A Splash of Brande

Former Playmate Brande Roderick wants to keep making waves in television.
| By Paul Chutkow | From Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004
A Splash of Brande

Brande Roderick is having a ball. She is on the beach in Malibu, preening for the camera. First in a white bikini, then a blue bikini, now with a surfboard, next a cigar. Jack Guy's camera loves her. And so does the Hollywood crew assembled for the shoot: a makeup artist, a hairstylist, a wardrobe guru, her agent and Jack Guy's two right-hand men. This is the full star treatment, and Roderick is basking in the moment. When the first Polaroids are passed around, the verdict is swift: This girl is hot. Smokin, hot.

This comes as no surprise. After all, Roderick didn't get to be a Playboy Playmate by looking waifish and forlorn in a bikini, and she wasn't voted Playmate of the Year by scoring a lowly two on the arousal scale. Roderick also had a strong run in "Baywatch Hawaii," and that wasn't because anyone envisioned her as the next Meryl Streep. Clearly, though, there is more to Roderick than great looks and a magnificent body. Since the demise of "Baywatch Hawaii," she has been moving steadily up the Hollywood ladder. She has landed roles in TV sitcoms, and she was featured on the reality show "The Surreal Life," alongside M. C. Hammer. Now the world of film is opening before her: over some stiff competition she landed an enticing little role in the new film Starsky & Hutch, based on the ,70s TV series and costarring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the title roles.

So Brande's star is now on the rise, and watching her pose on the beach in Malibu you can readily imagine that she is loving her moment in the Hollywood sun, and that she is one of those young Hollywood starlets driven by a ruthless ambition to make it to the top. But you'd be wrong. Roderick is anything but your typical, highly ambitious starlet, and already she is planning her life away from the camera. She wants to produce shows for television and already has her first show in the

already has her first show in the works. And Roderick has her heart set on something else: finding the right guy, getting married and becoming a soccer mom. Yes, behind those magnificently photogenic blue eyes and blonde mane there is one very surprising woman.

The morning following the photo shoot, Roderick arrives for brunch at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, just opposite Rodeo Drive. She has on tight jeans, a funky T-shirt and cowboy boots—and, miraculously, she looks just as sexy as she did in those teeny bikinis. She's famished and orders a fresh fruit plate and an omelette with asparagus and goat cheese. In her place, another aspiring actress might put on airs and do some serious Hollywood name-dropping. Not Roderick. She just plops back into a chair and starts chatting about her love of fine wine, premium cigars and the San Francisco 49ers. She's charming, unaffected and as down-home as a pair of beat-up slippers. And what a story she has to tell.

"My dad is a diesel mechanic," she starts in, "and my mom works in a place that does appliance repair—you know, washers and dryers." Her father served in the Navy, and the family eventually settled down in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. They lived first in Santa Rosa and then in Rohnert Park, a solid, working-class, ethnically mixed community. This was small-town America, worlds away from Los Angeles, and it helped provide a happy childhood for her and her younger brother, Jason. They were raised in a loving home, with strong moral values, and Walter and Debbie Roderick were always supportive of their children—and supportive of each other.

Brande was a confident, outgoing girl who enjoyed cheerleading for the local Pop Warner football league and relished her role in homemade productions. "I always wanted to be an entertainer," she says. "I was always putting on shows for my parents. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood and we would sell tickets to the neighbors to come watch our show. We'd set up chairs in the living room and we'd put on silly little shows for my parents and the parents of the other kids in the neighborhood."

Acting was a natural next step. In grammar school, Roderick began several years of school drama classes. When she was 16, the

family moved to Windsor, a community farther north in Sonoma County. But by now Roderick was getting antsy. She skipped a grade with the move, by taking extra classes at the local junior college and by doing independent home study, all in an effort to graduate early from her new high school in Healdsburg: "I really felt I was wasting my time in high school. I wanted to get out and do something with my life." She got her high school diploma on June 13, 1991, on her 17th birthday.

Her first plan was to go into real estate. For six months, she went door-to-door looking for clients for a local real estate firm. She had other jobs as well, including being a waitress and a preschool teacher. Then she enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College, majoring in elementary education and minoring in theater, and it was there that she reconnected with her passion for acting. "In the drama department, we studied the history of theater and in another class we studied the basic mechanics of acting: stage left, stage right, that sort of thing. We were asked to stand on chairs in front of the class and recite a poem or run around like animals on our hands and knees. We were learning the basic techniques of acting and I loved it. I mean, I had a blast. I have no problem getting up in front of a bunch of people and making a fool of myself."

