09-05-2009: Access Direct TV

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Sweltering is the only word to describe this afternoon in Burbank, one of those sticky, no-breeze days that makes people hate the San Fernando Valley, but you wouldn't know it from looking at Rebecca Romijn, who is standing in the doorway of her trailer on the Warner Bros. lot with a big, broad smile. Hello, hello, nice to meet you, come on in, she says, learning way down to shake my hand. Romijn is nearly six feet tall, a lot of that legs, but now, perched at the top of several steps leading up to her aluminum-sided home away from home, she's about twice that. Icy blue eyes, big mane of blonde hair - the experience of seeing her like this is what British philosophers back in the 18th century used to call the sublime. For those guys, the Alps - gigantic, beyond beautiful - were the epitome of sublime. Today, a good slice of key lime pie can be sublime, but back then, it meant something that was so awe-inspiring it simultaneously scared the crap out of you and made you think about God.

Romijn enters her trailer, moves some things around so I can sit down on the small couch, and plops down in a chair. She's wearing a light gray T-shirt, short black shorts and just a hint of makeup. Her toenails are painted a shade of purple one usually sees on Easter eggs. She looks serene. Most guys got their first, memory-stamping look at Romijn when she was doing all those Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues in the late '90s, and she still looks pretty much the same today at 36 - a little less tan, maybe. You remember. Whether she was wearing a chain-mail bikini or nothing but a thin coat of pink body paint, Romijn was the very image of languid, life-is-good beauty.

But those pictures didn't tell the whole truth; they only captured a moment in time. In fact, Romijn has never really done languid. While many of her supermodel peers were content to hang out and party to kill time between gigs, Romijn was the one going, If this doesn't work out, I'm going to do this and this and this. "As long as I work, I'll stay," she told the kind people who offered her a chance to model in Paris - Paris! - when she was only 19. "But the second I stop working, I'm going right back to school."

Romijn turned her time there into a learning experience. "I studied French," she says. "I figured out how to be wildly adaptable, how to pack a supertight suitcaise. I learned bravado." And she thought about her future. "I felt like every model around me wanted to be an actress, and so I never said out loud that I was interested in doing that," she says. "But at a certain point, I decided to turn my back on modeling and immerse myself in acting." Romijn's first fulltime gig, as host of MTV's fashion-centric House of Style, was a logical segue onto the small screen. After two years, though, she thought she could handle meatier stuff, and casting directors agreed. Soon, Romijn was grabbing some of the weirdest roles ever landed, by a former SI cover model, from a blue-skinned, shape-shifting mutant in the X-Men series to a scheming, transsexual magazine editor on Ugly Betty.

This fall, Romijn is starring in the new ABC drama Eastwick, about a trio of women who discover they have supernatural powers. The series is based on John Updike's 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick, which previously spawned a movie starring Jack Nicholson as a guy who may or may not be Satan. In this incarnation, Romijn plays Roxie Torcoletti, a woman who, delightedly, discovers she's a witch. "She's having fun with it," Romijn says. "She's like, 'Yeah! I'm having visions, and they're coming true.'"

Romijn, a girl from Berkeley California, now lives near Malibu with her husband, actor Jerry O'Connell (in many ways, O'Connell's own transformation - from the cherry Pez - loving fat kid in Stand By Me to the hunky detective in NBC's Crossing Jordan - rivals his wife's). As much as her blonde good looks and bikinied past might seem to epitomize the carefree lifestyle of her adopted Southern California home, Malibu Barbie she's not. For one thing, her CD collection is all wrong. She likes Sarah Brightman - the Broadway diva and former Phantom of the Opera star - a lot. "Why do you laugh?" she asks, laughing herself. "I know there are people who might not be down, but I'm a huge fan. I went to her concert, and she blew my mind."

She also digs Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, after years spent performing in a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe in Berkeley. "I did tons of their operettas," she says, "and I still could sing every word of every one of those songs."

