The Sun Herald Interview


Actor Rebecca Romijn has learnt to take the good with the bad, Brett Thomas discovered. Before you troop off to the cinema to see the third instalment of the X-Men cash-cow series next year, you should consider the following: during breaks in shooting, the cast which includes Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Sir Ian McKellen liked to sing show tunes.

We have this on good authority from 31-year-old model-turned-actor Rebecca Romijn, who will feature again as the body-painted temptress Mystique in X3. "The entire cast of X-Men were all musical theatre geeks," she laughed, on the phone from her home in California. "You should see the X-Men getting into song and dance. You should see Hugh and I sing. I'm horrible, by the way.

"I went backstage to see him do The Boy From Oz and I tried on all of his costumes." How did they look? "Ahh . . . drapey," she said. "He's slightly larger than me."

It's an exchange that tells you a couple of things. First of all, never, ever confuse your favourite X-Men heroes with the actors who portray them. And, second, Romijn is one of those Hollywood rarities who refuses to take either herself or her profession too seriously.

Her last two movies, comic book adaptation The Punisher and sci-fi thriller Godsend, haven't exactly set the world on fire. The Punisher was quickly dismissed as second-rate while Godsend, is most notable not for its controversial subject matter (the cloning of dead children) but for the continued career decline of the once-great Robert De Niro.

Romijn, however, proved to be a real trouper. "Nobody ever intends to go out and make a crappy movie," she said, careful not to refer to either of the above. "Nobody wants to do that but sometimes it happens. A girl's got bills to pay. This is our job and sometimes you have to take on a movie you wouldn't normally do."

Which was certainly not the case with Godsend, one of those all-too common occasions where the apparent enjoyment of making it was not reflected by a disappointing finished product.

Concerned about being typecast as a kick-butt comic book adaptation heroine, Romijn was chuffed when she was offered the decidedly non-glamorous role of a grieving mum who lets a morally challenged doctor (De Niro) create an exact clone of her dead son.

"I'm always looking for something different," she said, "I never want to do the same thing over and over again and this role came to me, which was really nice. It gave me the opportunity to play anti-glamour. Everything else I've done has been so heavily stylised, so much make-up and so much glamour. "For this one, I literally spent five minutes in the make-up chair instead of five hours."

It was at the American premiere of Godsend in April (2004, RRF), however, that Romijn's trouper qualities were given their sternest test. The premiere fell on the same day that news broke about the end of her five-year marriage to American TV actor John Stamos, but she was still obliged to show up on the red carpet and smile for the paparazzi. "It was awful," she recalled. "There was nothing good about that night." "I had no choice but to be there because part of my job is to go out and promote the project. Did I want to go and promote the movie? No. Did I want to talk about my personal life with the world? No." Such, however, is the life of a beautiful, high-profile movie star.

It's a scenario that would not have occurred had Romijn stuck to her previous career. As a model, her most trying public exposure was striding down a catwalk in skimpy undies and posing for happy snaps with her then more-famous hubby, but she readily admitted her old job "became really boring", leaving her no choice but to move on.

Acting was always in the back of her mind, but she never gave that ambition voice because of her self-consciousness and disdain for every model and their toy dog who claimed to be on the road to Hollywood. "I thank my lucky stars for my modelling career because it opened those doors for me," she said. "But it was a humbling experience because I left at the top of one world and started at the bottom of another."

"So far, the transition hasn't been really hard, although the model-turned-actor label will never go away. But that's OK because it's true, I was a model and so were a lot of other actresses who have been strapped with that label. I think it starts you in a less than zero position because people expect you to suck. A lot of models have sucked but a lot of them have also been fantastic. There's both a huge failure rate and a huge success rate."

Another adventure that Romijn is unlikely to have made as a model was a recent trip she and De Niro made to visit US troops in Iraq. Staunchly anti-war, Romijn-Stamos said the visit had been a real eye-opener and it seemed to have given her a slightly different perspective on life.

"It was unbelievable and I'll never forget it," she said. "I grew up in Berkeley, California, which is the most liberal, left-leaning place you could ever find and I had zero contact with our military. So I had a pre-conceived notion they would all be rednecks who were only there because their daddies had been in the army. But I was wrong and I met the most amazing people over there. It was 130 degrees [Fahrenheit] and they were walking around in full fatigues and we'd get there to find out they'd been waiting in that heat for three or four hours. And they had so much perspective on it, they were really deep and smart and had a lot of opinions."

Did Romijn and the famously taciturn De Niro entertain the sunburned soldiers with some show tunes? On that she stayed mum. After all, some things are best left on set.

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