12-2007: Inland Empire

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What a difference a year makes! A little less than 12 months ago Rebecca Romijn was single, unemployed, and undisputedly 100 percent female. Now, as 2007 draws to a close, she is happily married, working steadily (on one of TVs biggest hits, no less), and, brace yourself, the unlikely poster child for the international transgender community. All things considered, the winsome 35-year-old model-turned-actress says she is having the time of her life.

But before we go any further, let's clear up the whole "transgender" thing. If you don't watch ABC's "Ugly Betty" the breakout television hit that has given Romijn her current notoriety, all you need to know is that Betty, our heroine, works at Mode, a top fashion magazine. Her boss, Daniel, is the son of the magazine's owner and sole heir to the publishing dynasty, thanks to the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, Alex (he vanished before the show began).

But four months after the series premiered, producers of the already unconventional comedy decided to resurrect Alex, but with a gender bending twist. Alex reappeared as Alexis, a fully transitioned (and stunningly beautiful) transsexual. Romijn, a statuesque 511 ", stepped into the part effortlessly and, before long, transgendered people worldwide made her their icon (despite their initial indignation that a real transgender actress was not given the part).

File this unlikely turn of events under "Be Careful What You Wish For." Romijn, it turns out, had been a huge fan of "Ugly Betty" and, after her own series, "Pepper Dennis," flopped, she wasted no time looking for a new gig. Romijn says she "begged for a meeting." She says she went to show executives and asked to be Betty's friend because she wanted to help Betty. "I mean, who doesn't want to help Betty?" But the producers had a different idea.

Romijn was admittedly caught off guard when she learned about the part of Alexis (and the parts that were missing!). "It took me about a second," she laughs, "and then I was like, 'I love it.' I don't know any other character like this on prime time network TV.'

Romijn says playing Alexis for the past year has "been a blast." She is proud of how the writers have given Alexis dignity while at the same time being honest about the rejection that many transgenders face from their own families. Her only gripe is with the well meaning but ignorant people who ask her, "how does it feel to play a man?" She responds with, "I'm not playing a man!" and points out that she's playing a woman Alexis, who loves being a woman, as does Romijn.

"She's very girly and so am I. But she's also really lonely. That's where we're different," she tells an interviewer.

Oh, there's one more thing you may not want to say to Romijn. Don't tell her she's too feminine to play a transgender, even if you mean it as a compliment. "The one thing I am getting a little crazy hearing is that there's no way that she [Alexis] could ever have been a man! I mean, come on! I've met drag queens girlier than I am!" We'll just have to trust her on that.

Since most entertainment reporters apparently haven't met "real" transgenders, Romijn has occasionally found herself designated the unofficial "official" spokesperson for transgenders. It's a position she neither seeks nor wants, though she says she is ,"very sympathetic with the community"

The actress has two close friends who are transgender, including a makeup artist whom she worked with for nearly four years before discovering that "she" had once been a "he." They never talked about it, but Romijn says, "She's been a woman way longer than she's been a man. And every choice that I make for this character, I think about my friend." Switching genders is no small decision, and she would never want to offend one of her friends. As happy as she is being part of the "Ugly Betty" ensemble, Romijn is discovering that hour long TV is not for the faint of heart. it's a lot of work, both physically and mentally, and requires so much energy, "like 20 hour days."

Case in point: last July [2007, RRF] she scarcely had time to get out of her wedding dress and onto the set after marrying longtime boyfriend (and fellow actor) Jerry O'Connell in a simple ceremony at their home in Calabasas. The wedding was on a Saturday, and Romijn was back at work the following Monday. Not that she's complaining. The couple took their honeymoon in June, which Romijn says worked out perfectly.

'We got to spend a lot of time together before we got married, and we got to get married with a tan," Romijn says.

The couple met in the fall of 2004 when Romijn and a friend were working on a documentary about the choreographed fountains at Las Vegas's Bellagio Hotel and Casino. They met Jerry at a party and told him they were making the documentary and he said, "I want to be the boom operator!' He was totally game," Romijn says.

Her relationship with O'Connell developed in a "really nice, organic way. The timing was perfect. I wasn't attached to anyone and neither was he. We became friends; we really had fun." Somehow, despite the media obsession with each and every celebrity romance, Romijn and O'Connell managed to keep their dating under the radar, even from his friends, whom she got to know "way later. We didn't go anywhere in public together. We wanted it to be just ours for as long as possible. It was that precious to us. So he told his friends he was dating a daytime soap opera actress. They kept referring to me as 'Daytime."'

When it came time for the proposal, O'Connell got down on one knee and impressed his bride to be with what she describes as a very private and very sweet moment. "He's very salt-of-the-earth, Jerry)," Romijn says. "There's nothing fancy about him. He just keeps it real. When I realized how real he was, that's when I realized it would work out for us." Planning their wedding turned out to be an exercise in flexibility. They were going to elope, Romijn says, and then planned to go to City Hall, but finally decided to have a party with their friends at home.

Romijn is downright endearing when she talks about how she and O'Connell like to spend time together. Their favorite pastime is badminton. Not golf at a chi chi country club or sailing out of Malibu. Nope, Mr. and Mrs. O'Connell are certified badminton addicts. But when they're really feeling edgy, they go tandem bike riding. Romijn says the bicycle built for two is a real eye opener - great couples therapy. She notes there are "all sorts of trust issue that are happening when you're the one in the back. You can't steer, you can't brake, and you can't see ahead of you. All you can do is pedal." She says the first couple of times out on the bike, O'Connell was doing "dumb boy stuff' like going over small jumps. She told him if he made the ride scary, she wouldn't go along any more.

But the newlyweds have precious little time to be popping tandem wheelies. O'Connell, who played Detective Hoyt as a series regular on the NBC procedural "Crossing Jordan," segued right into another series this fall. He was cast as a recently divorced playboy in the ABC comedy " Carpoolers. " The part requires him to remove his wedding band daily during filming, and the devoted husband began to worry he was going to lose it. Like the grown up Boy Scout the affable actor resembles, O'Connell came up with a surefire way to keep track of the precious metal he safety pins it to his underwear, he says. In one of "Carpoolers first episodes, Romijn not only visited the set, she got to play O'Connell's free spirited ex wife. It's only fair, considering O'Connell had previously guest starred on "Ugly Berry" as a jock who picks up Romijn's character, Alexis.

Now that the couple is busy working on their respective shows, they are doubling efforts to maintain their quiet home life, disturbed only by the yapping of their four beloved dogs. They live in a quiet, private spot in Southern California that suited Romijn, who comes from Northern California, just fine.

'When 1 found it, it seemed like the only place I wanted to live in Southern California," she says.

if only her alter ego, Alexis, could find true love and the kind of serenity that Romijn has found in real life. But then, not only would that not be very dramatic, it would be way too conventional for a show like "Ugly Berry."

As Romijn notes, it will take a very special person to take Alexis on as a love interest. "I'm holding out for that special someone for her," she says.

Original article: Inland Empire December 2007

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