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What a woman!

What a woman!


Rebecca Romijn doesn't want to be a spokeswoman for LGBT people. But with her transgender role on ABC's hit series Ugly Betty, that's what she's become. It couldn't happen to a nicer girl. PART ONE

Like most sensible people in the United States, actress Rebecca Romijn--the 34-year-old former Victoria's Secret model who became a major movie icon as the wicked, blue-skinned Mystique in the X-Men film trilogy--became addicted to Ugly Betty, the hit comedy from ABC about an unfashionable but loving and sensible young Latina woman who finds herself working as the assistant to the editor in chief at a viper pit of a New York City fashion magazine called Mode.

When Romijn's own TV series, Pepper Dennis, wasn't renewed last year, the leggy blond (who divorced John Stamos in 2005 and is very much in love with her fiance, actor Jerry O'Connell) actively went looking for a new gig. "So I begged for a meeting," says the actor. "I came in going, 'I want to be Betty's friend--I want to help Betty.' I mean, who doesn't want to help Betty? But they said, 'We have a different idea.' "

That idea was for Romijn to play Alex, the presumed dead older brother of Mode's editor in chief, Daniel Meade (played by Eric Mabius). The hook? Alex returns as a fully transitioned transsexual now known as Alexis.

"It took me about a second," bubbles the blue-eyed Romijn, "and then I was like, 'I love it.' I don't know any other characters like this on prime-time network TV. She's a revolutionary character, and I think the show is so great with the way they handle anything that has to do with being different."

Judith Light, who plays Alexis and Daniel's mother, Claire Meade, agrees: "It's such a valuable story line because it really gives tremendous support to the transgender community. I love the fact that Alexis has been brave enough to take this stand--I love that she's a transgender. And when you do it in the context of this kind of [light comedic] show, people actually listen and learn."

So until next week's lesson, sit down and have a beer as The Advocate chats with Miss Romijn. It's Friday for the almost six-foot-tall "goofy, giggly giantess" (her words), and she's celebrating having wrapped up another week on the show by ordering her second Dos Equis at Lucy's El Adobe Cafe in Los Angeles. Romijn loves the show's humor, heart, all-inclusive humanity-- and Mark Indelicato, who plays Betty's nephew Justin. (And come on, where else can you see a latently homosexual--and totally cool with that--12-year-old such as Justin?) It is on the topic of Mark/Justin that Advocate writer Bardin and Romijn begin their interview.

ROMIJN: When I first started working here, one of my very first days working here, and I was still getting to know the cast--and I've worked with child actors before, and sometimes you feel like--when they're being home-schooled and they've left any sort of normal semblance of a childhood to be an actor, you feel bad for 'em. You feel like, "Oh, this poor kid is missing out on everything," so Lynn, Mark's mom, was telling me that they had moved out here from Philadelphia and they are living in Burbank [near Los Angeles's Hollywood]. And that his dad is still back East, and she took him out of school and now he's out here--and at first I was like, "Oh, great--another kid having...missing out on normal childhood." And then he turned away to talk to someone else, and then she said out of the corner of her mouth, "I had to get him out of there; you know how kids can be." And all of a sudden she, like in a flash, in an instant, she went from being just another stage mom, to being one of the best moms ever. So she was like...OK, she took him out of a situation that maybe was uncomfortable, where he felt different from everybody at school, maybe he was being made fun of--into a position where he is now pioneering this character for all these kids across the country [who] feel different from everyone else. It's the revolutionary position that she's put him in. and it's so exciting and he's such an awesome person--I mean, she's awesome for doing that, and he is so awesome for--

BARDIN: The only thing I guess I need to know is, How does [Lynn] feel? Well, she said it. No, she, I think--

I know, I know all! I really am sensitive. She knew that he was different, and she was connected to that. And he was connected to that, and it's obviously a bunch of conversations they had about it. I'm sure they talked about it a lot.

What Eric [Mabius] said to me was--'cause that's the first thing I noticed, was the kid character. I was like, "Very interesting and cool!" I was gay at 10. And I would have been grateful for it. Right, huh?

People keep saying it's terrible. And [Mabius] said, "We're not making him do anything." So that's been in The Advocate already. But why do you love hanging with Mark? I just find him very easy to hang out with; he's just such a personable person. He's...well, we like talking about our favorite reality TV. Shows and comparing notes on that. Things like that!

