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She wants you to laugh at her new career turn

Beautiful, sure. But Rebecca Romijn has a penchant for pratfalls.

April 04, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

She's an actress who loves reality TV -- a Hollywood no-no -- she's happy to spill herself gracelessly to the ground and she's not afraid to eat meatloaf in public.

As a supermodel, as the "X-Men's" Mystique and now as television's "Pepper Dennis," Rebecca Romijn is used to turning heads, but she's no image-is-everything starlet archetype. Just listen to her talk about meeting one of her fans.

"I got to meet Chris Daughtry!" said a star-struck Romijn of the "American Idol" alternative rocker who had asked to meet her. "He's got the goods. He's just so consistently phenomenal." Romijn had been in her trailer, getting her hair and makeup done when Daughtry, who had been visiting the Fox lot where "Pepper Dennis" shoots, stopped in. As it turns out, "American Idol" is one of her favorite shows and Daughtry is one of her top picks. (Elliott, Mandisa and Paris: She likes you too).

"He really wanted to meet Mystique and sadly I was sitting there," Romijn said. "I had wet hair and no makeup and I'm like, 'Great, now he's looking at my zits. I'm sure this is really living up to all of his fantasies right now.' "

Not only does Romijn prefer reality television over scripted programming, she breezily declares that "the Idols are the biggest celebrities in the country right now" in between mouthfuls of meatloaf at Kate Mantilini in Woodland Hills. She and fiance Jerry O'Connell ("Crossing Jordan") also turn to Bravo's reality lineup and Comedy Central's "Drawn Together" for most of their TV viewing ("I'm not snobby about it. I'm not precious like that. I just like to be entertained, period").

Starting today, it will be Romijn's turn to entertain viewers on a weekly basis -- and luckily for her -- "Pepper Dennis" will not go head-to-head with the juggernaut singing competition she likes so much. Airing on the WB at 9 p.m. and jostling to land a time slot on the new CW in the fall, "Pepper Dennis" is a dramedy about a driven broadcast journalist, her lack of a love life, her propensity toward clumsiness and alliteration, and her relationship with her younger sister, Kathy (Brooke Burns).

"This girl is crazy. This girl is funny. She's such an intricate character," said Romijn, 33. "She's this brave, outspoken, go get 'em-type of girl, but she's also this insecure little girl. I think of her as a cross between my mom and myself when I was a kid."

Romijn is probably best known for her portrayal of evil blue mutant Mystique, which she reprises in "X-Men: The Last Stand" in May. But comedy is in her blood, which she discovered in her first TV gig on an episode of "Friends" and demonstrated again later on a three-episode arc of "Just Shoot Me." If it doesn't seem likely that a poised supermodel would be given to pratfalls, Romijn proves otherwise as she falls in puddles in her designer suits, chases interview subjects in stiletto heels and doesn't let getting stuck in a revolving door get in the way of interviewing the mayor.

"Rebecca, much like Pepper, takes her job very seriously, but she doesn't take herself seriously," said show co-creator Aaron Harberts. "A lot of actors don't like to play the fool. They feel it weakens them in some way, but Rebecca gets power from it. So when bad things are happening to Pepper, or humiliating things are happening to Pepper, she rolls with it. And because she's able to throw herself in all the way, it makes the gags work." During a scene filmed a week ago, Pepper is caught by colleague/crush Charlie Babcock (Josh Hopkins) in the bathroom trying on a bikini, so she conceals her body with toilet seat covers. But then in a moment of empowerment -- improvised by the actress -- she takes off the covers and strides through the newsroom, forgetting to remove one from her rear end.

"She has a great instinct for ad-libs," Harberts said. "She's really a collaborator on set, and we didn't expect that."

Harberts and co-creator Gretchen Berg, who landed their first writing job as partners on "Beverly Hills, 90210" in 1998, were surprised when they received a call from the William Morris Agency last year that Romijn had read the pilot script and was interested in portraying Pepper.

"We met with her and you could just tell by the way she was responding," Berg said. "The stuff we were considering taking out of the script because we thought no one would get it were some of her favorite moments. We had to go with her."

One of the actresses Harberts and Berg had actually had in mind for the role was Burns, whom they had worked with on "North Shore." Burns was asked to consider the part in case Romijn ended up turning it down, but Burns had other ideas.

"I read the script and I called them right back and I said I am in love with Kathy Dinkle [Pepper's sister]," Burns said. "Why don't I ever get the character roles? I would love to do a really quirky, comedic character. She's ever optimistic. She's a saint. She is always wanting to help people, even when people don't want her to help. Just the name makes me laugh."

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