"Confronting it head on to me feels like the healthiest way to deal with it," von Haselberg tells PEOPLE of the 'nepo baby' label
The daughter of Bette Midler and artist Martin von Haselberg doesn’t shy away from acknowledging where she comes from. “I can't help who my parents are. I was born and they were who they were, and that's that,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively.
“I also can't help how much I love acting,” continues the performer, 37. “So those two things are at work all the time.”
And when promoting her screen work — like the new rom-com Love… Reconsidered (in theaters now and on demand Tuesday) — von Haselberg knows questions about her parentage are going to come up. “Pretending like the conversation is not going on, to me, it just seems like that is sort of adding to the shame of it.”
Instead of letting nepotism “be the elephant in the room,” von Haselberg embraces its existence. “Confronting it head on to me feels like the healthiest way to deal with it," she says.
She adds with a laugh: “Does therapy help? Yes, it absolutely does. Because they're really deep seated issues, compounded by being in the public eye.”
The Los Angeles-born, New York-based von Haselberg has starred in Pose, American Horror Story, Woody Allen's Irrational Man and Amanda Kramer's 2022 film Give Me Pity! The latter “one-woman wild disco horror fantasia,” she tells PEOPLE, “really changed things” for her and Midler, 78.
“Growing up, my mom was very much like, ‘You should not go into show business. It's perilous, it's awful. Don't do it.’” After studying sociology and East Asian studies at Yale University and working in advertising in China, von Haselberg realized it was time to come out to her parents as an aspiring actor.
“I really got into this headspace of, ‘If I ever went down that road, it would just be nonstop comparison to my mom,’ which sounds absolutely awful… But when I was living in China, I could not stop this voice in my head thinking about acting.”
Before auditioning for the Yale School of Drama, she told Midler her dream, “which had all the shame wrapped up in it of admitting to them that I wanted to do this thing,” she says.
“It wasn't actually until my mom saw [Give Me Pity!], I felt, that we could actually meet on the same level together as artists, as actors… that required so much of me that I think her seeing that forced her to realize, ‘Oh, this is a thing that my daughter is genuinely in pursuit of. It's not sort of a flight of fancy.’”
She grins. “I would never say we're peers because her body of work speaks for itself in a way that I feel that I'm just getting started. But I feel that we can meet as artists, as peers.”
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Love… Reconsidered showcases von Haselberg’s leading-lady charm, and in the genre she’s a “fanatic” about. She stars as thirty-something Ruby, stumbling through chance encounters in the Hamptons as a would-be Gwyneth Paltrow-like entrepreneur. “I keep on calling it ‘a single-gal rom-com’ because it's not really about Ruby finding romance,” she says of the Carol Ray Hartsell-directed, Arielle Haller-Silverstone-written comedy.
“We don't need men to complete us, of course — become a full person first! And maybe then you can find a great partner who actually, hopefully likes you for the full self that you are, not the constrained version of yourself that you think will be attractive.”
Before tying the knot with Harry J. N. Guinness in an intimate wedding in 2020, adds von Haselberg, “I was obsessed with being single, I didn't want to be in a relationship. And then my husband came along and ruined that whole thing, but whatever!”
Following in other rom-coms’ footsteps, the film also touches on “the societal pressure to find a mate,” says von Haselberg. “Particularly in your early thirties, you're watching all of your friends settle down, careers take off, you're watching them start to have babies: ‘That must mean that I'm behind, that I'm somehow bad because I have not hit all these milestones.’
“I thought a lot about that, and I drew a lot on that idea of just that feeling of being a failure,” she adds, “which I've certainly felt in my life.”
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