Thursday 18 January 2018

How a supermodel and a writer found love (and God) in New York

Kildare woman Jane Bradbury and her screenwriter husband Todd Komarnicki both found solace in faith after suffering trauma

Happy: Clockwise from top left, Jane and Todd have been together for 17 years
Happy: Clockwise from top left, Jane and Todd have been together for 17 years
The couple on their wedding day
Todd with the couple's son
Todd says of Jane 'She's the best damn thing that has ever happened to me'
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It was 2009 and I decided to go and live in New York for a while. I had just arrived in Manhattan, on a brutal January night when the news spread through the streets like wildfire that a plane had gone into the Hudson. The cacophony of sirens summoned me and many of my fellow Hells Kitchen residents down to the freezing river to see for ourselves. There we saw rescue workers swarming on the water's edge. The news crews couldn't believe their luck - a world event right on their doorstep.

Later that night they reported that everyone had been saved. It felt like a salve for the residual post 9/11 paranoia in the city. The following week Obama was inaugurated. For an America battered by recession and war it felt like things were looking up.

Eight winters later and the paranoia feels like it's back in New York. An erratic reality star is about to split his time between the White House and a penthouse in the city. A huge swathe of the population feels disenfranchised and uncertain of the future. War and further recession seem not unlikely prospects. And so, naturally, a nation turns its lonely eyes to the movies.

Sully, the Clint Eastwood-directed story of the protracted investigation that followed the plane crash, immediately surged to the top of the box office chart on its release. Tom Hanks's furrowed performance as the titular protagonist is one of the best of the year. It feels like the right movie at the right time, an almost nostalgic reminder that happy endings are still possible.

The couple on their wedding day
The couple on their wedding day

The writer and producer of this brilliant movie, Todd Komarnicki, calls the story "the inverse of 9/11".

"It turned into an uplifting story and that was a story that I wanted to tell," he tells me. "Once I met Sully (Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed the plane in the water) and heard the whole story I became even more interested. The investigation went on for nine months and he and (Jeff) Skiles (Sully's co-pilot) were called day after day. Sully had the threat hanging over him that if he made one little mistake it would all fall on him. That gave the movie a dramatic heartbeat. You have this individual who saved all of these people because he was able to remain in control then he himself starts to crumble from within under the pressure of this investigation. I felt this gave me a treasure trove of material."

There is more uplifting symbolism folded into the meta-narrative of the movie. After all the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the election how nice to learn that its writer, Komarnicki, who also wrote the Christmas classic Elf, is married to an immigrant to America - Jane Bradbury, who is still one of the few Irish models to have made it in the Big Apple.

The 42-year-old beauty grew up in Athy, Co Kildare, where her family are bakers, only got into modelling after her sister entered her in the Ford Supermodel of the World competition. She represented Ireland at the event, which was held in Florida in 1993, and while she didn't win, it did propel her into a life on the catwalks of Paris. It sounds like a dream life but Bradbury tells me that in fact it was a miserable experience to begin with. "When you start out you spend endless hours on the Metro", she told me. "There would be 10 or 11 appointments a day, with endless rejection. It was very tough not to take it personally. I mean, how you look is fairly personal, after all. Even when it worked it wasn't always easy. They might take you and another girl on but use her all the time and you barely at all. As time passed I learned how to handle it better."

In those early days of modelling Jane had an experience which would haunt her. "When I was 20 I had a really bad experience with LSD and It was the last time I ever took drugs. I hallucinated, and even months after I would have acute anxiety. I was one of the lucky ones who survived. There is horrible shit in drugs and young people don't care what they're taking. The months after were very challenging and it was my dream career but I was also dealing with the horrible side effects of the drugs experiences."

During this time Jane says that she felt her faith was an important source of solace. "During that time I travelled a lot through Europe and there would be these beautiful old churches in many of the cities and I would be drawn toward them for a sense of comfort from everything I was going through," she explains. "They were places I felt at peace. I know the Catholic church has done horrible things but when you find a faith that's alive, well, that's an incredible experience."

Todd with the couple's son
Todd with the couple's son

As Jane recovered her strength her career would get an incredible boost. She was signed to the small but highly prestigious Women modelling agency, which also had Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss on its books. It meant moving to New York, where fame and love were waiting for her.

She started working with the prestigious department stores but her big break came when she did the Gucci campaign with Mario Testino. "He booked me for Donna Karan. Then I did Louis Vuitton and Armani campaigns. I suppose I did feel lucky but at the same time when you're young you just think this stuff is meant to be happening. Maybe if I had been older I would have appreciated it more."

But even in New York modelling was sometimes a tough business.

"I worked with French Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, which sounds glamorous, but my life was very transient. It was exciting but it was also very demanding physically. You always had to be in shape or under shape. I was hungry a lot. I had to under-eat because sometimes I didn't have the time or energy to go to the gym.

