How Hilary Duff Started Over After Heartbreak: Motherhood, New Love and Her Best Role Yet

The Younger star and mother of two has had a career renaissance and just got engaged to longtime boyfriend Matthew Koma

By Natalie Finn May 09, 2019 5:15 PMTags
Hilary Duff Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Hilary Duff has been famous since she was 13 and Lizzie McGuire launched her into the stratosphere of the Disney Channel universe.

The show spawned dolls, books and a 2003 feature film, and Duff became one of the biggest stars of the '00s, her combination of cheery wit and photogenic adorableness the perfect recipe for success at the perfect time.

And Duff enjoyed a bigger bounce than some from her Disney fame, starring in tween-favorite movies like Cheaper by the DozenAgent Cody Banks and A Cinderella Story within a couple years. Plus she had the dual actress-pop princess thing going that was so especially popular at the time, releasing her Christmas-themed first album in 2002 and then two more in quick succession, 2003's Metamorphosis (because she was already changing) and 2004's Hilary Duff (because it was then time to get back to the basics of Hilary).

But as many child stars have learned over the years, it doesn't take much for an entire career to become so yesterday.

Hilary Duff's Street Style

And Duff had her dry spell, when the big movie offers dried up after 2006's Material Girls and her name started to be referenced in more of a nostalgic capacity. Moreover, as social media and the 24/7 news cycle started to change the public's relationship with celebrities, it was her private life that increasingly made the headlines anyway.

But she never went away, always creatively keeping at it with her own videos and short films between other projects, ultimately returning to the studio after a few years off. And Lizzie McGuire, despite the original show lasting only 65 episodes, made sure that Duff remained unforgotten no matter what she did, for better or worse.

Walt Disney Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com

"It meant a lot to people growing up, that show—and I feel grateful for that," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. "But I went through a time where I hated it and felt like if one more person called me Lizzie, I was going to snap. I'd have parents come up to me and be like, 'Don't ever change, you're perfect the way you are.' I was 17. Everything was changing. Don't ever change? It'd piss me off." 

Though a lot of people like to think they're reinventing themselves at 18 or 19, Duff was serious about turning over a new leaf with her more singer-songwriter-minded 2007 album Dignity. With fame had come major headaches, such as a stalker, getting sucked into a much-chronicled love triangle with Lindsay Lohan and Aaron Carter, a messy breakup with Joel Madden, struggling with her body image and self-esteem, and dealing with her parents' divorce.

Years later she reflected on her relationship with Madden on Nico Tortorella's The Love Bomb podcast, calling it "all encompassing. It was so intense. It was my life. It was like every minute of my day. It was pretty major."

So she emerged with a darker 'do and a fresh perspective, along with the new tunes. But don't call Dignity a breakup album.

Dan Herrick/ZUMA Press

"There's songs about the breakup but there are also songs about being in a really happy relationship," Duff told Ellen DeGeneres on Ellen in 2007. "It has a lot in it for everyone, how about that? It deals with a lot of different emotions."

Asked about her relationship status (single), she replied, "I think I'm a bad dater. It's so awkward, you know? Where am I going to meet somebody?"

Before long, however, Duff did meet someone—Canadian hockey player Mike Comrie—while on a flight to Idaho for a getaway they were both headed to with mutual friends.

"He's funny, and I like that," she shared with Cosmopolitan toward the end of 2007. "And of course I'm attracted to him! I love men who have a lot going on in their lives, like I do." She added, "Everyone thought that my last boyfriend and I were complete opposites. We weren't—we just looked so different." (Madden is of the heavily tattooed rocker aesthetic, while Duff, even with her dark-brown hair, has never not looked like an angelic good girl.) "But Mike and I really are opposites, even though we look more like we should be together."


So the actress and singer fell hard for the New York Islanders center, who'd been playing in the NHL since 1999.

But at the same time, Duff wasn't in a big rush.

"I'm definitely not ready to get married!" she told Cosmo. "I think a reason that people in this business get married young is that they feel like everything comes to them sooner in life. It's normal to be like, 'OK, what's next?'"

Ultimately, Duff concluded, "This has been a big cleansing year for me. I learned a ton about myself, and I became really independent. I feel like I grew up a lot." Writing the songs on Dignity was "therapeutic, but it's also stressful because it's hard to open yourself up like that. I felt kind of numb for awhile—nothing made me too sad, and nothing made me too happy. But about four months ago, I thought, 'Wow, I feel like myself again.'"

Hilary Duff & Mike Comrie Romance Rewind

Her fans never stopped appreciating her honesty, whether she was opening up about her battle with her weight (at one point the 5'2 star dipped to 98 pounds as a teenager), or taking on bullies or giving her time to charity.

