The Star Interview

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There actually is a dictionary definition for "supermodel," which Google helpfully turns up: "A fashion model who has attained the status of a celebrity."

This would seem to describe Rebecca Romijn, the hugely successful model turned rising actress. Legions of sweaty-palmed readers who have gazed upon her sultry bikini poses in Sports Illustrated magazine and Victoria's Secret catalogues aren't likely to argue the point. But don't tell her that. "First of all, 'supermodel' is the stupidest title ever - and you can quote me on that," she says, folding her lean 5-foot-11 frame into a Four Seasons Hotel sofa.

"I was only slapped with that once I started working on MTV. And at that point, I wasn't modelling anymore. I haven't modelled for six or seven years. And when I was working in front of the camera, I wasn't even a great model. I did Victoria's Secret and Sports Illustrated, but I was never anyone's muse." Never been anyone's muse? Hasn't modelled for six or seven years? Tell that to anyone who saw this California beauty gracing the cover of the 1999 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, where she was sporting a silver bikini the size of an afterthought. Inside that issue, she posed in several painted-on swimsuits, which were great practise for the blue-painted superfreak character Mystique she plays in the X-Men movie franchise.

The French still think of her as a model and they should know. Romijn lived in Paris for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, where her modelling career began after she finished her music studies at the University Of California at Santa Cruz. The French edition of Photo magazine loves her: She was part of its "Belles Filles Du Monde" issue of December 2003 and its supermodel issue of December 2002. And what about those "Got Milk?" ads back home in America, where she's posing in a white bikini ...

But this is not a profitable line of discussion for anyone interviewing Romijn, especially at the stressful time when she's separating from her husband of five years, actor John Stamos (the split was announced this week, days (04-11-2004, RRF) after this interview).

It's of even less relevance to Romijn at a time when she's appearing in two new movies that demonstrate her increasingly impressive acting abilities: The Punisher (opening Friday) and Godsend (opening April 30). She does realize, though, that it's hard to make people stop thinking of her former career. "It seems like a lifetime ago, and I don't miss it. It became boring and it was time to start looking for the next thing. But I made a name for myself in modelling and people will continue to label me "model/actress Rebecca Romijn." And that's fine, but it does put you in a position of less than zero. You have a little bit more to prove, I guess. People doubt that you can handle yourself (as an actress)."

Such doubts are likely to fade after word gets out about her performances in The Punisher and Godsend, two assignments that should convince casting directors of her ability to be more than just the sexy vixen.

In The Punisher, the latest screen adaptation of a Marvel Comics book, she's the shy neighbour of the Punisher anti-hero played by Thomas Jane, in a movie that also stars John Travolta, who plays the villain.

In the sci-fi thriller Godsend, Romijn is the mother of a dead boy who is cloned back to life by a renegade scientist, played by Robert De Niro. Both films are a far cry from her continuing character Mystique in X-Men, who doesn't say much and doesn't wear much, but who packs a lethal kick.

"When you work with great people, you automatically get brought up. I'm glad that it started with the X-Men movies, where there was so much CGI and action and such little dialogue for me that I could learn the ropes and learn the process before feeling the pressure - the pressure of Meryl Streep on my shoulders, so to speak. I'm taking baby steps. It's nice working on ensemble pieces, where you don't have to carry the whole load."

The makers of The Punisher say they had just one problem with Romijn-Stamos: The blond, blue-eyed knockout is a little too gorgeous for the role of neighbour Joan, whose nickname is The Mouse - and not because of any rodent named Mickey. She happily submitted to a dressing down for the occasion. "They made me pretty frumpy," she says with a laugh. "I wore a really ugly dress, no makeup and I carried myself in a dowdy way. It was fun. It was nice to play a nice, soft, normal girl and let other people do the ass-kicking."

For Godsend, which was filmed in Toronto, she had to chop her long tresses into "a mommy cut" to look convincing as the mother of an eight-year-old: "They gave me bangs and made my hair darker."

She insists she didn't grow up thinking about herself as a special beauty. "I've had a normal life. It's all relative: You only know what you know. I grew up in Berkeley, California, where there wasn't a lot of value placed on the way you look, anyway. So nobody ever let me get by on the way I looked. It wasn't even a question. And I'm glad about that, because my head would be in an entirely different place if I walked around thinking I was beautiful."

She's preparing to begin filming X-Men 3, where she will once again play the mutant Mystique. It sounds at times as if she prefers to play more human characters. "No, I love Mystique," she insists."People have been waiting their whole lives for these characters to be brought to life. And you don't want to let down the fan base and we definitely felt that pressure. But when you deliver, they are so appreciative. So for the rest of my life I get to be the person that people identify, the actor that people identify with Mystique. That is a huge thrill. You think of Christopher Reeve as Superman, or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Wow. I get to be Mystique for the rest of my life."

The only step backwards in her acting career has been Femme Fatale, a Brian De Palma thriller in which she had the title role, playing a sexy international jewel thief. The movie was the closing-night gala at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, but its box-office haul was a fatality all its own. "I think it's a really underrated movie and I think Brian De Palma is one of the greatest directors alive ... Now I'm meeting people who are finally seeing it over and over again because it's on cable and DVD. It's meant to be watched not once, but several times. People are getting it now."

She hopes people are also finally getting her distinction between being a model and being an actress: "Modelling is all about what you don't show the camera. Acting is all about what you do show the camera. Both worlds are crazy and I take it all with a grain of salt. If it stops being fun or people don't want to work with me anymore, maybe I'll look for the next thing to do. I've got a nothing-to-lose kind of attitude."

Original article: The Star

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