Little did your father know, back in 1999, that the mesmerizing blonde staring back at him from the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue would soon work her way up the entertainment totem pole, unfurl enough acting talent to silence jealous naysayers, and become the breakout star of summer 2006.
Rebecca Romijn knows this is her moment. With the recent debut of her hour-long WB show Pepper Dennis (a sophisticated comedy about a local news reporter with her eyes locked on an anchor spot) and several summer films about to rock marquees (including a little one called X-Men: The Last Stand) the former supermodel is tired, she’s overworked, and there’s not much relief in sight; but she’s rising to the occasion like a bona fide star, and that will only serve her well as the next few months wear on.
A native of Berkeley, California, Romijn, 33, first found herself in the public eye when she left UC Santa Cruz for Paris the summer after her freshman year, and ended up on the cover of French Elle. It didn’t take long for the beauty to become one of the world’s most sought-after models, posing for Christian Dior, Victoria’s Secret, and a slew of other top fashion houses. She took over the coveted role of host of MTV’s House of Style, following Daisy Fuentes and Cindy Crawford; shone on the small screen in roles on Friends and Just Shoot Me; and is now slipping on the blue body paint again for her role as shape-shifting bad girl Mystique in the third installment of X-Men. The original film’s wild success led her to other tough-as-nails roles in Rollerball and The Punisher. Along the way, she also gained points as the critically acclaimed lead in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, and opposite Robert De Niro and Greg Kinnear in 2004’s Godsend.
Romijn began dating Jake in Progress actor John “Uncle Jesse” Stamos in 1994, and hyphenated her name in 1998. The pair divorced last year, yet remain friendly. These days, however, she has a new leading man, film and TV actor Jerry O’Connell. The two are blissfully engaged and live in Calabasas, California, close—but not too close—to the hustle and grind of LA.
Despite her hectic schedule, we were able to steal a bit of face time with the woman behind the Mystique. (Jealous, much?)
Gotham: Congratulations on everything! Pepper Dennis, X3—you’re the busiest woman in Hollywood right now.
Rebecca Romijn: It’s a tremendous amount of work, but the show is very fun. I said early on that if I were to commit myself to a project like this, it would have to be really fun.
Gotham: What’s the best part of playing Pepper?
RR: I haven’t had a chance to be funny before, so that’s nice.
Gotham: And taping isn’t too grueling?
RR: Well, I had to get to work by 4:30 this morning, so right now I’m just trying to stay awake. But I have to be honest… the shows just keep getting better and better. It feels like we’re really taking them to the next level.
Gotham: Why did you decide to take the role?
RR: Initially, I was looking at a lot of pilots and film scripts… and this one jumped out at me. I was reading very strong female leads, but most of them were very procedural shows. I thought to myself, If I’m going to commit a few years of my life, I’m not going to be reading dialogue like that. I wanted to do something different.
Gotham: Having an entire hour-long show centered around you must be quite overwhelming.
RR: I try not to think about it.
Gotham: How are you similar to or different from the character of Pepper?
RR: She’s slightly obnoxious. Reporters have to be very driven, and I understand that now. Pepper will be running alongside a limo to get a story, sticking her microphone in the sunroof. So when she falls in a puddle, you don’t feel bad for her. But then again, she doesn’t care, which is why she’s great. I identify with her ambition.
Gotham: The public is totally obsessed with reporters and their very singular kind of celebrity. What are your thoughts?
RR: Well, it’s a perfect avenue for the relationships on the show, and it lends itself really well to getting this character in over her head. Local news reporters are sent into all sorts of situations. These days I get to watch local news programs and call the writers and say, “Pepper’s gotta try this.” Last week I was watching a local show in LA, and a reporter was doing an Electric Slide-athon. Pepper needs to do an Electric Slide-athon.
Gotham: What were your favorite sitcoms growing up?
RR: Oh, all of them… from I Love Lucy to The Facts of Life to Three’s Company to Happy Days…. I watched a tremendous amount of TV growing up. I used to do my schoolwork in front of the TV. At first my mother was hesitant, but after a while, she said, “It’s like you’re doing research.”
Gotham: I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but you’re in or on practically every subway car, bus, and telephone booth in New York.
