The tale of Tammin Sursok & Phoenix McEwen

Mother. Wife. Daughter. Storyteller. Entrepreneur. Her Instagram accounts says it all: South African-born Australian actress and singer-songwriter Tammin Sursok is the ultimate multi-tasker...

She’s also nothing if not honest. In a world where at times, no-one seems authentic, she keeps things real. The Pretty Little Liars star is not afraid to speak her mind or open up about her insecurities. She has openly shared memories of her teenage weight battle on Instagram, hoping to inspire those who lack self-love to give themselves a break (check out her #thisisbeautiful campaign). “I learned how to have tough skin. I learned how to rise above adversity. I learned how to value and respect myself. Even though it took me a long time, I learned how to self-love,” she says on dealing with being bullied as a teenager. She speaks frankly about the ups and downs of being an actor. And ask her about motherhood – she’s the proud mother to three-year-old Phoenix – and she couldn’t more be sincere. Sursok’s must-read blog Bottle + Heels is dedicated to inspiring career women, some of whom are juggling babies with boardrooms and others who are just trying to find that elusive work/life balance. Then there’s her YouTube channel which features the hilarious series ‘In Bed With Tammin’, where she interviews celebrities in bed about “everything from female empowerment to sex positions”. Her latest venture is a charming little girls’ line Stella.Phoenix, which she co-founded with Kellie Beattie. Gingham playsuits, sweet florals and adorable ruffles – the range is as gorgeous as Sursok. We visited the brunette beauty at home in LA to find out more about what life as Tammin Sursok is really like.

Photography: Jenna Potter | Hair and makeup: Andrew Zepeda | Go to

How has motherhood changed your life?

The main thing about motherhood that has changed me is that it has taught me to be present. I have spent a lot of my life thinking about the past or the future and motherhood really clicks you into the now and it makes you live in this moment while it is happening. It has affected so many aspects of my life in a positive manner.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to stop with all the control issues. I think we all think that we can drive our own destiny, and as much as we can to a certain extent, sometimes you just aren’t in control. I spent a lot of my younger life worrying about the future and the past. Worrying is like being a rocking chair, moving but not going anywhere.

What has been the most challenging part of motherhood for you?

Time management has been difficult. My husband and I both have our own solid careers, plus we also have our own production company which has lots of things in production. We also want to spend as much time as possible with Phoenix, so it’s really hard to find that balance between being a mother and having a career. That’s actually why I founded my blog, Bottle + Heels, it’s really a safe space for the career mother. Can women have it all? I’m not sure, but I’m going to try damn hard to figure it out.

Do you have any tips for surviving the ‘terrible twos’?

Phoenix is a very spirited child. I say that because I have spoken to a lot of mothers and Phoenix seems to be slightly different in her intensity for everything in life. That includes the highs and the lows. So when Phoenix would have a meltdown it would be a full breakdown of her entire being. In the beginning, I used to feel guilty because I felt like I was doing something wrong but I realize it was just her expressing frustration. All I can do when she has a meltdown is be calm, validate her feelings, and talk her through her experience. Getting aggressive is counteractive to any positive outcome.

What did you learn from the time when you were bullied as a child and how will you teach Phoenix to deal with bullies in life?

I learned how to have tough skin. I learned how to rise above adversity. I learned how to value and respect myself. Even though it took me a long time, I learned how to self-love. Even though on the outside our lives might look easy, I’ve definitely been through a lot of tumultuous experiences from school and during my career. My whole life (especially my career) has been one big rejection, so I’ve had to really learn persistence and resilience and fortitude. Phoenix is already exhibiting these traits and I think if she just watches how we navigate our lives she will be stronger because of it.

How would you describe your approach to parenting?

There’s a great book called The Conscious Parent and it’s really understanding that when children act out they are trying to tell you but they are limited in their words and understanding of their feelings. If you’re out on vacation and spending hours doing an adult activity your kid at some point is going to act out from frustration and then we wonder why they’re being difficult. Kids need to be engaged (off your phone), in wonder, and expending energy. When Phoenix is doing these things she’s a wonderful kid. When it comes to discipline, it’s really about a communication between the two of us. I don’t own my child, I am a guide for her but she is her own person so I try to guide her in the best way possible.

What makes you really laugh in life?

It has actually been having a child. These little people do the craziest, funniest, wackiest things and they say the smartest, most profound, interesting, nutso sentences. She makes me laugh daily, constantly.

Can you take us through a day in the life of Tammin Sursok?

Being in the entertainment industry, every single day is different. Regarding structure, Phoenix gets up at 5am every single day (I know, it sucks for us), we have breakfast together and she’s at school by 8:30am. She goes to a very progressive, play based preschool, that continues through grade six. They have dance, karate, swimming – it truly is so wonderful. She finishes school at 3pm. During those days I might be filming or working on my blog, Bottle + Heels, or shooting a segment for my YouTube channel (Tammin Sursok) or location scouting for a new show that my husband and I just set up or trying to get a workout in, or working on my clothing line, Stella.Phoenix, so regarding our lives there really is no structure. But that’s really what keeps life thrilling, and sometimes daunting.

Can you tell us about your childhood in South Africa and then Australia?

I immigrated from South Africa when I was five years old. With the escalating violence in South Africa my parents wanted to give us a safer life. I started school when I was five at Ravenswood School for Girls in the northern suburbs of Sydney. I had a very happy childhood. I was very close with my family and friends and life was pretty simple and joyous. I spent a lot of time being creative. I was always in the school musicals or the dance recitals. Creativity was a big part of my life growing up.

