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Going through a divorce under the scrutiny of the entire world cannot be an easy thing. Though you would never know from watching Katie Holmes.
Ever since she filed for divorce from Tom Cruise on June 29, it's like the cute, peppy Holmes we all knew and loved from her "Dawson's Creek" days has returned, only a little older, and what appears to be a lot wiser. Gone is the forced smile she seemed to constantly wear during her six years with Cruise, and the shy awkwardness she appeared to adopt while being married to the Church of Scientology's greatest celebrity asset.
With her new found freedom, and the new life in New York City she's sharing with 6-year-old daughter Suri, Katie Holmes has come alive again.
"She took the high road, she was extremely classy about it," says Albert Lee, Executive Editor of "Us Weekly" of Holmes' transition from wife of one of the world's biggest stars to independent woman and confident, single mom. "She didn't run and go cry to Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters, she just went back to work."
The actress, 33, could be an example for other stars going through the similar situations. While Demi Moore ended up in rehab after her separation from Ashton Kutcher and is still not divorced, and Kim Kardashian is due back in court on November 28 in a very public divorce that is being drawn out much longer than her 72-day marriage, Holmes, was able to settle everything privately and maturely in under three months.
And then there's her work: On Thursday Holmes will make her second appearance on Broadway in "Dead Accounts" (after appearing "All My Sons" in 2008). She didn't take the easy cinematic path with a silly rom-com or a high-paying action flick, instead she's tackling one of the hardest things any actress can do—eight live shows a week. "She wants to show that she's an actress again," says Lee. "When you are the ex Mrs. Tom Cruise, living in a world where you've been surrounded by Scientology handlers and Tom's people, she needs to rediscover who she is."
Who she is, and who she's trying to prove she is, is a normal girl from Ohio. “I still think of myself as Midwestern,” said Holmes in a recent "New York Times" article, to which she arrived the definition of low maintenance—no handlers, no fancy clothes or jewelry, no makeup, just Katie.
And it's this genuine, non-diva nature that played a big part in why she was cast in her most recent Broadway foray: “Katie was the actress I wanted," "Dead Accounts" author, Theresa Rebeck, told "The New York Times." "She is just so beautifully Midwestern. You can see it in her face. She is transparent, and she is a listener. And while she doesn’t have a lot of stage experience, she’s hungry for it."
What also appears evident in her face now, is happiness. On her first post-divorce TV appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" dressed age-appropriately and casually-chic in a sweater and leather pants, she was relaxed, funny, and seemed true to herself. Holmes even lightheartedly discussed the possibility of a "Dawson's creek" reunion. She's also making the most of her new Big Apple home, taking Suri to the Bronx Zoo, Central Park, riding on the subway and basically having a good time—and looking great while doing it.
And Suri seems happy and well adjusted too, not an easy feat for a child of divorce who has been uprooted to a new city. And it's Holmes and Cruise's efforts to keep things normal that seem to have eased the transition for her. Suri reportedly spent Thanksgiving in London with Cruise, even though Holmes has custody.
"Divorce only stops a person from being your partner. It doesn't stop them from being a parent to your child. Most often, that child connects two people forever. Mature people in this situation, like Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, realize divorce is disruptive enough to a child's life," says Dr. Robi Ludwig, a New York City psychotherapist. "You don't want to add more problems for a child by bashing their parent or creating more emotional havoc around this already intense situation."
So if Holmes has proved anything, it's that you can make the best of the very worst while in the public eye. She didn't make a spectacle, she made her moves quietly and paparazzi-free, and publicly she's come out a better version of herself.
It's that low-key approach that has audiences and fans snapping up theater tickets, and eagerly awaiting the next move of Katie Holmes 2.0.
Lesley Savage is a freelance entertainment writer whose work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Elle and The New York Times.