On screen and off, Rebecca Romijn radiates exactly the sort of come-hither, allure, upbeat personality and sun kissed, goddessy that could win a gal a free pass' through life. Talk about getting some great numbers in the genetic lottery.
Ten years ago, those glorious natural endowments caught the eye of a modeling scout, which led Romijn - a Berkeley born, Birkenstock-wearing daughter of a pair of freethinkers - to bid farewell to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was studying music, to bank some serious cash striking poses for the camera. Within a year she had a contract with Victoria's Secret, was strutting down runways and smoldering in print ads around the world and landed on People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list.
But it's always been Romijn's differences, her contradictions - her smarts, and refusel to hitch her wagon solely to her abundant pulchritude that make her interesting. Biting her career on the nose, she chided models for 'taking themselves too seriously" and called her sister mannequins "genetic freaks who spend a couple of hours in hair and makeup." Clearly, Romijn was a breed apart.
By the late '90s, she began testing the acting waters ("Frankly, I'm a little bored with [modeling]," she said) and, showing self-deprecating sass, an innate facility with a snappy line of dialogue and a willingness to spoof her five-foot-ten height and glam va-va-voom, she found encouraging success with TV roles on Friends and just Shoot Me. The big boom came in 2000, when she endured hours of tedious application of self adhesive prosthetics and air-brushing of blue paint to play the villainous mutant Mystique in the smash-hit movie version of the Marvel Comics sci-fi franchise, X Men.
Sinice then, she has appeared in Godsend, a cloning thriller with Robert De Niro; played a woman with a shady past opposite Antonio Banderas in Brian DePalma's Fernme Fatale; done another Marvel Comic adaptation, The Punisher; and even survived the much reviled remake of Rollerball. What other ex-supermodel can claim that kind of post runway success? The first X Men sequel, X2 (another big hit), and advance word on X Men 3 (almost a shoo-in for success when it's released on May 26), put her so squarely on the Hollywood map that she also nabbed a major part in The Upside of Anger writer-director Mike Binder's Man About Town, a prickly comedy with Ben Affleck. But first up is Pepper Dennis, a new WB series in which she stars in the role of an ambitious, occasionally self sabotaging TV news reporter.
Don't put Rebecca Romijn in the file that reads "conventional pretty model-actress." Take the home she chose in Calabasas, where she has lived for 12 years and which she used to share with John Stamos, the charming and talented musician whom she married in 1998 and amicably divorced last year. "I found my house when I was hiking with my dog," says Romijn, who is now engaged to actor Jerry O'Connell, one of the stars of the NBC series Crossing Jordan. "For a tong time, it was just a dirt road with a 'For Sale' sign on it that made me wonder, 'What does this road lead to?' Finally, after passing it so many times, I decided to take a took and, as it kept winding back further and further, and my heart was kind of pounding, it opened on this beautiful ranch with this dilapidated little structure on it. I thought, 'This is unbelievable." So I ran home and called the realtor, and was able to see it that day."
When she toured the property, Romijn learned from the realtor that the quirky spread was a former brothel built in the late 1920s. In the '40s and '50s it was owned by actor Randolph Scott, and in the '60s and '70s, the arrange-conductor for Lawrence Welk's band lived there.
Despite - or perhaps because of? - the property's idiosyncratic provenance, Romijn was hooked, even if, as she admits with a sigh, "It required a lot of work, I tried to maintain the character of the house because, let me tell ya, it's quite a character - a cross between a Swiss chalet and an old Wild West set from a cowboy movie. But it's so charming. Really, I don't know what they did in this old place way back when, but it feels fantastic."
Asked wither she's had contact with any of the home's former visitors (or customers), she laughs and says, "Over the years, I've met random people in the most random places who've come up to me and said things like, 'Wow, I've sure partied at your old house.' I was at the Cannes Film Festival one year when this guy came up to me and said, 'You live at the ranch, don't you? One time, I spent a whole night in the fireplace in there.' I was like, 'OK, just stop right there. I don't want to know anything else."'
Now happily partnered with O'Connell, Romijn is more circumspect in talking about her personal life than in the past, but no less friendly. "We got engaged, and sometime this year we're going to get married, but, although he is my number one favorite subject in the world, I don't want to talk about him," she says. "We've decided to be as fiercely protective as possible. I don't want to open it up to anybody's judgment. He's incredibly dynamic and charismatic. He has more energy than anybody I've ever met. He's one of the most inspirational people I've ever met. He makes me laugh so hard."
What makes their relationship work? "We spend a tremendous amount of time together," she says. "And from the most mundane thing like going to the gym right on up, we try and make everything feel like a date. Our favorite thing is finding new restaurants or new parts of town to explore. We take day and weekend trips to places we've never been before. We might go to the Madonna Inn for the night, have a late dinner there and pick out one of those crazy rooms, or go to Palm Springs and avoid the hip, cool restaurants and only eat where locals or people over 80 go. So many people are caught up in trying to go to the 'right' places, and I never ever get caught up in that."
Although the couple enjoys exploring all of Southern California, when it comes to "home," the first and last word is Calabasas. "I just fell in love with it here," Romijn says. "There was a time when I was, like, 'Umm, I'm too far away from the action let's go find something closer to town.' But then, over the years, I really became attached to the area. It's just such a sparkling little jewel of a town. It's clean. The air is clean. It's gorgeous. It's just enough removed from the action but just close enough that it's never an issue. it's become such a safe haven for me. I'm so comfortable and happy here. It's a little bit more of a drive, but it's not like I'm part of a daily grind, so it's fine with me."