And probably not coincidentally, once she felt more like herself, more appealing acting opportunities presented themselves. Duff co-starred in the 2008 satire War, Inc. with John Cusack, appeared on Law & Order: SVU and landed a recurring role on Gossip Girl. Then it was onto Community and Two and a Half Men and voicing a role in Food Fight!

All the while, she and Comrie got more serious, with Duff splitting her time between L.A., New York and her beau's native Edmonton. Though she didn't rush into anything, she certainly still qualified as marrying young when she tied the knot at 22 in an intimate ceremony in Santa Barbara.

Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImage.com

By then Comrie had changed teams a few times and he ended up retiring in 2012 after undergoing his third hip surgery.

A month later, on March 20, 2012, their son Luca Cruz Comrie was born. Soon after, another area of fame opened up for Duff—beloved (for the most part, because, you know, trolls) social media mom. Fans ate up her adorable pics of Luca and her thoughts on mommyhood, and nowadays she's got 9.5 million Instagram followers eager for updates.

Not to mention, becoming a mom changed everything for Duff.

"I felt my heart grew the second I met him," she told Parade weeks after giving birth. "You feel so protective right away. You feel loving and nurturing right away. Everybody always talks about it, about how you don't know love until you meet your baby, and you really feel that. There are no words. It was a really wonderful surprise. And there is no way to prepare yourself for the sleep deprivation and what comes with it."

Also just weeks later, she was spotted going to work out, and Duff admitted she was feeling the pressure (mainly from herself) to get into shape ASAP.

But at the same time, she had a new appreciation for her body and what it was capable of. About a month after she started to show while pregnant, Duff told Parade, "I just felt really proud that I had a body that could do what it was doing. It is incredible what your body can do. You can appreciate all of your imperfections because you have a beautiful baby who came from you and all that you went through."

Hilary Duff & Luca's Cutest Pics

Becoming a mom prompted her to get involved with new, family-centric causes, such as Save the Children, Duff put everything else on the back burner to focus on raising Luca for a few years. 

"Having a child is so special!" she tweeted on Dec. 29, 2012. "I know it's not NYE yet, but I'm just thinking about my year and feeling so blessed for my precious boy and Mike!"

Having Luca also helped her let go of her tendency to always want to be in control. She told Parade, "Despite my best intentions, I have to learn to let go of the way I do things. My mom has been taking Luca while I do pilates for an hour and I had to stop giving her directions about how I changed Luca's diaper. Even with Mike, he's not going to do everything the way I would do it—and vice versa — but we just want the best for Luca. It's helped me appreciate Mike's role in his life and that we're doing things with the most love that we can. He's really hands on and I appreciate any little help I can get."


She told E! News in May 2013 that she was "in love" with motherhood—and it suited her. "A lot of intuition just kicks in that you maybe didn't know you had before," she said. "And you obviously learn a lot of patience!"

Meanwhile, Luca was barely out of the womb before people started asking about baby No. 2, and Duff would say that she and Mike were all for it, and would love for their son to have a sister, but that they'd be waiting till he was at least 2 or 3.

"Right now, I'm focused on being the best mom I can be and when I start working again, I'll see how I juggle everything," she told Parade (asked the question when Luca was just weeks old). "But then again, my sister and I are very close so I want Luca to have someone close [to his age]—but not too close!" (Hilary's sister, Haylie Duff, welcomed her first child, daughter Ryan in 2015, and much cousin cuteness has ensued.)

Friendly Celebrity Exes

But just a couple years later, so began the rumors that not all was well between Duff and Comrie, and when they did reveal in January 2014 that they had separated, it was under a cloud of rumors, that they'd been living separate lives, had fallen out of love, etc.

"Don't believe the s--t you read! & don't buy trash magazines! They are so gross and so negative. They literally make my skin crawl." Duff tweeted days after her rep stated she and Comrie had split "amicably" and remained best friends. 

They proceeded to have one of those "wait, are they getting back together?!" separations, still going on outings together with Luca, vacationing in Hawaii and otherwise looking not all that different than they did as a couple.


But in February 2015, Duff filed for divorce and asked for primary custody of Luca, with visitation rights for Comrie. A few months later, he filed for joint custody, an indicator that the seemingly friendly exes weren't on the same page. They had a prenuptial agreement, but it would take another year for the split to be finalized, with a judge signing off on a joint custody arrangement for Luca in early 2016. The exes took off for Hawaii with their son a week later, the usual.

"Mike and I were very in love when we met. We both really wanted to get married," Duff told Cosmo back in the spring of 2015. "I'd been working since the age of 11 or 12, so making that choice at a young age seemed right for me. Maybe it wasn't, but we spent the majority of our time together really happy."