It's nice you can talk to him! Well, see, that's the way I was. I'm not that much different from when I was his age, and [at that age] you're so grateful. That's how you stay young.

Everyone was always older than me. He's handling it so well, and he just hangs out with us day in and day out. This group of adults!

She saved him! I think so.

Fantastic. I know.

Happy to see you do so well. It seems to me that since I met you [for an interview in Elle], April 2002 that issue was. Five years ago, wow.

I was thinking, She was only 29 or 28. You didn't seem like a baby. I know, and I'd already been working [as a model]. I mean, I started working in '91.

You'd done X-Men and everything, but it wasn't fully formed that you were going to be this kick-ass bad girl. Because that's kind of what your persona is at this point-- I think 'cause I'm a giantess.

But the funny thing is that, unless you've changed dramatically, in real life you're actually a good girl. I remember you telling me stories about, like, "In modeling days nobody asked me to do any coke!" Nobody asked me to do any drugs! Tyra [Banks] and I would sit reading excerpts out of that Michael Gross book, the supermodel book that he wrote [published in 1995, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women]. And it was all these stories of all these girls doing all these drugs on these jobs--we'd be like, "Has anybody ever offered you drugs? What's the matter with us?" Model nerdettes.

And they just knew it somehow. It's true. You know how party people can sniff each other out. I did go through a partying have to get your ya-yas out at some point.

You do. And you have to continue to with-- In the most responsible way, yes. It's much better to do it--

Everything in moderation, including moderation. I love it!

This is my big spin for this particular piece: You've sealed the deal as a full-on icon of the LGBT community because you've covered the bases now. Because you played lesbian and bi in Femme Fatale. Then we have Mystique, who is actually a lesbian [in X-Men]-- True.

--Which is not brought up in the films, but it is in the comic books. Or is she bi? Well, I'm bi [as Mystique], I think. Sir Ian [McKellen]...Ian and I used to talk about the fact that our characters had once been lovers at some point.

Magneto...I have all these sci-fi nerd friends. So do I! They come out of the woodwork when you're in those movies!

I just read that Mystique in the comic books had this lover, Destiny. That was never in the film. It was never in the films. In fact, I didn't even know that until the second or third one. It was brought to my attention a little late in the game. I was the last to know. But anyway, yeah, Ian and I did...we did assume that our characters had at some point been lovers, and we sort of layered in that level of some sort of sexual...just for ourselves.

And then you come on as Alexis the transgender person [on Ugly Betty]. So what's that all about? What's the deal, Rebecca? [Laughs] I guess I like sexually ambiguous characters! I'm drawn to that! It's true that I do find sexual ambiguity kind of interesting.

And they're all your strongest roles. I haven't seen Godsend, I didn't see Rollerball. But-- Don't worry about it, you don't need to watch those.

I did find that you had CGI-made nipples on you at some point. Somebody had. I don't know if it was the director or somebody in special effects, but I did put in a call about that. Oy...

You just think you were drawn to be sexually ambiguous. I think it's interesting, yeah. I think it's interesting to play sexual ambiguity. I think it's something that a lot...I think a lot of people question themselves all the time. Whether or not they call themselves straight or gay, I think everybody is a little bit confused to exactly what it is and to which degree it goes. And yeah, I've been really happy to play those kinds of characters. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think everybody goes there.

Do you feel this icon thing from people, though, from-- I went to a reading in New York a couple...about a year ago, and [drag performer] Lypsinka was hosting it. And she actually called me out at the end of the thing; she announced that I was there and said "I want everybody to say hello to Rebecca, who's sitting in the front row." And I was so embarrassed but so kind of blown away 'cause I had no idea--

Did she frame it as...what? "You're one of our heroines"? Yeah, basically. I can't remember the words that she used, but it was something like that. She may have even said it from a more personal standpoint: "Somebody who I think is amazing, who deserves all of our hellos." Please...I mean, she called everybody's was something at Christmastime, it was...I can't remember. But I was shocked and thrilled.

Do you feel love for the gay community? Well, I do have a lot of love for the gay community. Yeah.