How has your own mother influenced your career/life?

My mother was a television director in South Africa and a musician. She won a Spring Buck award (an equivalent to an Aria/Grammy) and was a concert pianist so she really shaped a lot of my life when it came to the arts. My parents really made me feel like I could do or achieve anything and that there were no barriers in life and because of them I always felt like I could fight for my dreams.

What’s the secret to a happy marriage after children?

To keep falling in love. I’ve been with my husband 10 years in May and in marriage there’s obviously a lot of ebbs and flows. When you bring children into the mix it definitely puts pressure on the marriage, so that is why we have made it a priority to date each other. To keep falling in love. To keep getting the butterflies you must always bring yourself back to a place of how you felt when you first met. That’s the secret for us.


It has been a big year for you – can you tell us about your new childrenswear line Stella.Phoenix?

I’ve always wanted to design clothing. Being in the entertainment industry you really get an inside look into the best fashion in the world. Fashion is art and I’ve always wanted to creatively be a part of that world. I fell in love with Kellie Beattie (my company partner) a couple years ago when Phoenix wore one of her outfits from her line on the cover of Mother & Baby. I decided to contact her and the rest was history. We both wanted to come together and start a children’s clothing line that had her design expertise and my creative vision. It’s been one of the most fruitful, thrilling, and honest partnerships of my life. We launched a few months ago and everything is exceeding our expectations. Obviously, we have a long way to go but we really think there is a future for Stella.Phoenix.

Can you tell us more about about your website Bottle + Heels?

It really is a network and community of women (career mothers), and some men too, who come together and have an open conversation. We talk everything from motherhood to loss to mental health to religion to politics – there really is no subject we don’t cover. And of course, we pepper in some of the fun sexy stuff, like fashion and beauty.

What inspired the site? Why is it so unique in the market?

When I had Phoenix I felt quite lost and isolated. I didn’t have women around who were going through the exact experience I was, which was trying to navigate a career and being a present parent. I was constantly being suffocated by guilt and because of it I wasn’t doing anything well. I wanted to start Bottle + Heels to really inspire and help and bring together people going through the same thing. It’s really important to talk about all our failures and triumphs and realize that we are all in this experience together.

Did you always want to be an actor and what does it take to succeed in the world of acting?

Yes, I remember being four-years-old and telling everyone to sit down because I was going to put on a show. I think you are really born with who you are supposed to be if you really listen to the honesty within yourself. I knew I was going to be an actor, or within the entertainment industry from the minute I knew what a career was. It is an extremely tough business. I must get rejected over a hundred times a year. I look back and I see how I’ve really had to have a lot of resilience in my life. Don’t get into the entertainment industry if you want fame and fortune, get into it because you can’t live doing anything else.

How do you juggle everything?

Some days I do a good job, other days it’s a complete failure. We have a lot of calendars, a lot of diaries, and I have a fulltime assistant. It ain’t easy. Organization is key. Planning the night before and writing your goals is something that really works for us.

Can you tell us about moving from Australia to LA – was it a big adjustment?

I was 21 at the time and I didn’t think too much of it. I think when you are that young you are willing to take wild risks because you haven’t had that many hard knocks in life. I don’t know if I could do it now and I look back and I’m really proud of the guts I had to leave everything I knew behind for one colossal dream. I do fantasize raising Phoenix in Australia, it would be such a magical childhood for her. We’re in process to try to figure out how to spend more time in Australia.


What are your hopes and dreams for 2017?

My husband and I just set up three projects (one TV, two film) with our production company, Charlie Baby Productions. We shoot a pilot in January and the two films before summer. My hopes are these projects are well received and they continue to have a life. I would also like to think about baby number two. I would love Phoenix to have a brother or sister.

What does success mean to you?

To be happy. To have enough so that we have freedom. And to be healthy.

How would you describe your approach to fashion?

I used to spend a lot more time on the latest trends and a lot more money on buying fashion for myself but once you have a kid your time is so limited and one of the first things that goes is what you wear. I do, though, love to put on a little sexy number for date night but my days are functional, comfortable, put together clothing. The brands I love are Rag & Bone, sass & bide, Helmut Lang, Diane Furstenberg, and James Perse.

“ The main thing about motherhood that has changed me is that it has taught me to be present. I have spent a lot of my life thinking about the past or the future and motherhood really clicks you into the now and it makes you live in this moment while it is happening ”

What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?

Health is so important. I find it crazy that we spend so much money on our houses and cars but we don’t spend any money on the healthiest foods to put in our bodies. If we don’t have our health, we have nothing. My husband has been a vegetarian his whole life, I have been a pescatarian for 12 years (a vegetarian who eats fish) but recently I’ve been transitioning to vegetarian. It’s getting too hard for me to be educated on the treatment and cruelty of animals and still continue eating meat. I just can’t ethically do it anymore. When you go down the rabbit hole of food education it’s really hard to go back to eating the way you used too.

What kind of foods do you eat daily?

I have gluten free avocado toast in the morning and an almond milk latte. Snacks include – boiled egg, almonds, carrots and hummus, kale chips, protein bars. Lunch and dinner is a stir fry, a salad, a curry, a pasta. There really are so many incredible food choices that don’t include meat.

What kind of exercise do you do?

I exercise for my brain more than my body. I’ve always been an anxious person and it’s the only thing that really calms me down. I love everything – dance, spin, running, yoga, Pilates, just anything to get me moving and out of my head.