Soon she really had the bug: "Three times a week I was driving into San Francisco to audition for commercials, independent films, whatever I could find." Roderick did ads for Snickers, Mentos candies, Diet Dr Pepper and Miller Lite Beer. She also did two or three independent films, the most memorable of which was Immortal Vengeance, in which she played a zombie.

Then one day she went to San Francisco to audition for a production of Cinderella, to be held at the prestigious Herbst Theater. "I was hired right away, to play Cinderella, of course," she laughs. "It was not your typical Cinderella; it was a Gothic Cinderella. I had a three-and-a-half-foot wig."

During this period, Roderick got her first taste of Hollywood. Through a casting agency, she got a call to appear as an extra on The Rock, a 1996 Alcatraz action flick starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. "I was so excited, and I remember me and my mom, in my room, picking out all these different clothes, then we packed them in this huge suitcase. She woke me up at 3:30 in the morning, all excited for me. Then I drove down to San Francisco and worked a 10-hour day. It turned out I wore only one outfit and I didn't need all those clothes, but I had no idea—it was my first paying job."

After doing two walk-ons in "Nash Bridges," Roderick was ready to take the plunge. To raise some cash, she sold her car to her brother, then she packed her belongings into a U-Haul and headed to L.A. in 1997. "My mom really didn't want me to leave town, even though L.A. was only a seven-hour drive away," Roderick recalls. "Most kids who go away to college go to another state, or to another country for that matter, but she just didn't want me to go. Other than that, though, both my parents have been really supportive. They always said, 'Whatever you want to do, you can do it. Go after it!,"

Her first days in L.A. were like a dream come true. "I was just so excited to be here," she says. "I would be driving down the street, looking out on these beautiful sunny days and just thanking God that I was here. I just loved it. In college, in my English classes, I would literally write stories about coming here and about the things I would do. It's so funny, because I kept those stories, and everything I wrote about wanting to do I've now done. Or I'm living them. It just goes to show that when you really do write down your goals, they really do happen."

After that initial high, though, reality began to set in. Roderick did not find herself working on movie sets; she found herself working conventions as a spokesmodel for companies like Nintendo, EarthLink and Budweiser. Glamorous it was not. Then one night it happened. She went to a club in L.A. with a group of friends and ran into a crowd from the Playboy empire. "I stepped into that world and met all these girls and they told me how much they loved it. They were like this wonderful, great family. It was a great job, they said, and you're always working. So I went down and did the test."

The test was a photo shoot to see if she had what it takes to be a Playboy centerfold. "It's really tedious work," Roderick says. "You're holding the same pose, in awkward positions, for hours and hours. You have to hold so still; you can't move." She came away crushed: Playboy was not satisfied with the shoot. But the editors called her back for another look and this time they were sure: she had the right stuff. To give her story a sexy twist, Playboy's image makers turned her modest upbringing in Sonoma County into a yarn about Wine Country chic, complete with photos of Roderick frolicking naked in a barrel of grapes. It stretched the truth, but for Roderick it was a ticket to ride.

With her natural endowments and her sweet, unaffected ways, Roderick was a big hit in Playboy. In the balloting for Playmate of the Year for 2001, Roderick got the nod, from readers and from the final decision makers in the Hefner management team. That opened all sorts of new doors.

Now "Baywatch Hawaii" and the starring role of head lifeguard Leigh Dyer came her way, and none too soon: Roderick needed a breather from the Hollywood rat race. "I had been in town about three and a half years and by that point I was a little over Los Angeles," she says. "When my agent called with the news, I just dropped to my knees and started crying. It was like, finally, after all this hard work....

"Hawaii was a marvelous, healing time for me. This sounds kind of cheesy but it's true: I bought the Bible on tape. I had about an hour's drive to work every day, but I'm thinking, Who cares? I'm driving through pineapple fields, there are palm trees, and it's just gorgeous driving along the ocean. I'd listen to the Bible and my Christian rock music. It was a really healing, spiritual time for me."

Life was great—until the show got canceled in 2002. That was a big disappointment, but Roderick managed to roll with the punch, a trait she had learned from her dad: good, steady Walter. "I've never seen my dad get mad, ever, or get in an argument with anyone. He's just very laid-back. Mom, on the other hand, can have a bit of a temper. She can tolerate a lot, but then she has her moments when she gets irritated. Not Dad. He always goes with the flow."