Beginning with your aunts? Beginning with my aunts and several other close family members. I grew up in Berkeley [California]. I grew up in a very queer family, I really did. And then, and now I've met Jerry who grew up in [the New York City neighborhood] Chelsea--

I was trying not to snort. Surrounded by drag queens?

Did he really grow up in Chelsea? Seventeenth Street. Right there, and he has amazing stories about, you know, this one couple that lived upstairs from him who was I think an abusive couple. And of them would show up at his mother's door crying: "Can I sit down?" Like they had--there was...he's very, very, very sympathetic to the community. He grew up surrounded by--

You've got a very gay-friendly guy. Very. And then he moved to West Hollywood when he came out here. Jerry! Well, apparently, he's only comfortable when surrounded by the gays, I guess. [Laughs]

When did you first put together that your aunts were gay? When I was about 10. Because it was actually a little tough. And my aunts are definitely going to be reading this--

Do they like to be mentioned in the press? I actually asked them if it was OK, and they said, "Please do! Please do!" Because they both had artificial insemination--they've been together for 25 years. I was 10, she was with somebody for years before that who I also adored. And it was actually my best friend who brought it to my attention, one of my childhood best friends who said her mom had pointed it out to her. Her mom had told her, and she was the one that spelled it out for me, and kind of made it...spelled it out in a not so nice way. And I was like, "Huh...why would you ever say that [in such an ugly manner] about my aunt? She's awesome!" She practically--outside of my mother--she was the second woman I was closest to. She lived a block away. And then when she met Laurel, her partner, they both had kids through artificial insemination; they each carried, two years apart, and they used the same sperm donor, so the boys are actually blood-related to one another. And when they did it, they did it 19 and 17 years ago, so they were sort of pioneers in that area. So they've actually done a tremendous amount of press for what they've been through all on their own. They've been interviewed by Life magazine, and by, where I grew up, I mean Berkeley is a very--Berkeley and San Francisco and Oakland.

Totally Left towns. Totally Left and very gay-friendly. And at first when I was a kid, I'd worry about my poor cousins growing up and "How are they going to explain to people that they have two mommies?" Well, guess what! Everybody has two mommies and two daddies and one mommy and one daddy in Berkeley. I love it.

I love that in an Advocate interview [from 2003], when you revealed that you have gay aunts, the interviewer was surprised, then you said, "Really? Doesn't everybody?" It's true. And a gay uncle and a bi aunt. It just--full-on queer family.

How do you feel about the gay marriage thing? What's the problem? My big question is, I don't understand...unless people are being forced to marry, why should anybody have a problem with it? If two people love each other, they should have absolutely the same rights as anyone else who loves each other. I don't know! But that's another thing: I keep finding myself speaking for this community that I'm technically not really--

But you're an icon of it, you are-- Well, but I don't want to be the official spokesperson--especially for transgenders. Because that's why--I've been finding myself speaking for the transgender community, and I'm not the spokesperson. But--of course I'm very sympathetic with the community.

I'll tell you--USA Today wanted me and Alexis Arquette to sit down and interview each other. And at first I was like, "Yeah, yeah!" Alexis seems so nice, and I am playing Alexis, and it's funny. And I'm really good friends with Patricia [Arquette, the actor who's Alexis's sibling], so it'll be great to meet Alexis. And then actually I thought about it a little bit, and I went, First of all, Alexis hadn't made the full transition. So Alexis is just a drag queen. My point being that, like, when Eric McCormack started playing Will on Will & Grace, nobody sat him down, a gay guy, to talk about--and technically I'm playing a transgender, not a drag queen, not a transvestite--it doesn't mesh out.

But you've become a representative of the transgendered-- Happily!

Well, how did Betty happen for you? First of all, I fell madly in love with the pilot very, very early on. And I was looking for a job in TV; I love working in TV, and last year I was doing this show Pepper Dennis. And hour-long TV is not for the faint of heart. It tests you as a human being. I mean, it's crazy. It's so much work! It's so much work. And I don't care how much Royal Academy Shakespeare in the Park training you've had; nothing prepares you for hour-long television. It's just--it's physical and mental--it requires so much energy. Like 20-hour days--

Whole show on your back... That's why this worked out so beautifully, is that--I get to be a part of an ensemble, and I love that.

