04-2004: Elle

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Rebecca Romijn doesn't consider herself much of a Colombian scholar. "All I knew about Cartagena was that it's where Kathleen Turner was trying to get to in Romancing the Stone," she says of the balmy South American setting for ELLE's cover shoot. Once she arrived she ignored rumors about kidnapped tourists, ditched her escort, and fearlessly embarked on a sightseeing expedition of the mysterious old city. This is, after all, a woman who in her previous incarnation as a globe-traveling supermodel stared down a hippopotamus in Kenya and narrowly escaped hurricanes in the Bahamas. No bandit was going to spoil her trip.

The verdict: "Cartagena is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!" Romijn says breathlessly. "It was like Europe beautiful, like old Italian cities beautiful. You're walking down the street and there are all these little doors, and these amazing courtyards in the middle of each building." She scarfed down a pelican's share of ceviche, took bumpy moonlit carriage rides through the cobblestone streets, and did her best to call home to her husband, John Stamos, who seemed to be missing the sound of his wife's voice even though he did once nickname her Rebecca Remain Silent.

Across the table at El Quijote, a dark, old school Spanish restaurant in Manhattan that she picked for a lobster lunch, Romijn, true to her rep, remains in full verbal gallop while describing her idea of real adventure. The 31 year old looks predictably flawless. Well, almost. Her blond curls are gathered under a blue Garbo-style bandanna; she's wearing big gold hoop earrings and no makeup. Today she's natural beauty in repose, reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe in her low key, Actors Studio period.

But her fingernails... Two on her right hand are of a respectable, unbitten length, with clear polish. Then, um, there are the others: long, vampy red nails with a swirly white detail - the fernale grooming equivalent of driving a low-rider. Two of the nails on her left hand, she's proud to point out, sport transparent heart-shaped, glitter-filled bubbles that rustle audibly when she shakes them. What gives?

"Oh," she says, fanning out her fingers on the table, "this was for a character." Since retiring from modeling seven years ago, Romijn has paid her share of the Stamos family bills by immersing herself in acting roles. In the two X Men movies, she became the ultimate comic book geek's fantasy bride for her all-butnekkid portrayal of Mystique, a shape-shifting blue mutant. This spring (2004, RRF) she'll be seen as a superhero's recovering alcoholic neighbor in the gory Marvel Comics-inspired The Punisher. And in Godsend, she stars alongside Robert De Niro and Greg Kinnear as a grieving mom who has a monumental lapse in judgment when she decides to clone her dead son, resulting in one of those heartwarming homicidal-boy-and-his-hatchet movies.

She will not, however, be seen in any motion picture as Tookie, the pregnant fly girl with the fancy nails. Some celebrities gather an entourage and escape to remote, exclusive places like Mustique. Others barricade themselves in the VIP rooms of clubs. Romijn cherishes her annual trips to Disneyland, weekend jaunts for swimming and Scrabble at Las Ventanas near Cabo San Lucas, and lost aftemoons of deep tissue massage at Santa Barbarda's Bacara spa. But for a real vacation from the mundane, she simply pretends to be someone else.

The day before we meet, Romijn and a friend, music video director Steve Willis, had been kicking back at Willis' farmhouse a few hours north of Manhattan (her husband was stuck in L.A. working on his ncw ABC sitcom). They hatched a plan for a photo session at the portrait studio in the nearby Wal-Mart: Romijn, with a pillow shoved under her sweatshirt, strode through the automatic doors in the persona of Tookie, a tough "hoochie mama" wearing scrious gold bling, penciled-on eyebrows, and the skankiest fake nails sold at Rite Aid. Willis played the part of Rusty, her gay, obviously inept Planned Parenthood counselor. A previous field trip had a butch Romijn in silver aviator glasses and a mullet; she whips out the wallet-size photos to prove it. "Its just fun coming up with characters and figuring out their whole back story," she says. "We'll do the portraits but we'll also videotape each other doing things in character, like Steve had me sledding down his hill as Tookie."

Occasionally, Romijn yearns for something a tad more exotic than fluorescent lights and slushies. She usually returns to the various paradises she was too busy to explore during her modeling days. She first visited Harbour Island in the Bahamas with Elle when she was 18. 'It's this tiny sliver of land," she says. "The sand is pink because of the coral, and the ocean is this gorgeous turquoise bathwater. I'm hesitant to let anybody know about it."

Her absolute favorite destination? "The Seychelles," she says, referring to the unspoiled island chain in the Indian Ocean. "I went there eight or nine times when I was modeling. It's green and beautiful, with both jungle and beach." Wherever she goes, Romijn abides by her cardinal rule of travel: Pack light, and by all means, avoid checking anything. I could travel for three weeks with one carry-on," she says. "All you need is a bikini, a sarong, some cute dresses for dinner, and flipflops. That's it!" She also packs the hardest-working blue Hermès pashmina in show business. "It's my blanker on the plane, and on the bed when I get wherever I'm going," she says. "It's my scarf if I'm cold and my shawl if I'm going to dinner. I guess I still have that security blanket thing from when I was a kid."

But when her husband's along, Romijn says the vacation vibe becomes a little more regimented than she'd like. "John always has to get to the airport hours early. I like getting there at the last possible minute," she says, rolling her eyes dramatically. 'And he overpacks. It's a joke. He always wants all his computer stuff and all his gadgets."

Before returning home to Chief Packs Too Much, Romijn has one more upstate adventure in her. Bearded grandma? Drunken airline pilot? "I shouldn't tell you," she says, in a rare moment of restraint. "I don't play sports. 1 don't do a lot of other things that people do in their downtime. This is how I escape."

Original article: Elle Magazine 04/2004

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