The tousled blonde hair, the smattering of freckles, the smoldering makeup... oh yeah, and a body any woman would kill for? Of course we’re talking about Marisa Miller, the Santa Cruz, Calif., native who caught her big break modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated. After a high-flying run with Victoria’s Secret, which skyrocketed her career into top-model territory, Miller hung up her Angel wings in 2010. But she was far from bowing out of the spotlight. No stranger to the camera, she’s making her debut on the big screen this summer in the 3-D action film R.I.P.D. Starring alongside Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker, Miller plays avatar to Bridges’ character—a slain police officer who joins a real-life PD to help find his killer. The gracious, down-to-earth beauty sat down with JEZ to talk sex-symbol status, family, fashion and more.
Did you pursue modeling or were you “discovered”?
I was discovered by [photographer] Mario Testino. I started [modeling] a little bit later than usual, probably when I was 20 years old. I was running a surf school in Southern California, and that was my life—the beach. I grew up in Santa Cruz in Northern California and lived a very laid-back life. I didn’t really know modeling was a career or a job to aspire to. It was never something that was even in my scope of possibility, so it was pretty cool to have the opportunity come up.
Being a beach babe sounds pretty amazing—how did things change for you after you met Mario?
I was looking into sports; I wanted to be a sportscaster for a very long time. I’m more of a tomboy, not a girly girl. I was really fortunate to meet [Mario], and I worked exclusively with him for like six months. At first, I was just kind of thinking, oh, I’ll see what happens, and didn’t know what direction my life was going to go. But after I worked with Mario, he definitely gave me a huge jump start. Then I got booked for Sports Illustrated after that, and then Victoria’s Secret, and then it became a career. Naturally, I think I’m a lot more of a shy person, so when I started to model, it was actually good for my personality to open up and explore a different side of myself.
You went to work for Sports Illustrated back in 1997. Given what you know now, what would you tell that girl?
I think it’s important to live in the moment and just appreciate [where you are]. When you’re at a very young age and you’re given the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures and places and people, it’s an incredible experience. The grind of getting on a plane every other day can be exhausting, but it really is important to try to take advantage of all the different places you can go.
And how did Victoria’s Secret come calling?
The photographers that work with Sports Illustrated are sort of the same crew that work with Victoria’s Secret. It’s kind of a small world in that sense. When I got booked for Sports Illustrated, I hadn’t even gone on a casting [call] or anything. It was funny; the editor told me she had three different photographers mention my name during that week. One of the girls who was booked [for a shoot] was too scared to get on a plane because it was right after 9/11 happened, so they actually needed a girl to step in. I happened to be on the forefront of her mind because she had heard my name a few times that week. So the way I got booked was kind of unusual, and, then, after that, one of the same photographers that worked for Sports Illustrated worked for Victoria’s Secret, and I got booked that way.
So, what’s the VS work vibe really like?
It’s great. Even though they’re such a huge brand, they’ve become like family. You’re working together multiple times during the month, and they really become your friends. It’s very unique in the business to have that closeness with your co-workers, because a lot of times you’re working with different people every day. So to have a home base and a client that you work with over and over is really special.
Do the Angels hang out after they hang up their halos for the day?
Not really, [but] all the girls are great. We’re always rooting for each other. I love Alessandra [Ambrosio]—she’s always been one of my favorite girls. There’s a lot of camaraderie between the Angels.
So is it really as glamorous behind the scenes as it looks in the Victoria’s Secret catalogs?
Oh, yeah! Going to work for Victoria’s Secret is one of the best memories of my career. Every location we went to was beautiful, and doing the swim books was one of my favorite things to do. We were always going to exotic beaches and having a great time. I got to see some amazing sunsets and sunrises.
Any not-so-glam parts of being an Angel?
Well, it’s hard to complain. I always had a love-hate relationship with the traveling because, on the personal side, when you’re not home a lot, you miss a lot of holidays and birthday parties and things like that. You’re a little disconnected from your family in that way, but, at the same time, the traveling is the best part because you’re having opportunities to experience things you never would have [otherwise].
Let’s talk about something epic—your body! You just had a baby, yet you look as incredible as ever. How do you do it?
I’m pretty athletic, and I grew up playing sports. There was a time when I was boxing a lot, [and] I still surf. The thing I’ve found that works best for my body is Pilates. I just work on toning; I don’t try to do a lot of cardio anymore. I just try to keep my curves and try to keep everything toned. I try to do [Pilates] at least five days a week. That really helped, especially after the baby, [to] get my body back.
Hot mama alert! What’s it like being a mom to 7-month-old Gavin?
It’s been so awesome becoming a mom, and it’s something that I’ve thought about for so long. It’s just been the best thing ever.
How has having a family changed your career?