And you get to live in town and not--is that why you like TV too, 'cause you don't have to travel around and leave your life? Now that I'm getting closer to my mid your 20s it's OK to pick up and spend four months in Canada every other month and come back and figure out how to pick up where your life left off. Literally, right around 31 it was like, this was a grown-up decision that I made. I wanted to, like, find a job that was a job and stay here in town, and be able to go to my own home at night, and be with my dogs, and have my relationship and have some sort of--

You were never going for this modeling life-- No, I grew up a theater geek. I grew up in Gilbert and Sullivan and singing and all the shows in high school. And once I started modeling it was what everybody was about to...every model that I ever met was about to be the next big movie star.

Cindy Crawford did her movie-- I mean, come on, it was embarrassing to watch. I was embarrassed for anybody that ever said they were taking acting lessons and were going to be the next big star. I was like, it's the last thing--I will never ever, ever go there. And then looked what happened--all these opportunities just started presenting themselves and...

Also, I'm professional, I'm hard-working, I really love being challenged, and it's been a blast.

How'd they pitch [Ugly Betty] to you? Well, I went in, I actually begged for a meeting with them, initially. 'Cause I really...when I came in there going "I want to be Betty's friend, I want to help Betty, who doesn't want to help Betty?" and they said, "OK, well, we have a different idea," that's when they pitched this to me. And it took me a second, and I was like, "I love it." I don't know any other characters like that on prime-time network television. Again, another revolutionary character on prime-time TV. And I just think the show is so great with the way they handle anything that has to do with being different from anyone else.

Like, "Get over the bullshit"--the show is so terribly gay-friendly. And didn't sugarcoat that coming-out episode at all. Like actually told the true story of what happens to a lot of people when they come out to their family.

And both sides of it, because your mother is accepting you and your dad is not. Exactly. So a lot of the show has a lot to do with rejection. And how a person handles rejection is really...reveals who you are as a human being, sort of. And some people handle it better than others or in different ways than others. And obviously Alexis is being rejected by her father.

She's no victim! No!

Which I love. Because you're not into playing victims, aren't ya? Not real interested? No. I'm more into getting it done.

Did you do research or anything on it? I have two friends who are transgenders.

I don't. You don't? Actually, one I didn't even know [they were transgender] until fairly recently. Somebody said, "Yeah, don't you remember so-and-so?" She was a makeup artist I used to work with a lot.

As a she? I had no idea! And I used to work with her for three or four years--I worked with her fairly often. And I have another friend. And it's a very sensitive subject. We've never talked about it. But she went through her transition in 1970 or something. She's been a woman way longer than she's been a man. And people keep on saying...whenever people ask me about playing this part, they say, "How does it feel to play a man?" And I'm like, "I'm not playing a man! I'm not playing a man!" And every choice that I make for this character, I think about my friend, and I would never want to offend her.

Calpernia [Addams, a transgender Los Angeles actor and activist], she's happy with the role, and she specifically told me, "I have no problems with the character at all. And most importantly, I'm happy that she's being played by a woman." She says, "Because it drives me crazy that people don't understand that I'm not a man!" I understand that. I understand that people who go through that transition have felt like they were in the wrong body since a very, very early age. And obviously Alex had a completely hidden life where he completely connected to the female side of him. And obviously the other question that gets begged is, Was Alex gay or was Alex into women? So we're actually trying to figure this out.

'Cause you and Daniel did fight over the same women, apparently. Right. I think Alex is bi. I think Alex [has been] looking for love wherever he could get it. That's what I think. And I think still.

And he has problematic parents. Right.

What do you think of your male counterpart? Has he been shown besides his flashbacks last week? No, he's only been shown in flashback, and they initially cast him just for a photograph. And then they had that flashback scene where we were running...I actually do think they did a good job, with his face and everything.

But do you feel responsibility around the character? Yes. They've been so responsible with the way that they've written the character also that there's been enough room for me to play with some things. But they've never written anything where I'm like, "No! This woman would never do that!" The only thing I had a problem with was when Wilhelmina gave up her office and let me have it. In the script it said, "Alexis's office, formerly Wilhelmina's office, is now decorated in beige, neutral, shabby chic."

