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Meg Tilly Opens Up About Why She Left Hollywood—and What It Was Really Like Returning to Play Brad Pitt's Wife

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When actress Meg Tilly was in her early 30s and at the height of her fame, winning accolades for roles in films like The Big ChillLeaving Normal and Agnes of God, she did something not many other Hollywood stars have done —she completely walked away from it all, to instead raise her three young kids in Canada and give them what she considered “a normal life.”

“I would always take my children with me when I went on movies,” she explains of the bold decision to leave acting. “That worked really well for a few years. But then one year, we went to shoot Leaving Normal and when we came back, my daughter’s best friend was best friends with someone else. She was devastated.”

Tilly says she had a choice to make. “I couldn’t be gone six to nine months from my children’s lives. I had a challenging childhood, so I didn’t feel like I could trust somebody else to raise them. My children didn’t ask to be born. I had a responsibility to be there.”

Victoria Will

Tilly, now also a novelist and a romance writer, says she threw herself into being a “June Cleaver” like mom. “My daughter once told me, ‘You think if you just make a big stack of pancakes, it will solve the world’s problems.’ And I did! They had the hot cookies after school and a hot breakfast every morning. I just wanted to be one of those Leave it to Beaver moms. I was just trying to love them the way I knew how best.”

Now that her three kids (Emily, 32, and David, 30, whom she had with her first husband, producer Tim Zinneman, and Will, 26, whom she had with her partner in the early ’90s, Colin Firth) are grown and out of the house, Tilly has quietly been making a return to the spotlight.

She first became interested in doing theater and was encouraged by her older sister, actress Jennifer Tilly. “My sister gave me a bracelet a few years ago that said, ‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been,'” says Tilly. She took on a stage role in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf, and another role in the Canadian TV drama Bomb Girls. Most recently she was cast in Netflix’s War Machine, opposite Brad Pitt as his “age-appropriate wife.”

Francois Duhamel/Netflix

“I’m actually older than him!” Tilly says with a laugh. “It’s unheard of though, right? At the screening, women kept coming up to me and saying how much they appreciated an age-appropriate wife for the female lead. I must have heard it 50 times.” So did she get to kiss him? “I did! But it was like, “Mwah,” not like, “Oh, luscious Brad!”

In fact, Pitt stayed so clearly in character as a gray-haired war general that Tilly says she forgot he was handsome in the first place. “I was shocked when he came to the wrap party,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Holy cow, that’s Brad Pitt!’ He had that [movie star] sparkle and glow.”

WATCH: Meg Tilly Says it Was So Refreshing Being Cast as an Age Appropriate Wife Opposite Brad Pitt

For more from Tilly, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

Now that she’s somewhat back in the spotlight, does she wish she’d stayed in Hollywood all along? The answer is no.

“I didn’t allow myself to miss it,” she says of leaving. “In those days, the females was kind of the fire hydrant that all the men wanted to prove themselves on. You’d get hit on a lot. That was challenging, dealing with different egos and having to work with people who still wanted to get the girl. It was hard.”

She adds, “It’s not always great being famous. I love not being watched all the time.”

As for whether she wants to continue acting now, she’s not even entirely sure.

“I’m not career-building,” she says. “I just want my life. I love my life. I’m really blessed. I’ve had lots of times where I didn’t love my life. There’s been hard times, but now I just feel so blessed.”