02-2006: Emmy Magazine


She's intimidatingly tall and stridently sexy. But former supermodel Rebecca Romijn star of such butt-kicking flicks as Femme Fatale and X-Men as well as the new Pepper Dennis series on the WB, is nothing if not resourceful.

When this reporter arrives late for their interview - a puddle of nerves and apologies - a smiling Romijn will have none of it. She whips a tiny dark bottle out of her purse. "Put some of this on your tongue," she says. "It's not a drug. It's homeopathic. It's made of floral essences. It's stress relief!" It's called Rescue Remedy, Romijn explains, and an English doctor invented it to bring accident victims out of shock. "You really need this," she says, as the essences begin to take effect. "You need this bad."

Romijn to the rescue. In short order, the actress - today dressed in vintage jeans and comfy loafers - reveals herself to be a bon-vivanting human can of Red Bull. She has already befriended the cherub-faced waiter ("He made me a tea-monade!") here at the San Fernando Valley outpost of Kate Mantilini, a comfort-food sport not far from the home she shares with her fiance, Jerry O'Connell, seen as Detective Woody Hoyt on Crossing Jordan.

Earlier today, she loved-up her new eco-friendly Toyota Prius, which was delivered to her place around noon. "I think it's the responsible thing to do these days," she says of her green-minded purchase. Especially now that she's commuting to her first series gig, playing the lead in Pepper Dennis, a screwball comedy about a muckraking TV journalist. The series, from 20th Century Fox Television and exec-produced by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts and Shawn Levy, debuts April 4.

"I'm driving to work every day and dealing with traffic. If you have a Prius or the Honda hybrid, you get to drive in the carpool lane," she marvels. "So I get to drive in the carpool lane and save money, too!" Truth be told, her resourcefulness can hit a bump now and then. She ordered the car in "basic black," only to realize she lives in a dusty enclave. "What I save on gas, I'll have to spend at the car wash. But, whatever," she says, chipperly. "It'll always be clean."

Romijn's resilience has helped her sashay from supermodel to mighty film star (catch her again this May as Mystique, the blue bodied villainess, in X Men 3). And it makes her a perfect fit for Pepper, a Walter Cronkite idolizing, relationship challenged reporter for Chicago's fictional WEIE, where her latest love interest, Charlie Babcock (Josh Hopkins), just happens to be the station's new anchor hire (over her, natch).

No matter. Pepper (real name: Patty Dinkle) knows how to sniff out a story and pursue it with all the moxie she can muster, meaning this charming hour (think Moonlighting meets Broadcast News) calls for Romijn to be part Lara Logan, Mary Richards and Bond Girl Lite.

"I read the first five scripts, and I was laughing, crying and so excited," enthuses the actress, who had tired of reading and turning down CSI knockoffs. I knew that I was signing on for a lifestyle change if I did a TV show. I was like, 'Okay, think about the next seven years of your life. Do you want to be spouting off procedural blibber blabber?' I think I would have been bored to tears. But this show was nothing but fun."

Plus, she could relate to the character. "Like Pepper, I'm driven. Behind all that fast talking go getterness, she's hiding insecurities and loneliness. I think there's probably an element of that in me. I think most actors are like that. That's why they become actors, because they get to pretend they're something else." Not that Romijn is one to put on airs with her pumps. "I'm kind of clumsy. I've never gotten to do pratfalls before, and I really love them. I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself."

Well, maybe just a bit. After reading the scripts, I went into a panic over all the work. I mean, it's exciting, but it's so much. When you read that many scripts back to back, it's like, 'How am I going to do all of this?" Beat. She's got the answer: "Rescue Remedy. I'm going to buy stock in it."