What? I know! I went, "What? That's awful." So then I came in and luckily they build these sets overnight literally, so I came in the next day and [Ugly Betty set designer] Mark Worthington--

--Who ended up designing your office in the Hollywood Regency style-- Talked to Mark Worthington about it 'cause he actually has the...I can't actually...he said it was somebody from the '40s that they based it on, but the way that they lit it, it's all hot-pink and black--it looks like hot! Like a Victoria's Secret!

She's returned to her roots, ladies and gentlemen! I'm like, "This is more like it!" I was glad. They have so many great people working in this cast and crew. Mark Worthington--yeah, the set designer saw it and said, "I don't even know where to begin with this beige, neutral, shabby chic." Awful. And I even asked one of the writers about it, and they're like, "We didn't know--we knew Mark Worthington would take care of it!"

I really was astounded at how that office...'cause I worked in one for a long time. [It] Really flows like an office. Very reminiscent. Kind of freaky. Maybe Mark worked on those offices too.

'Cause nobody in this day and age has such glam offices--they just don't, there's not money. That is another reason why this show is so gay-friendly. It's fun to look at. Eye candy everywhere. Between the wardrobe and the sets and the cast themselves.

How much of your own life experience do you use to relate to Alexis? I do pick moments here and there where--especially when I'm having scenes with [her brother] scenes. And to be honest with you, I don't have a brother, I have a sister. She's two years younger. But when I was thinking about, like early on especially, the thing about a lot of my scenes with Daniel, the brother scenes, I was inspired by Jerry and his brother stories. Jerry and his brother Charlie, like they--their brother stories and their growing up together, their rivalries and their stories, I've been totally inspired by a combination of my own personal experiences with my friends who are transgender and Jerry and his brother stories.

I'm thrilled that you have transgender stories in your own life. Well, my research has been my own personal experience.

Did you talk to them before? No, it's a sensitive subject. And, actually, I have met a couple of amazing people in the last few weeks who have recently made the transition. This one woman who I met last week--

Happenstance? No, we were invited to air one of our episodes at the Paley [Television] Festival, which is the [Directors Guild of America] invites like five shows to do like a Q&A after the episode and they sell tickets to the public. So I think it's 1,000 tickets, and it's sold-out.

Rebecca, you're on a huge hit show now, honey. And afterwards we all went and met with people. [Both laugh] I know. I can't believe that I'm a show that my friends actually watch. I've never experienced that before! Most people say, "Well, I don't watch TV!" That just means they don't watch the show that you're doing.

So now you'll talk to your friends and they'll go, "Oh, that's a great episode!" They'll really want to call me and talk to me about it. I'm like, I've never experienced this! This is new.

No one called you about Rollerball? Can you believe it? Not one person! [Laughs] But anyway, after the Paley Festival we met with a lot of the audience members, and this woman came up to me--this fresh-faced, young, freckled-face, brown-haired, no makeup, little glasses--and introduced herself. And said "Thank you for playing this role--I think you're doing a wonderful job. I just made my transition a year ago." And I never in a million years would have guessed [that she had ever been a man]. I couldn't believe it. And she was so beautiful, and so soft-spoken and so shy.

Such a woman? And such a woman. It just really warmed my heart.

OK, let's talk abut the Jimmy Kimmel affair, in which he riffed on the idea that no one could possibly mistake you for a transsexual. What was it about? Were you horrified as the interview was going on? No. I thought it was completely within the realm of Jimmy's humor. I mean, we all know Jimmy's humor. Jimmy hosted a show called The Man Show for a long time. I think to a certain extent people get a little PC-sensitive. I understand that.

Besides the punch line about Jerry cutting "it" off with an ax if you were a transsexual. That's what I was saying, that I think that's what it sort of turned into.

'Cause it reminded me of like...'cause he chose all the masculine manly transes [as examples]; they're all Renee Richards. Well, at the end of it when he showed that picture of Larry King wearing makeup, he showed Renee Richards--he Amanda Lepore, another one, and then Larry King in full makeup where somebody had obviously painted it on and superimposed. And that was supposed to be the big laugh? Well, a week before I went on Jimmy Kimmel he was on his girlfriend Sarah Silverman's show playing a waitress in full drag.

Jimmy Kimmel is Sarah Silverman's boyfriend? Yes. Doesn't that change your opinion about him a little bit?

