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Rebecca Romijn: ‘Ugly Betty’s New Beauty

For months she was shrouded in secrecy, the mystery woman plotting with Ugly Betty diva Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams) to take over the Meade publishing empire, and her Jan. 18 unveiling was a shocker: thanks to the best plastic surgery known to modern medicine, the former (and presumed dead) Alex Meade emerged as Alexis, a blonde knockout played by Rebecca Romijn in a role tailor made for her.

Modeling since she was a teenager, Romijn knows her way around the fashion world, and proved she had a flair for comedy in the charming though short-lived WB series Pepper Dennis. Is it any wonder she actively went after the part?

“I put it out there that I was dying to work on this show. I’d seen the pilot and fell in love with it,” says Romijn. “The tone of it reminded me of Pepper Dennis, which was part of my attraction to it.” Other reasons to sign on: she loved the plotline they came up with for her and the idea of working close to her Los Angeles-area home.

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“I’m in my early thirties and I like to have a little bit more of a regular life, and I think TV is an amazing place to work. There are some really good shows and this is one of them,” she says of the Golden Globe-winning comedy. (Since the Globes aired prior to her big reveal, she couldn’t attend with the cast but joined them to celebrate at the InStyle party.) 

Romijn also liked the idea of joining a large ensemble after carrying Pepper Dennis largely on her own. ‘It was so many hours. I didn’t know I was capable of working so hard,” she says. “But as heartbreaking as it was for me to see that show go away, I learned a lot about me and hopefully people learned about what I can do. And having come from the X-Men franchise, which is also obviously a huge ensemble, it’s nice to be on a team,” she adds. “It’s even nicer to be on a team that wins!”

While Ugly Betty’s version of the fashion world is larger-than-life, elements of it nevertheless ring true to Romijn. “I have a certain amount of expertise in that area,” she acknowledges. “There are things that I have brought to my character that come from my experience in that world,” she says, noting that she has known a transgender or two.

Her wardrobe as Alexis is appropriately fabulous, a mix of designer pieces and custom outfits by show designer Eduardo Castro, who, coincidentally, worked on Pepper Dennis. “I’ve even had some pieces from my Pepper Dennis wardrobe worked in,” notes Romijn, who wasn’t always quite as stylish.

She grew up in Berkeley, CA, “not exactly the fashion capital of the world,” wearing sweatshirts and Birkenstocks. As a college student at UC Santa Cruz, she accompanied a friend to a meeting at a San Francisco modeling agency wearing no makeup, messy hair and baggy jeans. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she confesses, but a savvy scout saw her potential and invited her to Paris. “I finished my final exams and got on a plane. Paris was the finishing school, the polishing I really needed.”

In the late ‘90s, Romijn parlayed her cover girl status to a hosting gig on MTV’s House of Style and TV guest roles on Friends and Just Shoot Me that showcased her comedic flair. Her role as the shape-shifting mutant Mystique in the X-Men franchise multiplied her fan base exponentially, but her involvement in any other films in the series is open to question. “I was signed on for three, so my stint is pretty much done at this point,” she explains. “But see if they decide to do any more.”

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Her next film is a complete change of page from both X-Men and Ugly Betty. In Lake City, which stars Sissy Spacek as a woman about to lose her farm to highway development, she plays a cop and childhood best friend of Spacek’s estranged son (Troy Garrity). “They made my hair brown for it and I didn’t wear any makeup,” Romijn says.

At the moment, she doesn’t have any plans during her hiatus for a film—or a wedding. Engaged to actor Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan), who recently made a guest appearance as a guy Alexis encountered in a bar, Romijn isn’t rushing down the aisle. “We’re still engaged,” she assures. “We’re taking it very leisurely.”

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