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Rebecca Gayheart Talks

Rebecca Gayheart

“I swore I would never be with another actor… You know, ‘Make a plan, hear God laugh!’”

By: EC Gladstone

Geoffrey Rush is buzzing around the crowded patio. Sean Penn is in the lobby talking on his cell and scarfing down a salad. Suits are doing deals everywhere. There’s no doubt that we’re in Hollywood, and Oscar season is heating up. Nevertheless, there is always an element of escape at the storied hotel Chateau Marmont. Which is why Rebecca Gayheart likes to lunch here.

“I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather go,” she says, as a waiter brings menus and a double-shot espresso. “I mean, I love the food at the Ivy, but I can’t take the scene in front.” Though Rebecca has an important role to promote, in the new Fox-TV show “Vanished,” the actress has no need for the sort of attention that the paparazzi camped outside Tinseltown’s most infamous eatery bring. And Gayheart certainly isn’t interested in putting on airs: she arrives early, by herself (no handlers, no publicists), parking on the street, and dressing down in slim grey jeans and a big comfy black sweater.

Despite this, Rebecca maintains an irresistible glow – the same that made her a natural “Noxema girl” back in the early ’90s and yet, at the opposite of the spectrum, gave flight to her fear in Scream 2.

That teen popcorn flick is one of several (Urban Legend, Jawbreaker) for which Gayheart is probably best known – along with a stint on ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ as Luke Perry’s bride. But Rebecca’s hoping to change that now. Though she’s actually worked steadily for the past 15 years (with one significant hiatus), the actress sees her portrayal of Judy Nash in the Atlanta-set ‘Vanished’ as “my first ‘adult’ role.

“She’s ambitious and aggressive, she’s really smart, really clever,” Gayheart says of her investigative journalist character, “and she’s not afraid to use her sexuality.” No kidding — viewers got to see her in the altogether (or as much of that as a primetime network show allows) on the very first show. “It’s very layered,” she adds, of a part important enough to get her to straighten her naturally curly hair. I’m enjoying myself.”

Indeed, at 35 (and wearing it well), Gayheart seems to be the rare maturing “teen queen” who is getting better with age. “When you get older, you realize where you are is where you’re supposed to be,” she says, “you’re not chasing something, you know?” Maybe that’s because Rebecca’s found what most women would envy: a happy marriage to fellow actor Eric Dane, none other than ‘Gray’s Anatomy’s own Dr. McSteamy.

“I swore I would never be with another actor,” Rebecca laughs, “because it just seems so typical. You know, ‘Make a plan, hear God laugh!’ But he’s fantastic, the greatest guy in the world,” even though, she admits, “he’s not romantic. But he tries for me.”

Their pairing at least has the scent of romance—or romantic comedy. After being introduced by a mutual friend, Rebecca and Eric kept running into each other with other random pals they had in common. “Finally he just asked me out,” she sighs. “It took a while. I was like, ‘What’s wrong with this guy? I’m giving him every signal I can!’” The pair ended up dating steadily for ten months. Then, after forcing themselves to take a two week break, they got together for dinner, realized “this is it,” and decided to elope immediately to Las Vegas.

“Otherwise, I would’ve talked myself out of it somehow,” she says. Catching literally the last flight of the night, they convinced a cabbie to help them find the only chapel willing to do the ceremony at that late hour without a license in hand. “We paid Sam our cab driver fifty bucks to be our best man…got married, checked into the Bellagio for the night, woke up, got the license, and came home,” she laughs. “It was so much fun.”

So far, it’s been nothing but happily ever after. “We’re very compatible,” she says with satisfaction. “We just enjoy the simple things together. It’s about friends, family, good food, good times, nothing complicated.” While some might consider their actor-heavy crowd to be glamorous, “it doesn’t feel like that because we’re not out at [Hollywood uber-hotspot] Hyde every night, we’re at home playing Scrabble.”

In their limited down-time, Rebecca has been taking lessons to play golf with Eric, while Eric has picked up her passion for craps (and jetting to Vegas to play!). Gayheart, who was raised Southern Baptist, is considering conversion to Dane’s Judaism. “He’s not pushing me,” but “I just love all the traditions,” she says, launching into a Hebrew prayer, then gushing about brisket and macaroons. Eric has even become good friends with Gayheart’s ex-fiancee, Brett Ratner (who, by a twist of fate, directed Dane in X-Men 3).

“We’re family. We raised each other,” says Gayheart of Ratner, whom she met in gritty downtown New York, when she was a teen model and he, an NYU-aspiring film director. It was only 15-year-old Rebecca’s third day in the city, having been drafted by the Elite agency on a shopping trip in Lexington, Kentucky. Gayheart had grown up in tiny Pine Top, where her father Curtis is a miner, and her mother Floneva throws Mary Kay-style makeup parties. A middle child of four, Rebecca took piano lessons and from the age of five dreamed of being on the big screen.

“I was just always so sucked in to movies and characters,” she says. “I think it’s the escape from yourself, being someone else, that’s so attractive to me.” While Gayheart claims she was “a little neglected” as a kid, she nevertheless paints an idyllic picture of her parents.

