Steel Heart: An Interview with Rebecca Gayheart

Holding her own in a veteran-heavy ensemble cast, Rebecca Gayheart is enjoying her Broadway debut in Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias. After premiering in April 2005 to strong reviews and critical acclaim, the play continues to pack the house, and Gayheart is enjoying success on the Great White Way. “I’m really just living in the present right now. I can’t line up another job until the play ends,” she says. With her role secure at least until the fall of ’05, Gayheart will go to work everyday “until they tell me not to.”

Holding her own in a veteran-heavy ensemble cast, Rebecca Gayheart is enjoying her Broadway debut in Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias. After premiering in April 2005 to strong reviews and critical acclaim, the play continues to pack the house, and Gayheart is enjoying success on the Great White Way. “I’m really just living in the present right now. I can’t line up another job until the play ends,” she says. With her role secure at least until the fall of ’05, Gayheart will go to work everyday “until they tell me not to.”

In Magnolias, Gayheart conveys the stubborn idealism of Shelby, a young woman whose beauty and charm mask the devastation severe diabetes has exacted on her body. Doe-eyed Gayheart reigns in the eagerness that can put so many character portrayals over the top, instead possessing the stage presence to carry off a role in the midst of seasoned stars like Delta Burke and Christine Ebersole.

A bit incredulous at her current job, she expresses a sense of gratitude to have the opportunity to work with the cast that includes first-timer Lily Rabe. “I just feel incredibly grateful to work with these women. When I’m on stage and I look around I think, wow, how did this happen? I can’t say enough nice things about them. I just hope some of their talent rubs off on me.”

A native of Pinetop, Kentucky, which, she is quick to point out, remained a neutral state until the end of the Civil War, Gayheart says that her southern roots gave a bit of an advantage preparing for the role of Shelby. Knowing the speech patterns of southerners helps her, though she uses a dialect coach to capture the Louisiana accent she nails each night. Leaving Kentucky at 15, she moved to New York and finished her secondary education at New York’s Professional Children’s School. Soon after she began a professional acting and modeling career and quickly became known as the “Noxzema Girl,” a role she is nationally known for.

After all these years, with roles on Beverly Hills 90210, Urban Legend, Scream 2, and Harvard Man, she hasn’t quite shaken the Noxzema Girl moniker. “It just amazes me that people still identify me with the Noxzema girl. In some ways it’s flattering,” she says. “And in some ways it’s irritating because I’ve done a lot of other things that I’d be preferred to be known for.” Still, she did have fun spoofing the enduring nickname with Chris Tucker (pre-Rush Hour) in a vignette in Heavy D’s video “Nothin’ but Love.”

Moving forward in her career, Gayheart’s other passion is directing, which she really enjoys. “I called everyone I ever worked with and asked for favors,” she says of filming Me and Daphne in 2002, a 20-minute short film she produced and directed. A friend wrote the dark comedy about dysfunctional relationships and Gayheart loved it, saying, “I’m really proud of it. We premiered it at the Sundance Festival a few years ago.” Picked up by distributor Hypnotic, Me and Daphne isn’t likely to be her only directorial work. “There is something really satisfying about reading a script, visualizing it and then seeing the finished product. Hopefully it comes out the way you envisioned it, which [Me and Daphne] it did,” she says. That triumph aside, acting is her “first passion.” Before relocating to New York City from Los Angeles for Steel Magnolias, she beefed up her resume with guest starring spots on Showtime’s Dead Like Me and Nip/Tuck on F/X.

In New York for the duration of the play, Gayheart is rediscovering the City and hanging out on the Upper West Side with her husband of six months, actor Eric Dane. While out to dinner one night, she and Dane decided to seize the moment and hop a plane to Vegas to legalize their love. “Our cab driver Sam was our best man,” she laughs. Though the chapel where the couple said “I do” wasn’t “fancy enough” to feature an Elvis impersonator, Vegas is “the matrimonial way to go.”

On her free time, you can find Gayheart and Dane hanging out on the City streets with their Maltese, Jackie, whom she says is named after both Jackie O. and Jackie Chan. “She will gracefully kick your ass,” she jokes. Talking about her new family, her newest success and leaving future plans to naturally unfold, Gayheart is happy. “Things are really great right now. I have nothing to complain about. I’m in love. I have my husband, my dog, my job. I’m in New York. It’s rare that you can say that.”

For New York Moves magazine 2005

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