She added, "It wasn't working well enough to stay together, but there was still a lot of love involved. It was just a slow set-in of us not being the match that we used to be. I'm lucky for the person he is and I am and how we decided to handle this."

Sony Legacy

Around the same time, as her personal life was going through a major upheaval, Duff hit the restart button with her first new music in almost a decade.

"The album is a range of stuff," Duff told MTV News about Breath In. Breath Out, her first album in eight years, minus a greatest hits LP that she herself admitted was kind of silly to release. "I would say definitely in the beginning when I started writing, it was pretty heavy, coming out of my past year of...life. It's changed since then, which is good because I think that the overall theme too—me, personally, I'm not this super heavy girl. You know? I'm one for the sunshine, so it's shifted a lot and it feels a lot better to me."

As was the case with Dignity, a lot of her songwriting was inspired by a painful breakup.

"I'm sure it was hard for [my ex] to listen to some of the things I'm sharing about him," Duff told the L.A. Times, referring to Comrie. "But that's my job. I'm an artist. He knew that when he married me."

Duff also told E! News in April 2015 that she still thought about giving Luca a sibling, "but right now, it's time for me to focus on work and the things I love to do outside of him and find what that balance looks like."

Child Stars Then and Now

Fate has a funny way of tipping the scales.

In addition to Breathe In. Breathe Out., which came out that June, Duff landed the supporting role of Kelsey Peters, a dauntless, effortlessly put-together-looking book editor in the TV Land sitcom Younger—starring Sutton Foster as Liza Miller, a 40-year-old divorced mom who poses as a millennial to land an assistant's job out of a pack of twentysomething candidates. Kelsey and Liza become besties, shenanigans ensue as Liza realizes that age has its advantages—and that she can still learn a thing or two from the kids.

Younger's fifth season kicked off earlier this month, having only grown in popularity and becoming a must-binge on Netflix for anyone who wasn't in from season one. You still have time: the show was also just renewed for a sixth season.

TV Land

"I think the show's quite surprising to a lot of people, because we are on TV Land," Duff told Paste in 2016. "It took a while for people to find it, first of all. They would assume that TV Land wouldn't necessarily have a show like this, that is very high concept, but is funny, and relatable and super-edgy. We get to have a lot of fun, and I think that my fans have grown up with me. Maybe this is expanding my audience a little bit, which is great.

"People haven't seen me do some of the things that I'm doing on the show. I really enjoy it, and obviously working with [series creator] Darren Star is a real treat. He's such a wonderful showrunner, and really writes for women. We tackle a lot of issues that I feel like are currently present in women's lives."

Though the constantly curious may have feared for the fate of Duff's career at some point, she remembers any time off as a nice break from the rat race.

"I think I feel really lucky. I made a choice when I was about 19 to stop music and to stop acting," she said on The Love Bomb podcast in November 2016. "I finished my tour and I took two years where I didn't do anything. I didn't mean for it to last that long, but I just wasn't fulfilled in any way. I was just going on stage at night and I was like, 'I don't even know what town I'm in'...It just became so repetitive, and I was like, 'Why am I working like this? I'm supporting all these people.' It was just crazy."

"Taking that break, I think, really helped me step back from the whole 'Hilary Duff' thing and prioritize."

2018 Celebrity Breakups

She and Comrie were still close friends, Duff said, and she was perhaps willing to give marriage another chance sometime in the future, but it was a big maybe.

"It's something to be taken very seriously, and I was so happy to be married," Duff explained. "I think that I was in a very successful marriage for a long time. I never want to have any negative...I mean, that's hard to say: 'no negative feelings.' But we got together based on love and we separated in a very loving way. I can't imagine going through that process with anyone but him, and he continues to be my very good friend. That's honestly speaking from my heart.

"So, I think we handled it very consciously and with a lot of love. But marriage is sacred and marriage is not for everyone. Marriage is work. Marriage is really hard. Everyone's like, 'Are you going to get married again?' I'm like, 'I don't know!'"

She had ventured back into the dating world and at the time was seeing fitness trainer and Rise Nation founder Jason Walsh. They split up soon after, though, after which Duff started seeing singer-songwriter Matthew Koma, the two of them jetting off to Costa Rica together in February 2017.


"Some of my friends tell me, 'God, it must be so nice, you get a break from your kid because you share him,'" Duff told Redbook in 2017. "I'm divorced, and it sucks. Well, it did suck for a while; now it's just normal."

"But," she added, "it's true, I do get a break. I had Luca by myself for a few weeks, no help, when Mike was on the road, and when he got home I was like, 'He's yours! Bye!'"