“My mom and dad are amazing people, They’ve been married for 40 years. My dad is just a hardworking, honest, good guy, and he’s got just a sense of happiness all the time. He never complains about his life, and he’s had a rough one. So I think I got a really great work ethic from them. [And] I know exactly what’s important in life, which is my family, my friends and my health. It’s never confusing for me, because I have them to always remind me, and to keep me grounded and grateful.”

Though it gave her the opportunity to travel, and opened her eyes to the world of fashion (South Africa and Mexico are among her favorite destinations; Lanvin, Chloe, Escada and upstarts Riser Goodwin her favorite designers) Gayheart says modeling ultimately “wasn’t my cup of tea.

“I found it really difficult having all the attention placed on my looks, for lots of different reasons,” she says. “They don’t want to know what you have to say, or who you are.” After being teased by other models for her “very thick” Appalachian accent, she took lessons to lose it (though she admits it comes back when she’s tired, or talking to relatives) and then enrolled at the famed Lee Strassberg Theatre Institute. “I wanted to know what I was doing,” she says. “And I wanted to be taken seriously.”

A steady succession of soap opera, film and series TV roles followed her Noxema ads, eventually bringing her west to Los Angeles, where she and Ratner planned to marry. Rebecca admits she still misses the energy of New York, and her circle of friends, which, incredible as it may seem, included rappers from Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and Run DMC (she still stays in touch with Reverend Run). Then again, “My 20s [were] exhausting. So many parties. I don’t miss all the craziness.”

Her lifestyle came to an abrupt halt in June, 2001, when, while driving a friend’s car, Rebecca was involved in an accident which resulted in the death of a 9-year-old boy. Gayheart references the incident only very indirectly. It’s understandably clear why she doesn’t want to relive it, or have it define her future. But it did lead to her finding a way to make a positive difference in society.

“Up until a certain point in my life, I wasn’t charitable,” she admits. “I thought I was, because I would give a dollar to someone on the street. But I never thought of being charitable as a responsibility that we all have.”

Searching for an outlet to fulfill her community service obligations, Gayheart discovered downtown LA’s Chrysalis, an organization which helps the homeless help themselves, by giving assistance and opportunities toward permanent employment. “It’s an incredible foundation, a really, really positive thing.” In addition to giving tours of skid row to prospective donors, and doing one-on-one job interview training, Rebecca also organizes the annual Butterfly Ball fundraiser.

While that part of her life took a positive turn, Gayheart’s engagement to Ratner fizzled out, and her career took a two year break. When she returned to acting, she found unexpected opportunities with Southern characters on the stage, appearing in “Steel Magnolias” on Broadway, and an LA production of Alfred Uhry’s “Last Night of Ballyhoo.”

“I think it’s the only time you get to truly experience a character on that level,” she says of live theatre. “I wish I could do more of it.”

Rebecca also enjoyed several television opportunities, including a notable turn as a blind seductress in F/X’s ‘Nip/Tuck’ (she’s revisiting the role as we speak), as well as the ditzy Betty in Showtime’s ‘Dead Like Me,’ and the lead in Lifetime’s ‘Scarlett.’ Unfortunately, she left the former after one season, and the latter was probably doomed the moment its first day of shooting in New Orleans was the same that Hurricane Katrina hit. But then, if either had continued, we wouldn’t have Rebecca’s Judy Nash.

“What’s great about doing a show with an ensemble cast,” she says of ‘Vanished,’ “is that some weeks are a lot of work and some weeks aren’t. So you can really balance your personal life and work schedule.” Despite what you may think about everyone in Hollywood, Gayheart for one does not have a personal assistant. “I drop off my own dry cleaning and do my own laundry.” Can you guess who picks up after her maltese, Jackie?

She’s also her own interior decorator for the new house, which – while trying to quit smoking – she admits may be a mistake. “I like to have things done yesterday, especially in my living space, and I’m very organized and very anal about all of that stuff. But I have to slow down, because it’s not going to be done in a day.” After a small rant about some new curtains being hung with the wrong hardware, in the wrong room, and the refrigerator dying, she allows, “It’s kind of fun living with just a bed and a dining room table. It’s kind of punk-alternative, the pictures are leaned up against the wall, all of our books are just stacked up on the living room floor. You feel like you’re at a hotel.”

Her regular tennis game tomorrow will help her get out some aggressions, as well as, no doubt, keep her girlish waistline (impressive considering her obviously healthy appetite). But once the house is done comes an even bigger objective: kids. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready-ready, so I think I just have to do it,” she says, thinking out loud. “I could wait another year. But should I wait another year?”

Lest anyone worry, that doesn’t mean Gayheart has any intention of giving up acting. “I’m looking for that role that I can really sink my teeth into,” she says, praising the work of actresses like Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, Cate Blanchett… “a role to make people think and feel.” Clearly, this southern girl is not one to be counted out. Smiling at Geoffrey Rush as he passes by the table, she says, “Do I think I’ll ever get to do the dream roles? I hope so. I won’t stop trying to get them.”

Copyright 2008, ECG

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