I really wanted to take the time, when I did get pregnant, to just enjoy it and not be traveling and running around like crazy. I really wanted to be healthy. So I took time off to do that and stayed in Santa Cruz. My family is still there, and my sisters were pregnant as well—we all had babies last year! Then, after the baby, I had to do some reshoots for the movie, but, for the most part, I just tried to take the time to enjoy my baby and just be very present in his life—especially at the beginning when he was so bitty.
So how are you balancing it all, now that you’re working again?
It’s an adjustment; I’m not getting very much sleep—[Gavin] just cut his first tooth. It’s definitely challenging. I think the sleep [deprivation] is the hardest thing because you’re not rested. Everything is a little more difficult, but he’s definitely worth it. My husband is very supportive. It’s real life, and, starting a family, you just do the best you can. We’re still figuring it out.
Tell us about R.I.P.D. What was it like keeping up with heavy hitters like Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Bacon?
For it being my first movie and working with such an amazing cast, I didn’t know what to expect. It can obviously be a little intimidating, but they were super funny and very relaxed. I learned so much from watching them on set. The whole experience was just amazing. I got my makeup done next to Jeff every morning, and he’s super into music, so he would always have awesome music playing. It really made the environment great for me because, obviously, working with such pros, [I had] a lot to live up to.
What was it like being on set?
It was nonstop comedy with them. A lot of the comedy plays out because I’m playing Jeff’s disguise [in R.I.P.D.]. So he’d do a scene, and then I’d have to step in and mimic him. Obviously, me playing a man is just funny in itself. There [were] a lot of moments on set when we all had to laugh. I got to do my own stunts as well, and there was a scene when my character gets hit by a bus—that was a very funny scene.
Funny? If you say so! How was your R.I.P.D. character a role change for you, in terms of transitioning from sexy model to movie actress?
My character was still very, very sexy. But at the same time, because I [had] to capture Jeff’s essence, it added a whole new challenge. I definitely think having the background of my [modeling] career helped because you have to not be nervous in front of the camera.
Do you like seeing yourself on the big screen?
It’s always a nerve-racking thing, watching yourself. I have seen a lot of my scenes, but I haven’t seen the whole movie [yet]. The action scenes are great—it’s everything you’d expect out of a big summer blockbuster.
OK, give us the scoop: How do you get such amazing skin?
When I was pregnant, I really tried to be healthy and organic, and [started] reading ingredients and [cleaning] up my beauty regimen [to] keep it as basic and natural as possible. I think it was a good thing because you realize what you can live without and [can] be a little less high-maintenance. I love getting my hair and makeup done, but, [during] my off time, I try to focus on keeping my skin hydrated and [using] sunscreen. I even got into making my own organic body butter. I try to protect myself from the sun as much as I can. I take a lot of vitamins and drink a lot of water—that’s really good for your skin.
You’re so beautiful—how would you define true beauty?
I think true beauty is a combination of your inner beauty and your outer beauty—the combination is really important, especially being in a business that is superficial. I think the true beauties are very warm and kind, and are confident as well—just comfortable in their own skin.
Here at JEZ, we’re pretty into fashion. What are some of your favorite looks?
In my off-time, I’m definitely very, very casual. Jeans and a T-shirt is kind of [my] uniform. That’s the great thing about growing up in Northern California—it’s very laid-back. It’s a good balance [with] my job, because it makes me excited when I get to go to work and wear designer clothes. I love Dolce & Gabbana for the red carpet. I think their designs are always sexy, but they’re not too crazy, so they don’t take away from the woman.
And what about lingerie (we had to ask)?
I think it is important to know your body and play up your strengths, but there’s nothing like a good push-up bra! [Laughs]
With all you have going on these days, what makes you the happiest?
Because I’ve traveled so much in my life and been away so much, to be around my family now—especially after having my son—definitely makes me the happiest. We go to the beach a lot and surf and just have that time [together]. We also love to cook. My dad and I, we cook a lot together.
How does having a child affect your thoughts on being a sex symbol?
You evolve as a person. Being a mom, my son is the most important thing to me in the world. He’s definitely the first thing I think about with any decision I make now, whether it’s in my career or my personal life. I know [my modeling career is] probably going to be really embarrassing for him one day. If anybody wants to give me some advice I’m open to it. [Laughs]
Proud is more like it! And what about your hubby, Griffin Guess? What’s an ideal date night for the two of you?
We love seeing live shows and going to rock shows. When you’re in a relationship, it’s important to make it a priority, because like anything in your life, you have to work at it. It’s really important to just connect, so I love going to dinner and having conversation.
Speaking of dinner... any favorite Southern foods?
Fried chicken... that’s one of the best things ever!
...when you’re not appearing on the big screen in a bikini, right?
Before a job, I’ll definitely try to eat healthy, but I try not to diet. That was a good thing about putting on a little weight during [my] pregnancy. So that’s what I try to focus on now, just working out and not dieting so much. I’m allowed a little fried chicken every now and then.