not receive health insurance through her SAG-AFTRA membership as he “does not qualify as a family member.”
In her court filing, Davis also included a 2012 letter for a home loan that was signed by Jarrahy. In the letter Jarrahy wrote, “I filed my tax returns in 2009 as a single individual because I am not currently married. Ms. Davis and I co-habitate and co-parent our three children but are not officially wed.”
Jarrahy has continued to argue that the marriage was valid, regardless of the irregularity with the license, TMZ reported last year. He also expressed concerns about their three children being declared “illegitimate,” TMZ added.
But Davis’ attorney, Peter Lauzon, hit back at the time over the use of such an “arcane” term, saying it has no place in modern society.
But if the “legitimacy” of the couple’s three children is not a legal issue, there are financial implications riding on whether the marriage is valid, TMZ noted.
If the court sides with Davis and says there was no marriage, then there won’t be a division of property: What’s his is his and what’s hers is hers, TMZ said. Jarrahy also would not be entitled to spousal support because he wouldn’t legally be a spouse.
Davis has been in the headlines in recent weeks because she has a guest-starring role in the third season of the acclaimed Netflix series “GLOW,” which began Friday. She also served as an executive producer on “This Changes Everything,” a documentary about gender disparity in Hollywood, which was released in theaters Friday.
Davis, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for “The Accidental Tourist” in 1989, also is slated to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in October. This is for the work of her eponymous Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, which she founded in 2004 and which is set to have set the stage for the #MeToo movement.
Matthew Rolston Geena Davis is running behind schedule. She was detained at a gown fitting, and now the rest of her jam-packed day is off-kilter. When she finally sits down at a funky outdoor café near downtown Los Angeles, wearing faded jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and absolutely no makeup, she orders blueberry pancakes — even though the sun has set long ago and most of her fellow patrons are eating dinner.
Then again, Davis is used to doing things a little later than most people. Having recently turned 50, she is now celebrating the sort of personal milestones that most women mark in their 30s. Married to Dr. Reza Jarrahy, an Iranian-American neurosurgeon 15 years her junior, she became a mother for the first time at age 46. Two years after the arrival of daughter Alizeh, she gave birth to twins, sons Kian and Kaiis. Just as her personal life was falling into place, her dormant career got a wake-up call when she was offered the role of Mackenzie Allen, the first female U.S. president, on the ABC series Commander in Chief. The drama became the most watched new show of the fall television season, and suddenly Davis was back in the spotlight. In January, Davis won a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama series; she accepted her award with a witty and charming speech that brought the house down. Happy marriage, beautiful babies, blooming career: Everything is, finally, right on track. “It just happened two decades after I thought it would,” Davis says with a shrug.
Many people still think of her as the tough-girl heroine Thelma, whom she made famous in 1991’s Thelma & Louise. But in real life, Davis has been on a long, arduous journey of self-discovery. After starting out as a model in her early 20s, she seemed to segue effortlessly into acting, going from playing a bit part in Tootsie to costarring in Beetlejuice to winning an Academy Award for her role in The Accidental Tourist at age 32. Davis followed her Oscar win with Thelma & Louise and the feel-good baseball comedy A League of Their Own. But just when her career seemed red-hot, it suddenly began to cool. A string of box office disappointments like Cutthroat Island didn’t help; neither did getting older in an age-obsessed industry. By then divorced from actor Jeff Goldblum (she later married and split up with director Renny Harlin), Davis felt isolated and confused.
“I guess I thought my career would just go on the way it had,” she says, shaking her wavy auburn hair. “But once I turned 40, I really did feel like I’d ceased to exist in Hollywood. I thought I’d have an older-woman’s career like Meryl Streep or Jessica Lange did. But not only weren’t there roles for me, there weren’t any for Meryl either. It was noticeable and unmistakable. And painful.”
At the same time, not working gave Davis a chance to think about what else she might want to do with her life. She came up with two surprising answers. The first came in the form of a bow and arrow. Having been turned on to archery while making the action film The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, she began to pursue the hobby seriously and before long was competing in the National Trials. She came close to qualifying for the Olympics. “I didn’t realize archery would become such a big part of my life, but I got completely hooked,” she says.
Archery not only helped her fill her days, it sparked a sea change in the way the actress viewed herself. Davis says she had long struggled with self-esteem; when she was a teenager, her lanky six-foot frame and exotic pillow-lip looks weren’t exactly the norm, and she often felt like an outcast. But finding a sport she was passionate about began to heal old wounds. “Sports are 90 percent mental,” she explains, “and I came to realize that there was this inner dialogue I was constantly having, where I’d be thinking, Oh, that was a horrible shot, and people must be laughing at you and you should be so embarrassed. I realized that if I was telling myself that during archery, I was probably doing it all the time in the rest of my life. Becoming confident in my physical abilities, acknowledging that I had a right to take up space and be happy with my performance, was the final piece of the puzzle. I started to believe that people weren’t judging me every second of my life. I began to really like myself.”
Emboldened by the self-esteem boost, Davis found herself drawn in to an unlikely romance with Jarrahy, who was only 27 when Davis, then 42, met him at a party. In the past, Davis says, she had found herself attracted to men whom she thought she’d be able to “fix” and turn into the perfect mate. “I was always in the type of relationship where everything was about the other person,” she says. “I’d find my worth through sacrificing everything for his sake. And that had everything to do with my own feelings about myself; the guys I was with felt pretty great about themselves all on their own — they didn’t need me to fix them because they weren’t damaged. But I sure was.”