Jane wanted to try to break into acting and in 1998 she auditioned for a role in a small movie by a rising star in the film industry.

Todd Komarnicki had come from a similarly ordinary background and like Jane had begun to make a name for himself. "All I wanted to do was play baseball," he says. "I never applied myself academically and definitely had no intention of being a writer. I had a vague idea about being a rock star because I was always in a band growing up but that didn't turn out to my luck. Fortunately God nudged me toward writing."

Todd says of Jane 'She's the best damn thing that has ever happened to me'
Todd says of Jane 'She's the best damn thing that has ever happened to me'

By the time they met at the audition Jane and Todd were both in their twenties. Another thing they had in common was that Todd's faith had also provided solace for him during tough times as an adult. "I feel lucky to alive," the charismatic writer explains. "I put myself at risk in different ways before I came to my faith. Not poor decisions in an addictive way - I've actually never done a drug - I just more mean that when you are casual with the gift of life you can put yourself in different positions where it could be easily snuffed out. I'll leave that to the imagination."

During the audition process it wasn't love at first sight, Jane explains, but she felt a "deep spiritual connection" with Todd, adding: "He is very charming and magnetic. People love him, he's constantly serving people. We asked each other out."

He says: "She got the part and she's been in my life for 17 years now and she's the best damn thing that ever happened to me."

While Todd is now one of the most successful movie writers in the world Jane says it wasn't always a gilded passage for him. "There would be famines or droughts. He'd be fishing and fishing and not catching anything. Things would not be picked up or they would be picked up and then not filmed. Success did not just happen; it was a lot of work." (Todd tells me that he finds many young writers have a 'lottery' mentality - they want instant success).

They married in 2010 and have two children, Remy (7) and Dashiel (4). Todd tells me that fatherhood was a transformative experience for him. "I was 44 years old when Remy was born and I genuinely thought I'd seen the full map of happiness - the full geography of what it's like to be alive. You're guided into a whole other landscape. That's what fatherhood has been for me."

Both of the pregnancies would turn out to be extremely difficult for Jane. "I had really dreadful morning sickness. I was completely incapacitated for nine months and on two different sets of anti-nausea medicine. I had a doula - a non medical support person - at my birth." Jane explains that aside from a partner and medical staff the doula can be an important person in the delivery room. "It's been proven that if you have one you're much less likely to have interventions like caesarean sections. The US ranks very low in terms of safe births because things are very over-medicalised here. I used the same doula for both births and she really helped me. A big part of it is educating the mother and being an advocate for her. A lot of maternity hospitals are conveyor belts, but women should know they don't have to be treated like that."

Earlier this year Jane began volunteering with Every Mother Counts -an organisation founded by supermodel Christy Turlington. "I blog with Christy, she's a great pioneer and a great person. We had an event last month and a lot of people from the fashion world came."

She and Todd have a pastor, a 30-year-old law student (and a nephew of Rick Warren who presided over Barack Obama's inauguration) who preaches about subjects like anxiety and depression. It all sounds much more colourful than your average Sunday morning in an Irish pew but on this side of the pond there is perhaps a reflexive suspicion of American Christianity and its associations with right wing politics, something Todd, who prays several times every day, readily acknowledges.

"People are sceptical of people of faith but when they meet me they see it's genuine, it's not a performance, this is the real me. The media are drawn to the squeaky wheel, so when you have particular groups espousing faith at the same time as they're espousing hate then that will draw a camera." Jane says she suffered "shell shock" after the Trump election result. One might think from recent news coverage that a devout Christian would still somehow hold his nose and vote for Trump (who is to the right of most major social issues in America) but Todd dismisses this idea.

"We saw in the recent election people who would consider themselves Christian devote themselves to someone who does anything but lead a charitable, Christian life," he says. "I don't think you can really say you are following Jesus and really vote for Trump. Some people's attitude to the church sort of mirrors the person who goes to the rowdiest football match and only looks into the stands at the fans. There is a game on the pitch. That should be the focus. You don't become a fan by looking at the fans. If you're trying to understand Christianity by looking at Christians you've gone wrong. We are all fallen, we are all saved by grace."

He sees his creativity as being tied up with his faith. "It's a mystical thing to be involved in creating something. I like what Bono says about always being in the rehearsal space, even when U2 are on tour. He says he doesn't want to be missing when God walks through the room."

Jane recently got her American passport. "It was a beautiful ceremony and a great moment in my life," the bubbly brunette says. "I've been here for 20 years and Obama said to us 'now that you're here it's your obligation to make your nation a better place'. I take that very seriously. It's a big honour." She and Todd divide their time between Manhattan, their home in Tribeca, and Ireland, and they are coming back here for a few months to film The Trainer with Neil Jordan and Liam Neeson, which Todd wrote.

"That's going to be great", Jane says. "Even after all these years it's hard to be away from Ireland. We can't wait to be back."

Sully is in cinemas nationwide now

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