Not that it was ever that simple. "I always feel torn or guilty about something," Duff admitted. "I'm not working right now, and at first I stressed about that, like, 'Oh, I shouldn't stay still this long.' And that's ridiculous. I have a child; it's totally fine to not be slammed all the time."

Younger's Stars Can't Stop Talking About All the Smooching They Do in Season 5

She gave that interview not too long before, in February of 2017, the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that Comrie was being investigated in connection with a sexual battery case. Sources told E! News he had been accused of rape. The case was ultimately closed in June 2017 with no charges being filed, with the L.A. District Attorney's Office saying there was insufficient evidence to move forward. A source told DailyMail.com, "Comrie cooperated with the police from the beginning, he submitted a DNA sample and answered all their questions. Now he's been cleared."

Neither Comrie nor Duff ever commented publicly on the allegations.

They've continued on successfully as co-parents, with Duff just telling E! News at the Younger season five premiere last June that "for me to be here for four months to shoot this show, you have to have a good team in place somehow, and we have managed to really figure that out, so I'm really grateful for him."

Also, "it's easy to be a good parent when you have a good kid, you know," she added, still in disbelief that Luca was already graduating from kindergarten. "I mean, all kids are great, but honestly, thank god he chose me. I just always say that. I'm so lucky, I'm so blessed. He's everything."

And now it's time for everything and more.  

Duff broke up with Koma in April 2017 and a few months later was canoodling with solar energy entrepreneur Ely Sandvik on the beach in Malibu—but it turned out that she and Koma were meant to get back together. Twice!

"Timing is such a big deal… third time's a charm!" she said on The Talk that December, a couple months after we found out they had returned to "can't get enough of each other" status.


"I think," she mused, "that you have history and a past with someone and love, and just because it doesn't work out the first time, the second time, as long as there's not too much damage done, then, it can always work out again."

Talking to E! News last June at the Younger premiere, a beaming Duff said, "I got a really nice guy. He's so great. My mom was at Matt's birthday and she's like, 'I just love him, I love him so much, he's the best!' I'm like, 'I'm here, I exist you know,'" she quipped. "'You're always [supposed to be] on my side.' She's such a traitor."

Last June, presumably much to Duff's mom's delight, they announced they were expecting a daughter.

"Guess what guys! @matthewkoma and I made a little princess of our own and we couldn't be more excited!!!!!!" Duff wrote on Instagram, while Koma wrote on his page, "We made a baby girl! She will be as beautiful and sweet as her mother...@hilaryduff another incredible chapter begins."

The story of Duff, who's still only 31, has become pretty epic by now.


In 2018 she reflected on the success of Younger, which has featured meatier story lines for Kelsey as time has gone by, telling Newsweek, "I think it's been a really great opportunity for me. I know the path of my career, I know what I'm good at and I love being a relatable character to women."

Asked back in 2016—as a divorced mom who'd been in the public eye for almost her whole life, who'd dealt with loss and trauma and the ire of perfect strangers while also serving as a role model and inspiration for millions of fans, who'd seen her career fortunes rise and fall and rise again—how she was feeling about herself, Hilary Duff, she hoped for the best, as always.

"Do I love myself? That's a good question," she said on The Love Bomb. "I think I do. I think a have a lot of things in my life that offer me love, so I don't feel like I have a lot of time to focus on the love that I have for myself. I feel more grateful for things in my life that create love around me, instead of like, 'I just love that about myself.' I'm really not that person. But I do respect myself, and I think that I'm content—for the most part—with myself. And I know that I'm a good person and that creates a good feeling, which might be love for myself. Did that make sense? Was that weird?"

"I try to just be nice," Duff concluded. "I just want to be a nice person and be happy."

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

She and Koma didn't name their daughter Cofant Croissant, as Duff said that Luca would have preferred, but the future is still looking pretty sweet for this family.

Banks Violet Bair was born on Oct. 25, Younger is coming back for a sixth season in June and Koma just popped the question.

"He asked me to be his wife," the newly engaged Duff shared on Instagram on May 9, flashing her ring. Koma, posting the same photo on his page, wrote, "I asked my best friend to marry me..."

Real life is still totally real—"Breastfeeding and making breakfast, getting 2 kids and myself dressed and packed and out the door while tripping over 4 dogs and feeding the damn fish was not easy. But I did it. And I'm proud of myself!" Duff wrote in giving herself a well-deserved pat on the back in January, and this month she revealed all the mixed feelings she had about her decision to stop breastfeeding her 6-month-old—but she's living the heck out of it.

(Originally published June 22, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)