Romijn's love of spectacle and musical theater might have had something to do with an experience in Vegas a few years back. Like million of tourists to the desert city, Romijn was struck by the majesty of the Bellagio hotel's fountain show. If you haven't seen it, it's impressive: dancing fountains set to orchestral music, blasts of spray shooting 460 feet into the air. For most visitors, it's a momentary diversion from the quarter slots, but not for Rebecca. She became - how does one say this? - obsessed.

"I could sit and watch the fountain shows all day," she says. "I had a friend who loved them too, and we said, 'How amazing would it be to choreograph one of those?'" They got up the nerve to call Wet Design, the Sun Valley - based company that created the fountains, to ask, Hey, could we give it a try? "They didn't call us back," Romijn remembers. "Then, during a guest spot on The Tonight Show, I mentioned that I was trying to get a hold of these people. They called me back the next day."

Some of the other famous people to design the waterworks have included Kenny Ortega, who, as a former choreographer for Madonna and Michael Jackson, knows about such things, as opposed to, say, Rebecca Romijn, who does not. Romijn learned about the different types of fountains and what each one could do. For the music, she selected "The Ectasy of Gold" from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with its soaring soprano and churning, martial beats. "We worked on the show morning to night for 12 days," she says. "When we were done, it was a dream come true." To celebrate, Romijn was allowed to do what would have gotten anyone else carted away by hotel security. "We got to swim in the lake while the fountains were blowing off," she grins. "In the center ring. It was 112 degrees in August, and we had to wear wet suits, that's how cold it was, with the power of that much water."

Talk to Romijn long enough and the odd likes start to pile up. She likes the smell of sawdust, which triggers memories of her furniture-making dad's workshop back home, and the smell of gasoline. She loves ballroom dancing, an interest sparked from watching too many episodes of Dancing With the Stars. She likes The Real Housewives - the season with the Jersey girls is her favorite - and even joined a discussion group so that she could dissect each episode with like-minded friends. "It's more interesting than being in a book club," she laughs.

There's a much-used scene in scores of Hollywood movies in which the bookish, bespectacled heroine is cajoled into taking off her glasses, "to see what she looks like." Big surprise - she's gorgeous. Listening to Romijn talk is like watching that scene in reverse. With her, you get the hot girl, sans glasses, first. Only after that initial jolt do you get all the charmingly quirky stuff that made you tall for the wallflower. It's unsettling, disorienting, to discover that Romijn might be the most beautiful nerd on the planet. One could even call it sublime.

Romijn is now talking about badminton. "When Jerry and I first began dating, we started playing," she says. "I pretend I'm not competitive, but that's just my strategy. I am. I can get intense." Badminton is clearly a shared love, but Romijn is a lot less enthusiastic when her husband reaches for his laptop for some online video game play. "I don't get how men can spend that much time on something without anything to show for it," she says.

But isn't there a certain satisfaction one gets from honoring a skill? From improving your hand-eye coordination? "Well sure, if you ever need to go out and hunt robots," she laughs. "Or shoot at spaceships, you'll be ready." About the only thing she finds as foolish is watching sports on TV. "At home? On the sofa? I'd rather do online shopping." She much prefers making jewelry or playing sports, because at the end of the day, you've got something for your pains: a nice bracelet, for instance, or a decent resting heart rate. "It's like, these are the fruits of my efforts!"

Romijn's latest obsessions are her twin daughters, Dolly Rebecca Rose and Charlie Tamara Tulip, who were born Last December. Ask Romijn about them, and 10 months worth of memories come tumbling out, from their first fight over a fuzzy purse to their growling love for the family dogs, who, in turn, love licking food off the baby's faces.

Which is probably why, when asked to name the nicest thing anyone's ever done for her, it all comes back to the kids... sort of. "The nicest thing anyone's ever done for me? I'd say when Jerry got me pregnant," she says. That had to be it. But then I guess he had his own selfish reasons, too."

Original article: Access DirectTV October 2009

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