The same could be said about Roderick. After "Baywatch Hawaii" ended, she moved back to Los Angeles and expanded her career in TV. Over the years she has made guest appearances in a number of sitcoms such as "Just Shoot Me," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Babylon 5," "The Love Boat: The Next Wave," "Jesse," "Two Guys and a Girl" and "The Parkers." Now, playing a cheerleader in this spring's Starsky & Hutch, Roderick is gaining experience and exposure in the movie world.

All this has given Roderick quite an education. She's now 29 years old, and while she still has serious ambitions in television and the movies, she is looking for deeper satisfactions. "My main goal is to do two more TV shows and then I just want to produce. I don't want to have to be the cutesy girl on the other side of the camera. I just want to be on the business side of it. I want to be able to gain that ten pounds and have a kid and be a mom and a wife."

Roderick's agent might cringe at reflections like that, especially when uttered publicly, but Roderick is who she is and she's not about to pretend to be anything different. With her, you get the truth, simple and pure: "I don't really want to be a star," she says, "because I don't want to put my life under that microscope…. I want to be a soccer mom, eventually, and I don't want to have my kids under that kind of scrutiny either."

To roll with the turbulent highs and lows of the Hollywood life, Roderick has learned to live simply. "I still shop at Wal-Mart," she says with a laugh. "I don't want fame. I just want to be able to work and pay my bills and I want to be able to pay my mortgage and send my kids to college. I don't need anything fancy, though a bigger closet would be nice. And heated bathroom floors would be nice, too, but, you know, that's for a later date."

Some of Roderick's happiest moments come from cooking for friends and from enjoying fine wine and cigars. "I love wine," she says. "I've been wine-tasting a few times and I like to go to wineries and things like that." Her favorite wine is Opus One, but she also enjoys Clos du Bois Merlot and a good Pinot Grigio. When it comes to cooking, she loves to be creative. "Every week before going to the grocery store, I,ll throw open the cookbook, and whatever's on that page I,ll cook," she says. "But not veal or lamb; I don't eat them. I always keep a careful record of how the meal came out and how much everyone liked it."

Roderick sees premium cigars as the perfect complement to fine food and wine. "I travel a lot and whenever I go out of the country I bring back cigars. I have a collection at my house and when I have people over for dinner, I like to offer them a cigar. I have my Cohibas, my Romeo y Julietas, my Partagas. On celebratory occasions especially, I like to offer my friends a cigar and then I go outside and smoke with them." She keeps her cigars in a small humidor she bought in Spain, and she often gives cigars at Christmas or birthday presents. "They're awesome gifts; people just love them, especially people who don't travel as much as I do. It's a wonderful gesture."

Early on, Roderick developed a taste for vanilla cigars, but from there her tastes expanded. She started going to the Grand Havana Room, a favorite gathering place for Hollywood stars, including California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "That was always kind of fun," she says, "going in there, having dinner and then a cigar. I always enjoyed it."

Brunch is over now, and in an hour or so Roderick is headed into an important meeting regarding a pet project of hers: Brande's Brigade. "It's an adventure/transformation/makeover [TV] show," she explains. "I,ll be one of the celebrity hosts, but the people we make over will be regular people chosen from candidates who send in their videotape." She envisions, for instance, helping women who want to find ways to put the fire back in their marriage. Roderick has enlisted New Line as a partner in the venture, and a deal with the networks is already taking shape.

But Roderick knows how unpredictable Hollywood can be and she has a backup plan already in place: she's taking classes at Los Angeles Valley College, with the aim of completing her undergraduate degree in education. "I just love kids and I think that it would be just great to go teach second grade. It's such an influential time in a child's life and it would be great to be the person who gives them hope and encouragement. You won't make millions, but you'd be happy and you'd make a difference in someone else's life."

Roderick's first priorities, though, are closing that deal—and finding a mate. And she's not looking for quick romance either; she wants the real thing: a reliable man, a great father for those kids she wants, and maybe one who can teach them soccer as well. Can she find such a man in Hollywood? Roderick has no illusions: "I want a good man, one with good morals, a good person. I don't want a husband who's an actor or in the industry at all. I want somebody who's solid." Roderick says she has had a couple of serious relationships in her life, but either the men were wrong for her or the timing was off. So she's still waiting for all her romantic stars to be properly aligned.

Will Hollywood spoil Brande Roderick? No way, she says. "I've been here over seven years and I haven't succumbed yet. If people are brought up with the right morals and the right upbringing, they never really change. I think you are who you are, no matter what."

Paul Chutkow is the author of Depardieu, a biography of the French actor Gérard Depardieu, and coauthor of Harvests of Joy, the autobiography of Robert Mondavi.

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