Katie Holmes famously appeared in slick bangs on the cover of Elle right when she extracted herself from her marriage to Tom Cruise — with an artfully vague cover headline that was sure not to be rendered obsolete by the breaking news. (As always, pour some out for her brilliant father, who was apparently instrumental in this best-laid plan; I assume the only reason there hasn’t been a tell-all, a movie, or even an instructional pamphlet is because iron-clad things were signed.) So she must have a loving relationship with Hearst, which may explain why she has now done Elle UK despite — to my mind anyway — not necessarily being a huge draw for the UK reader, and without anything much to promote, or much of anything to say. Indeed, that may explain the cover pose: She has been photographed in the act of racking her brain, trying to figure out why she’s agreed to this and what she’s going to talk about and what any of it could possibly have to do with this ’80s style tracksuit.

The gist of the story is exactly the opposite of what the cover line implies: Katie Holmes may be ready to talk in the sense that she’s willing to sit down and physically form words, but the writer openly discusses her reticence — the sense when the switch has flipped — and the fact that her friendliness and wariness live in a bizarre coexistence.

It begins, though, with a reference to a cashmere cardigan and bra situation that apparently lit up the Internet in late August, and it’s referenced as if we all know exactly what it is. But maybe I was in a book-related hole, because I missed this entire thing and had to look it up and have never felt so unplugged from pop culture. And therein lines the bit that sat strangely with me. Please know that I read this before I actually looked up the photo (which I link to in a minute):

I bought it [the bra] because I thought it was cool. The cardigan’s so big, it’s cute to just wear the bra underneath it.’ There’s a pause. ‘I wasn’t expecting it to be something people would talk about.’ I voice a degree of scepticism. After all, she had allegedly just separated with actor Jamie Foxx after six years together, when she wore it. The casual cardigan with the almost transgressively sexy bra underneath, seemed just a little too perfectly insouciant not be any sort of semaphore to the world.‘No,’ Holmes insists, quietly shaking her head. ‘I just put it on and left the house.’

Now look at the photo I found after I read that. Obviously, Katie Holmes is not the person who is going to flip off the paps, but nor does she always grin at them. Maybe it’s misleading and she’s simply reacting to something over their shoulders. And I guess while we’re here, maybe the bra strap slipped artfully off the same shoulder that the cardigan has also abandoned, and maybe her right boob only just so happens to be super visible, and maybe the paps just so happened to be around when this all went down, and maybe she genuinely didn’t expect that being a famous person in a cashmere bra and sweater in August in New York wouldn’t attract any notice, and maybe it’s a total accident that this all was right after she became single again. It’s possible for any one of those things to be true. But is it possible for all of them to be true? I am hard-pressed to think so, although she denies it:

In fact, she says, she heard about the online fuss when a friend called her. ‘And I was like… “OK”.’ She shakes her head, bemused. Holmes never Googles herself, she tells me. ‘I feel like my time is better spent watching an old film, reading a great book, spending time with friends and family. That is somebody else’s version of me and I can’t do anything about that.’

Search her name, however, and you will get quite literally millions of hits. They will tell you what she wore yesterday, where she did her grocery shop and how she’s on her way to yoga. Her every microstep, monitored and analysed. The morning of our interview, I do a search and the first headline that pops up reads, ‘Katie Holmes leaves the house in a tan trench coat and hails a cab!’

When I tell her, she looks aghast. ‘Really? It’s just so…’ She pauses. And when she replies, her voice is almost a whisper. ‘It’s a lot. It’s a lot. Honestly.’ she catches herself. ‘That kind of attention is…‘ she trails off. ‘I try to keep it in perspective because it just is what it is. I try to look nice when I leave the house. I’m very private and quiet, so it’s interesting that there’s that part of my life.’

I think some of that IS likely true: I bet she generally doesn’t Google herself, I’m sure it’s overwhelming that people are still so interested in her, and I think she is private; that privacy, some of which might actually be a legal inability to be any other way, has likely inadvertently stoked some of the intrigue. But you can be all those things, and also be crafty, and savvy, and understand the art of using some of what surrounds you for your own benefit. It all comes across like she doth protest too much, a bit, kind of like anytime Taylor Swift (whom I also like!) tries to convince people that she isn’t scrupulously aware of what she does and doesn’t do, show, or say. Consider: The whole rest of the article is about how Katie Holmes is very smart, and very careful, and knows exactly when and how to catch herself before she gives away too much of anything personal.

She will make only soft, indirect references to her own life, skillfully swerving any question that prods too sharply. I ask after Suri. Holmes was 27 when she had her – relatively young, by today’s standards. ‘I was happy to become a mum in my twenties,’ is all that she will say. ‘It’s been nice that our ages fit… how do I put this? Every age that my child has been and my age at that time has been a good match. We kind of grew up together.’ I press further – are they a good team? Suddenly there is a noticeable chill. She frowns and offers me a vague line, saying she hopes that most families are close.

[…] She mentions that she has just bought a record player, so I venture… Who is the boss of music in the house? The chill again. Then she does something that she does throughout the interview every time I approach anything that swims into the private realm. She sort of tilts her head to one side and screws her mouth up. ‘That’s kind of personal…’ is her standard response. And then the conversation swings direction again. It’s frustrating, because Holmes is actually incredibly likeable. There is genuine warmth when she speaks. It’s just you want to know so much more because, one suspects, there is so much more than what she gives.

Sidebar: I hate when British publications change “mom” to “mum” in a person’s direct quote. They’ve done it with Jennifer Aniston before, too, and I don’t believe either Katie or Jennifer ever actually said “mum.” BACK ON TOPIC: Obviously people contain multitudes. Katie Holmes is believably complicated. I absolutely think her freedom from Tom Cruise did not come without a certain price, and that it probably informs why she’s so guarded with the press. But I also tend to think she broke up with Jamie Foxx and woke up one day and was feeling cute and young and single and kind of wanted to go out and WORK IT, and who could blame her?

It’s a small thing, so why am I burning so many words on it? Well, I find the celebrity spin machine quite interesting, and I think there are a lot of contradictions inherent in this piece that make it especially curious. She’s ready to talk… but, clearly not really? She says she is “allergic” to social media and hardly uses it except for stuff that’s “work geared,” but if you look at her Instagram page, she’s posted a TON in October alone and not always related to work. She acts like a deer in headlights when it comes to the idea that she gets attention for what she wears, but she started a fashion line once with her stylist, and she is clearly hyper-aware of her fame level because it’s led (at least in part) to her guardedness. I have a theory — just based on hearing she’s nice, and maybe a couple blind items here and there — that Katie Holmes is friendly, and would be a total gas to run into in a bar and share a few drinks and get a little blitzed, and I just wish we would EVER get to know that Katie Holmes in print. The choice to spin oneself as “nothing to see here” is a curious one, when the whole point of being on a magazine is to be seen.

[Photos: Elle UK]