By the time Jarrahy came along, Davis knew that the patterns of her past were ready to be broken. “I finally managed to change myself, and that changed what seemed attractive to me. Reza is so different from the kind of men I used to be with. I think if I met someone now who was like the guys I was drawn to in the past, I would just start to laugh.”
Still, Davis admits that the considerable age difference was initially a stumbling block. “A relationship with him seemed a little far-fetched,” she says, remembering her initial attraction to the dashingly handsome doctor. “I remember thinking, This guy is cute — and ridiculously young. At first, to be honest, I was just approaching it like something that would be fun. I wasn’t thinking too far ahead of the game. The amazing thing is, when we started to spend more and more time together, there wasn’t anything about our age difference that stuck out. It wasn’t like I was sitting there saying, ‘What do you mean, you don’t know who the Beatles are?’ It doesn’t feel like we’re from different generations, and now we barely notice it at all.”
Despite three previous marriages, Davis didn’t hesitate to make a fourth trip down the aisle. “I did say to Reza, ‘You’re about to become someone’s fourth husband. What on earth are you thinking?’ But as for myself, I wasn’t nervous at all. I really did feel that I had turned a corner, that I had pulled off changes that were real and permanent. And it was exciting to know I was marrying someone who I can be cranky or selfish in front of and he doesn’t run screaming from the room or judge me for it. It’s like I discovered a whole other way to live.”
One year after the two married, Davis’s life underwent another change, when the actress became pregnant. First-time motherhood in her 40s didn’t unnerve her; instead, the actress saw her age as an advantage. “I felt 100 percent that I would be such a better parent than I would have been even five years earlier and certainly ten or 20 years earlier,” she recalls. “If I’d had kids earlier, I could easily have become one of those mothers who overinvolve themselves and try to live life through their kids. I’m sure there are younger people who have figured things out long before I did, but in my case, I became a parent with exactly the right person, at exactly the right time.”
Having twins just two years later, however, “was pretty daunting,” she says with a sigh. “My daughter was two when they were born, so that meant three kids under the age of three at home. And I was worried because part of me thought, Am I going to be able to love boys as much as I love my little girl? Of course, I do, and it’s been really wonderful. But it was overwhelming.”
Davis also admits to feeling a bit swamped when she thinks ahead to a future of raising teenagers at an age when most people begin collecting Social Security. “Oh yeah, I think about that all the time,” she says candidly. “There are moments when I feel like I have a looong road ahead of me, with college and dating and driving and all of that. But then I realize that just means that I have so much time left to enjoy them. And it really does go by so quickly.”
Now Davis is relishing every second of her role as a mommy. Daughter Alizeh is obsessed with princesses, to the chagrin of her mother, who would rather her little girl show an interest in females who strive to do more than win the heart of Prince Charming. Still, Alizeh is already putting her own twist on the fairy tales. “She likes to tell stories about Snow White going into the forest, where she meets an evil witch. But then Snow White takes out a magic wand and turns the evil witch into a nice witch. It’s a good thought,” Davis says with a laugh. “She never wants to play princesses who are just lying there asleep or under some spell. They’re always very active princesses who battle dragons or evil witches.”
As for her parenting style, Davis is making certain not to repeat mistakes from her own childhood. “It’s important to me that my kids feel acknowledged,” says Davis, who grew up with an older brother in Wareham, Massachusetts. “I was raised in a generation where we were taught to stifle things. It was like, ‘Don’t cry.’ Or, as soon as you fell down, you were told, ‘That didn’t hurt.’ Kids were supposed to be seen but not heard, like they were furniture or pets or something. I’m making a point of letting my kids know it’s OK to express themselves. I try not to decide for them what they’re feeling. I want them to know they don’t have to hide their emotions.”
Their mother seems to have taken that lesson to heart. Asked about turning 50, she doesn’t hesitate to roll her eyes and groan. “Actually, I am OK with it,” Davis says a few moments later. “I don’t exactly want to jump up and down on Oprah’s couch, but I’m at peace with it. I feel like my life has gotten better with every year that goes by, and so I really don’t fear getting older. And this is going to sound crazy, but I like the way I look now more than I did ten years ago. I feel like I’ve settled into my looks more and that I’m more at ease, and it shows. I’m not saying I’ll still feel that way when I’m 70, but for now, I’m pretty content.”
Her happiness has been coming through on the set of Commander in Chief. Peter Coyote, who has guest-starred on the show, says that of all the stars he’s worked with, Davis is “my favorite. She has no entourage and no attitude. Between takes, she sits with everyone, knitting, chatting, and playing practical jokes. She is a joy.”
Playing the president of the United States has come naturally to Davis. In 2004, she founded an activist group called See Jane, which seeks to improve the portrayals of girls and women in the media. Now she hopes her television role will inspire other changes.
“I cannot tell you how many people ask me, ‘So do you think there will ever be a female president in real life?’ I mean, why shouldn’t there be?” she says, her voice rising. “When people ask me that, it really makes me want to examine why the idea of women in power is so threatening.”
But she won’t be able to get to that today. With her pancakes long since polished off, Davis needs to get home for bath time with her kids. “My daughter won’t even get her face wet, but my sons literally submerge themselves and try to swim laps in the tub. They stick their whole heads under and blow bubbles,” she says with a delighted laugh. “I can’t tell you how much I look forward to it.” She slings her bag over her shoulder and hurries off into the night. With any luck, she’ll be right on time.