That has changed my opinion hugely. Both of them--and they're madly in love. They're a great couple. And he played a waitress on her show the week before in full-on drag. And he and I actually have the same publicist. So when my publicist called me the next day and said hey--the way he started it was, "Were you uncomfortable with the way the questioning went in that interview last night with Jimmy?" And I was like, "No, not at all, why?" "Because apparently Brad is all up in arms about the way Jimmy handled that situation." I was like, "Oh, I get it." Well--he would have fixed it by replacing that picture of Larry King in full makeup from a close-up of him on Sarah's show in drag. That would have fixed the whole bit. Nobody would have ever come down on him if he'd done that. Or, I said, apologize [on another show] and attach a picture from that show.

So how did it end? I don't think it did. I think it just like--

To you it's a tempest in the teapot. Kind of. I understand, you're not supposed to...especially taking an ax to--I understand that, I get it. At the same time, it's Jimmy's humor and--

And in the context, it may read worse than it sounds. Did you talk to Jimmy about it? No.

Did you see The Aristocrats? Yes.

That's when I was like, "Who is this chick [Sarah Silverman]?" I knew about her a long time ago. I adore the two of them.

She's a genius. She's genius. And you know what, quite frankly, so is he. He is too. Comedians--they don''s all fair game. You have to lighten up about these things. Again, he would have fixed the whole bit if he'd just put a picture of him in full drag.

Has there been dialogue with anyone on the set due to your playing a transsexual? No. It's all about the work. They write the words for us, and it's a lot of work. it's very fast-paced, and as an actor, when you're working on an hour-long program, all you can do is just be as present in the moment as possible. And so we go with whatever is happening in the scene, and that is--I mean, obviously in broad strokes, we make jokes, we laugh, we have a good time, coming up with ideas and whatnot. But I wouldn't say that we sit there and ponder the plot. But the one thing I am getting a little crazy hearing: The one thing I keep getting is, like, my friend in New York says that the only thing that he's heard from a lot of his friends--

The transgender friend? No, just another friend. The one thing that he keeps hearing people saying is that there's no way that she could ever have been a man!

'Cause she's so pretty. Yeah.

And you're saying, you just told about the girl from the event last week. I mean, come on! I've met drag queens girlier than I am! You know, you have too! Come on!

You have a butch factor, for sure. That's not to say that all lesbians are butch, [not] in the least. Exactly. See, you have to be just as careful as me. And as Jimmy Kimmel. I mean, come on! You can't use the [term] "fag hag"? I want to be a fag hag!

You are. Did you know that it was our Elle piece that started this whole thing about you experimenting with women? That's from us. I didn't until I got these clips yesterday. I know. I have never lived it down. I didn't mean it to be some crazy...I didn't think it was that big of a deal to say.

It wasn't. Right?

This happened before with other things, where I'd forget about controversial things in my pieces 'cause I'd moved on. And it wasn't until I get reassigned with Rebecca Romijn and I'm reading these clips and I'm like--and I hadn't reread the piece yet, and I thought, That's from my piece. And you'd hear about it over and over. It got--believe me, I've been asked about it a lot. To the point where I'm like, "I said that a long time ago, like another interview--go read it. You can quote that if you want." People make too big a deal out of it. It's the same reason I would never do nudity in this country. It's--I don't have a problem with nudity, but the rest of the country does. If everybody is going to make such a big deal out of it, then I don't want to do it. if nobody made a big deal out of it, it'd be easy to do, and [the lesbian "homework"] would be easy to talk about.

I was shocked how many places that quote turned up. It got taken to--it was picked up by people who were irresponsible with that information.

And it was such a throwaway line. I know. And between you and me, it's a throwaway, not very important thing to say. But, in the context of like the Maxims and the Stuff magazines of the world, it takes on a whole new meaning. It's like, "OK, back off, I'm not talking about that." It gets taken into a completely different direction when that subject is handled irresponsibly. It remains no big deal to me.

Well, I wanted to say, which Hollywood hotties--if you were to do more homework--would you... [Laughs] Oh, no, no, no, no. Sorry, I would love to, but I can't.

Isn't that a drag? I only have eyes for Jerry.

Which is the longest engagement in history, by the way. I know, right? God forbid somebody take time to get to know each other. I mean, seriously.

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