Movie career. New relationship. Carrying an hour show that requires acing snappy dialog and taking pratfalls into puddles and sinkholes. Can a lady have it all? "Pepper says you can't," Romijn says, quoting her new alter ego. I think it depends on your version of all." And if Pepper were to quote Romijn? "Never take anything too seriously that's how I try to muddle my way through life," the actress says. "But when it comes down to it, you can't do anything but be right where you are at that moment. [This new role] is really challenging, and I'm ready for that. I'm in a place in life where I want to be challenged." This coming from a woman who spent eight hours a day in makeup, enduring prosthetics and body paint, while making those three X Men movies.

In a way, Pepper marks her desire to settle down. I kind of feel this is my first real job," says Romijn, who's thirty three. "The filmmaking thing three months away, then you come home and have nothing to do for months on end - I don't want to do that right now. That all or nothing is fine when you're in your twenties, but I want to go home to my own bed at night and have a normal life." With O'Connell. "You heard it here first: I really can't wait to have a family."

While Pepper makes it clear she's a commitment phobe, Romijn says: "I'm a relationship person. Dating - hopping from one person to the next - that's not my thing. People that I get close to, I want to get to know them better and better. I think a lot of that has to do with making yourself available. I don't know how to not do that."

What she does know how to do is stay fairly mum about O'Connell, who will be seen with her and Ben Affleck in the upcoming feature Man About Town. Her reticence is no surprise, considering how the tabloids haunted her during the breakup of her marriage to actor John Stamos (the hyphenated union ended last March after seven years). She acknowledges her pale yellow diamond engagement ring and bites her lip. "I've gotten very protective for obvious reasons. And that's been hard because of the kind of person that I am. I'd love to be an open book to everybody, but I can't be that anymore. What I've been through in the last few years - it's been a little scary. Yes, there were some really dark moments. But I never lost my sense of humor. In fact, that's what got me through it. A lot of it had to do with my two best friends - they're two of the funniest people I've ever met. If I wasn't willing to make a joke about what I was going through, they were."

The tabloid coverage was not so funny. "All these lies are written. I'm like, 'What? Where did this come from? This is not me - this is not my life.'" Are there any untruths she'd like to correct? I don't want to get into it," she says. "I've moved on."

Romijn no doubt gets much of her forward march from her parents, Jaap, a Dutch born furniture maker, and Elizabeth, an ESL teacher. They both still live in Berkeley, California, where they raised Romijn and her sister to be very independent. "I try not to focus on the obstacles," she says. I try to figure out where I can go next, rather than what's stopping me."

While she wasn't prepped to be the proverbial Berkeley hippie, she did grow up in an unusually earthy household. "My parents didn't have a lot of money. They were Quakers. There were no frills. My dad made all our furniture. My mom made the granola and baked her own bread and made the yogurt. It was very wholesome. They were fantastic parents."

But their divorce, when Romijn was seven, did rattle her. "I'd like to say that I'm over it, but I don't think you're ever over your parents breaking up. It was really hard, but these things happen. My parents managed to make me and my sister their number one priority even though they weren't together anymore. And they still do."

As a kid, Romijn watched Knight Rider, Three's Company and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a black and white set. She had no teen-idol crushes (I wasn't that kind of a girl"), but she does name Lucille Ball as her "ultimate hero. I've watched every episode of I Love Lucy a million times."

At Berkeley High, she confesses, she was the quintessential theater geek. I did a lot of musicals in school, the Gilbert and Sullivan thing." After graduating in 1990, she majored in music at UC Santa Cruz, but dropped out soon after she was discovered by a modeling agent. Before long, the five foot ten inch stunner was living in Paris and batting her blue eyes for the cover of the French Elle.

While Tyra Banks and Heidi Mum have had success with reality shows that capitalized on their runway strides, Romijn - a perennial on such hottie lists as People's Fifty Most Beautiful - is one of the rare supermodels who has made it big as an actress. And leaping from Victoria's Secret catalogs and Christian Dior campaigns to flicks like Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale and Jonathan Hensleigh's The Punisher was a risky move.