RR: I was just there, and it’s surreal. It’s so crazy. Jerry [O’Connell], my fiancé, grew up in Chelsea. His mother calls five times a day, saying, “Three more buses went by, all with Rebecca on them.”
Gotham: How hard was it to earn respect for your talent, not just your looks?
RR: In acting, the way you look dictates the kind of roles you’re going to get. But the pretty-girl roles never had much to offer me. I’ve just been really careful about the things I’ve decided to do. I go for characters who are slightly flawed.
Gotham: Which brings us to your character, Mystique, in the X-Men movies.
RR: It’s so exciting to be a part of those! The experience is like that of a mother who goes through labor pains; when the movies come out I forget all about the blue paint and say, “Sign me up for more!”
Gotham: Really? Will you keep on doing them?
RR: I think three might be enough for me. It was seven years ago that we started the first one.
Gotham: What’s most fun about playing an evil character?
RR: It’s so cool to be the first one to bring a beloved supervillain to the screen. I forever get to be connected to that role. When the movie comes out, it’s great… especially if the boy fans are happy.
Gotham: You also have The Alibi opening soon, as well as Man About Town with Ben Affleck. It’s kind of an “all Rebecca, all the time” summer. How are you going to unwind after this back-to-back press?
RR: All I do is dream about lying on a beach! I’ve become obsessed with looking at Caribbean real estate. I’ll look at a property and say, “This is the house where I would love to spend the summer!” I don’t know when exactly it’s going to happen. The shade of nail polish I have on is literally called I Need a Vacation.
Gotham: Are you “girly” like that?
RR: To be honest with you, I work these 18-hour days, and on Saturday I can barely get out of bed. But I have to get my nails done. That’s what Pepper would do!
Gotham: So you’re method acting.
Gotham: You’re engaged to Vern, from Stand by Me. Do you ever call him Vern?
RR: I never have. Wasn’t that a great movie?
Gotham: The best. You two live in Calabasas—what about the lifestyle there appeals to you?
RR: It’s beautiful… I live in a house called the Wagon Wheel Ranch; it’s an old brothel from the 30s. It’s a funny little house—a cross between a Swiss chalet and a set house from an old Western movie.
Gotham: And you’ve got a vineyard, right? Will you produce and bottle wines?
RR: They’re baby vines right now—Jerry goes there and tends them every weekend. Calabasas is pretty rugged, up in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the native plant life is pretty aggressive. Jerry thinks that the local plants will overtake the little vines… it’s a war against weeds. For Christmas, he asked for a Weedwacker. Can you believe I bought him a Weedwacker?
Gotham: You’re about to head to Europe for the premiere of X-Men: The Last Stand. Have you done press in Europe before?
RR: I have. The world premiere of X-Men 2 was in London. So I went to London, Rome, and Paris the last time. Since there are 13 primary characters in the movie, they kind of spread us out across the world. It’s a “divide and conquer” thing. A lot of foreign journalists ask weird questions…. Many don’t speak English, so they get creative. I had this one Italian man start pulling all these roses out from under his shirt.
Gotham: Italians can get away with that.
RR: They’re so charming….
Gotham: When you’re not on a media blitz and you return to New York, where can you most often be found—Downtown? Midtown?
RR: Well, I go to New York all the time—I was just there last week. I love it. These days, we go back to Chelsea, where Jerry grew up… and my best friend lives a few blocks from there. I always go to Florent, or down to Bar Pitti in the West Village, where I lived for six years. I love that part of New York. I often get lunch at Diner 24 on Eighth Avenue, and I’ve been to Megu a few times, with that big melting ice Buddha. Oh—and I just love the Biltmore Room. It’s got this great fireplace—it’s so beautiful. And the food is really sensational.
Gotham: So, where are you headed after we part ways?
RR: I have CNN right now, and then Jimmy Kimmel Live after that.
Gotham: Well, you’ve got places to go and things to do. Are you nervous about Jimmy Kimmel?
RR: Honestly? My nerves are fried. I don’t have enough energy to get nervous. I’m just trying to be as present as possible.
Gotham: You certainly did well with me!
RR: Well, thank you.
Original article: Gotham 05/2006