She’s the quintessential California girl, whose good looks have graced the runways of New York and Paris, not to mention the cover of the ever-popular Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.Blessed with blonde locks, a 5-foot-11-inch frame, and a wicked sense of humor, Rebecca Romijn (pronounced row-main, like the lettuce) has worked hard to launch herself from Victoria’s Secret supermodel to television leading lady and cinematic action star. This month, the 34-year-old Berkeley native stars in a new WB network show, Pepper Dennis. In May, she reprises her role as the shape-shifting superhero Mystique in X-Men: The Last Stand. Later this year, she stars opposite Ben Affleck in a racy comedy called Man About Town.
Romijn now lives in Calabasas, California, just outside of Los Angeles, in woodsy home that was a brothel in the Roaring ’20s. Last fall, she announced her engagement to actor Jerry O’Connell (Jerry Maguire, Crossing Jordan). Diablo called Romijn to talk about her new love, her skyrocketing career, and why she loves coming home to the East Bay. But before we could get started, Romijn’s living room erupted with the sound of her four dogs barking in unison.
Rebecca Romijn: OK, guys! Down! It’s just the mailman at the door. I’m sorry!
Diablo: No problem. Who’s there with you?
Rebecca: My two German Shepherds, Bim-Bam and Landor, and my poodle mixes, Better and Taco. Jerry and I just learned that if you have more than three dogs in this area, you’re considered a kennel. We adopted Taco two weeks ago, so now we’re officially running a kennel.
Diable: What’s the story on Taco?
Rebecca: He was found in South Central Los Angeles tied to the back of a taco truck. He was dirty, his fur was matted, and he was skin and bones. The first thing we did when we brought him home was to give him an extreme makeover. It was Jerry’s idea to name him Taco. At first, I thought it was rude to give him a name that would constantly remind him of his ordeal, but Jerry convinced me it was a cute dog name.
Diablo: You have a busy schedule, a fiancé, and four dogs. Do you ever get a chance to return home to the East Bay?
Rebecca: My mom, dad, and sister all live in the Berkeley area, and I usually visit them every two to three months. If my mom’s home is too full, we stay at the Claremont Resort.
Diablo: What are some of your favorite things to do in the East Bay?
Rebecca: I grew up near Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, so I love dining out when I come home. Some of my favorite places are Chez Panisse, Bette’s Oceanview Diner, and Fat Apples. My childhood home was a block away from Chez Panisse, and my favorite dish there is the Tomales Bay oysters with mignonette sauce. For breakfast, I have to go to Fat Apples in Berkeley and order a waffle, chicken-apple sausages, and scrambled eggs. My dad is a woodworker. He has a custom furniture shop in Emeryville, and he redid all the woodwork inside Fat Apples, so it makes it even more special to go there. My sister and I also love touring open houses when I’m in the Bay Area. We like to get design ideas and fantasize about how we want to remodel our own homes.
Diablo: You filmed Man About Town with Ben Affleck, who’s also a Berkeley native. Did you two trade stories on growing up in the East Bay?
Rebecca: We did talk a little about Berkeley, but Ben moved to Massachusetts when he was very young, so he doesn’t have the same memories that I do. He married Jennifer Garner while we were filming the movie, so it was fun to be around newlyweds. They’re a very nice couple.
Diablo: Did Ben or Jen give you any good wedding tips?
Rebecca: No. Jerry and I haven’t even set a date yet, but I think our wedding ceremony will be small, maybe even an intimate dinner with just family and close friends.
Diablo: Have you brought Jerry home to meet your family?
Rebecca: Yes, many times, and they love him. Jerry is one of the most caring and charismatic people I’ve ever met. I’m extremely happy.
Diablo: How did you meet?
Rebecca: I was at a party in Los Angeles with my friend Steve, and we were talking about how we wanted to make a documentary where we would choreograph the fountain displays at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas to music. Steve and I had been making CDs with songs that build to a crescendo and lift you. Jerry overheard us talking and offered to come on a shoot with us and hold our boom mike. We started dating shortly after.
Diablo: What happened with your documentary project?
Rebecca: We named it Wet Dreams and have been submitting it to film festivals. Bellagio is also using our music as part of its permanent rotation for the fountain shows.
Diablo: As a kid growing up in Berkeley, did you dream about being an actress, model, and fountain choreographer?
Rebecca: I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl. My mom used to buy outfits at this thrift store in Richmond, Value Village, and my sister and I had this great dress-up closet. We didn’t have a lot of money, and [Mom] also bought our school clothes there. My sister and I used to love playing dress-up and pretending to be different characters.
Diablo: Did you act in plays at Berkeley High?
Rebecca: Yeah, I was a musical theater geek! I was in a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe in fifth and sixth grades, and I sang with the Oakland Youth Chorus. I did musical theater at Berkeley High and then attended UC Santa Cruz, where I majored in music.
Diablo: When did you start modeling?
Rebecca: When I was at UC Santa Cruz, I signed up with a modeling agency to help pay the bills. Two months later, I was in Paris doing runway shows.
Diablo: You’ve been named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, but I’ve heard you say you were known as the Jolly Blond Giant in high school. Is that true?
Rebecca: That was how I saw myself at the time. I’m five foot eleven, and as a teenager I felt as if I were the tallest, gawkiest person in the world.
Diablo: Your first television show, Pepper Dennis, premieres this month. What’s it about?
Rebecca: I play a very ambitious television reporter named Pepper Dennis who will do anything to get ahead. There’s a lot of physical comedy in the show; you’ll see me falling down in puddles, that sort of thing. As soon as I saw the script for the show, I knew I wanted to be Pepper. She’s a real fast-talking dame who speaks in tongue twisters. The show is very well written and has great dialogue. I’m excited about it; I feel as if it’s my first real job.
Diablo: You’re also returning to the screen for the third installment of X-Men. How was it playing Mystique, the morphing mutant, again?
Rebecca: (laughs) You know, people don’t realize how hard it is to morph. Becoming Mystique means 10 hours of smelly, sticky, blue body paint and wearing prosthetic scales. It takes many years of acting to learn how to morph!