"I was at the top of that world and started over in a totally new world at the very bottom," says Romijn, whose film debut, the 1998 comedy Dirty Work, had her playing a bit part as a bearded lady. I didn't make any money for a few years. And that was really scary. I just had to do it for myself, I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be excited."

While starting her movie career, she also made guest appearances on TV series and specials and began hosting MTV's fashion news show, House of Style. So she knows the lines between TV news and entertainment are increasingly blurry. In researching her role as Pepper, she asked news producers: Can I keep my long hair? Can I do the high heels and make myself glamourous? "On CNN, the ladies are putting themselves together," she notes. "And the guys, too."

But her interest goes beyond the cosmetic: she's long been a newshound. "I have the Drudge Report on my opening page," she says of her computer, and back at Berkeley High she wrote for the school paper. Any scoops? "I reviewed candy bars!" she recalls gleefully. "I got to go to the store and buy as many obscure candy bars as possible and eat them and write about them."

Her biggest indulgence these days is decorating her house, a log cabin meets Swiss chalet with a stone chimney. It was once owned by cowboy movie star Randolph Scott and was also once a brothel called the Wagon Wheel Ranch. "It's a funny, funny house," she says. She'll be seeing less of her pad now, thanks to Pepper, but she likes being busy. 'When I have structure, I get so much more done. If I have nothing to do, I won't do anything. I will sit at home and watch TV all day." Her choice TiVo title is The Daily Show ("My number one favorite!"), but when she's in couch potato mode, it's "The View, Regis & Kelly.... I will watch anything on TV! A lot of people are snotty about TV. I'm not."

Case in point: "Did you watch Showdog Moms and Dads on Bravo?" she asks. I was obsessed. And I went through a phase where I watched The Pet Psychic [on Animal Planet]." Another confession: I will watch The Surreal Life marathons [on VHI]. I just can't believe what people are willing to do!"

Romijn's own idea of fun: hiking with her four dogs (I just rescued another one two weeks ago"), hitting flea markets on weekends, dancing with O'Connell to 'sixties lounge tunes or Fatboy Slim at home and picking out rims to give that new Prius some pizzazz ("I thought it needed a little somethin' somethin"'). She's also a healthy sort. "This is how I spend my free time: I go to the health food store and buy pamphlets on colloidal silver." But she's no vegetarian; her favorite restaurant is the steak happy Saddle Peak Lodge. To slay the beef, she does Pilates a few times a week and the treadmill just about every day.

Despite her penchant for rolling on, she does have her pet peeves. "I'm very sensitive about cell phone etiquette. And now BlackBerry etiquette," she says with a laugh. "If you're with someone who's constantly talking on their cell phone, I think it's the rudest thing." Not that she's Ms. Perfect when it comes to keeping the lines of communication open. "I'm not very good about returning phone calls," she admits. "I feel really bad about that."

You can bet that she returns O'Connell's calls pronto, though. "What's not to like about Jerry? Jerry is just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," she says, unable to contain herself. Will they marry soon? "We don't have plans yet. I don't need to have a big wedding. I did that already. Whatever happens is going to be very intimate. Family and friends."

Whatever the future holds in love and career, it's fairly certain Romijn's experience with Pepper Dennis will fare far better than her first job, as a teen, at a gourmet poultry shop in Berkeley. "I can bone a chicken breast in seven seconds flat," she says, proudly. Still, I got fired for stealing chickens out of the rotisserie. When I first got there, the guy who was training me said, 'You can take one of these for lunch if you want.' I was like, 'Really? Every day?' He said, 'Just be cool about it.' So I took one every day. I would go out to my car and turn on my old school hip hop station and cat my chicken. Finally one day the boss came and knocked on my window and said, 'You've been taking chicken every day since you've worked here.' I said, 'They're delicious!' She goes, 'You're fired.'"

Wrongful termination? just wait till Pepper Dennis gets onto that story.

Original article: Emmy Magazine 02/2006

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