But hold up a sec. Now that she's front and center in a series that shoots in L.A., does she want to rethink that "daily grind" business? Laughing, she says, "OK, I take it back. Now that filming has started, I am part of a daily grind. One of the show's producers, who hadn't known my long history of living in Calabasas, said, 'Just you wait and see how difficult the drive is going to get in the second year. Calabasas is going to be history for you.' But once he came out to the house, he said, 'OK, now I understand. You're never going to leave here, are you?' Nope, not ever going to happen."
The rigors of shooting a TV show that rests primarily on her toned shoulders appears to be agreeing with her quite nicely, though. "I've never felt better," she says, looking and sounding like she means it. "I also feel that Pepper Dennis is my first real job. I feel like an adult for the first time. I wanted to have more of a regular job that allowed me to stay in town. As I get older, I no longer want to do the alt or nothing filmmaking career where you're either gone for three months working your butt off, or worrying where the next job is going to come from. It's nice to know what you're going to be doing on Monday morning. I get more done when I have structure in my day. When I don't have structure, I can piss away a day with daytime TV like nobody's business. I mean, I've seen way more Star Jones than I wanted to."
But why this particular show, a midseason replacement one hour comedy pinned on the professional and personal travails of an aspiring anchorwoman with a fractured social life? "I wasn't reading anything like it in the Film world," she says. "When I came across it, I was like, 'Where do I get involved with this? I want to be this girl.' Pepper Dennis is a real broad, a fast talking dame. She's crazy a cross between Mary Ty[er Moore and Jack Tripper. She has a recently separated sister, played by Brooke Burns, who moves in with her and does annoying things like bedazzle the welcome mat. Josh Hopkins plays my love interest, and Pepper does things like have a one-night-stand with him, and then realizes that he's just gotten the gig, the anchor position, she was after. Which drives her crazy. You can't help but root for her. Some people may not like the tone - very tongue-in-cheek, almost kitschy - and I really wanted to do it because it has a lot of amazing dialogue. The tone may be too old-school for some, but I love it and I'm thrilled with it. Hopefully, people will get it."
Something few people will have trouble getting is the sci-fi epic X-Men 3, directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour). It's the first in the mutant superhero series not directed by Bryan Singer, who is credited with making the first two films meaningful to non-comic-book geeks but who passed on the third installment to take on another pet project, the June release Superman Returns. Did Singer's absence rattle the cohesion of the cast, which includes such returnees as Hugh Jackman, Sir Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and James Marsden? "I'm not sure how it went for everybody else," she says. "Because my makeup is so fragile and so precious, they literally keep me in an isolation tent on stage. I didn't even come into much contact with anyone else except lan McKellen. But it's always different when the person at the helm has been changed. Brett Ratner has a tremendous amount of energy. He's very enthusiastic. I think that will 'read' in the end result. The script is fantastic. This one is more eventful than any of them. It's very exciting."
Definitely more exciting than what she went through to become Mystique. "Let's be honest going through all that makeup is a drag," she admits. "I had to rethink my approach and change my expectations toward what that job was about. I realized I'm getting paid on [these movies] to be patient and to have blue stuff stuck all over me and then painted, and the acting is free. I have to keep things in perspective. The challenges are much more varied than when I was modeling, which was the same thing every day: put on the clothes, get in front of the camera. It's only when you get to work with a really creative person like, say, [photographer] Ellen von Unwerth, and you create a whole character during a fantasy day but advertising and being a catalogue model was awful."
It's one of Hollywood's sharpest little ironies that one of the movies' most spectacular-looking performers has found her greatest success getting tangled up in blue as an intergalactic villainess. But given the business's obsession with youth, has the 33-year-old Romijn found any comfort in the fact that she has become an icon playing a role that requires her to look sensational without having to be the age of, say Dakota Fanning?
Laughing, she says, "I think it's important for women to age gracefully, but I think that's difficult for women in Los Angeles. That's part of the reason I try to stay a little bit removed from Los Angeles by being out in Calabasas, even though it may not be much better because there is plastic surgery out here. When you go to Europe, or even back East, older women are a little more graceful about the way they age. You see lines around their eyes that they are not afraid of, and wear with pride. I'm not necessarily for all of it, but who knows how I'll feel in ten years? Keep your options open. I've never lied about my age. D don't get caught up in that at all. I'm proud of my 33 years. I'm proud of everything I've done up until this point. I have no regrets and zero shame about the amount of years I've been on this earth. I've done more than I thought I would do at this point, career wise. I switched over from the fasion world to this world. I've been humbled by a lot of it. I'm not worried about that at all. I'm looking forward to whatever happens next, but I can't judge what other people decide to do for themselves."
With a fulfilling romantic relationship, a great Calabasas residence and a booming career, is it possible that Romijn could grow bored with way she did with modeling? "Acting has remained exciting because it's another set of challenges with every movie," she says. "At this point, I feel like I've got enough experience under my belt. I feel like I deserve to be where I am. I've put a tremendous amount of work into learning from amazing actors that I've worked with. I've taken advantage of those moments, and tried to learn all I can from these people. I feel very lucky to be where I am. Of course, every once in awhile, I feel like, 'Ummm, what am I doing? Oh my God I'm a quack, charlatan - they're going to find me out and tell me not to quit my day job and go back where I came from.' I know a lot of actors feel the same way, though. But, again, when acting starts getting boring, I'll figure out where to go next. Pepper Dennis is my new challenge right now. I never ever, ever want to be bored. Or lazy."
Calabasas Magazine 03/2006