HBO’s Sheila Nevins Talks Frankly About Facelifts at MPTF Women’s Conference

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Sheila Nevins

The longtime documentary czar read two uproarious chapters from her new memoir during her keynote address at the fifth annual Deal With It confab.

“My advice on being a woman, I’ll save for another time. I’m here to hawk my book,” HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins joked Sunday from the podium at the fifth annual Deal With It: A Women’s Conference.

The veteran executive managed to do both as the keynote speaker at the event, hosted by the Motion Picture & Television Fund at the Montage Beverly Hills. Nevins explained that she wrote her memoir You Don’t Look Your Age… and Other Fairy Tales (published in May via Flatiron Books) “to separate myself from my job.” Her 35-year career at HBO has presented plenty of opportunities to interact with others on a variety of important subjects and issues, but people seldom knew the woman behind the producer.

“They would say, ‘I didn’t know you were married, had a kid … had a facelift,’” Nevins remarked, with timing a stand-up comic would envy. “You can’t tell? I was hoping you would — I paid enough for it.”

That was a fitting intro for her to read “Facing Face-lifts,” the first chapter of her book. “Don’t take it personally,” she deadpanned to the invite-only crowd of approximately 300 industry women seeking guidance and commiseration in career, estate planning, health and wellness, family and relationships, finances and other practical subjects.

Nevins didn’t need any of her audiobook’s celebrity narrators — among them, Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham and Audra McDonald — to deliver a pitch-perfect, very funny account of her first facelift, at age 56. “That was quite a while ago, by the way,” she interjected from the stage. “I’ve had two.”

Nevins wrote candidly about the identity crisis surrounding her decision (“In addition to being fearful of the anesthesia and ultimately of my death, I was betraying my liberal, earnest sixties self… Could this still be the Woodstock, March on Washington, antiapartheid liberal?”) and about the lies regarding appearance that women of a certain age are told by themselves and by others. Despite her growing obsession with the latest costly procedures to freeze time, she wrote, they’re “fooling no one.”

After reading another short chapter about the all-too-relatable anxiety about forgetting an industry acquaintance’s name at a party, Nevins had time to take two questions from the audience. In response to whether age has impacted her work, she replied that it has, but not directly: “As time grows shorter, the stories have gotten sadder.” By way of example, a 10-minute reel of HBO Documentary highlights that screened before her address provided glimpses of a number of sobering stories that Nevins has shepherded in the past decade, including this year’s Cries From Syria, the 2012 short Saving Face (about a Pakistani plastic surgeon who helps acid-attack victims) and the 2009 short China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province (about the 2008 earthquake that left 70,000 people, including 10,000 children, dead).

Another audience member asked Nevins about her podcast interview with Katie Couric last month, in which she seemed to give conflicting answers about whether or not she regretted her cosmetic procedures.

It’s both, she said, acknowledging the complexity of being a woman. “I’m a victim and a victor. I’m 78 years old,” she replied.

The room broke out into applause. If Nevins looks 78, then she wears it well.