Patricia Velasquez: Va-Va-Velasquez

Patricia Velasquez rose from poverty in Venezuela to the fashion world of Paris to an acting career in Hollywood. Here she discusses what she experienced along the way (drugs, Sandra Bernhard) and what she finds thrilling now that she's starring in big films (getting kicked around in The Mummy Returns).

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If an interesting life makes for an interesting actress, Patricia Velasquez is well on her way. Born and raised in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where her family had no running water for more than a decade, Velasquez was discovered by a modeling scout when she was 17 and promptly left home for Milan. Since then, she's appeared on scads of magazine covers, lived all over the world, had a romance with Sandra Bernhard and fallen in love with acting. Mainstream moviegoers got their first look at her in The Mummy, where she played a half-naked Egyptian princess who died spectacularly in the film's first five minutes. She then showed a flair for comedy in the indie Committed, as a charmingly goofy Tex-Mex waitress who befriends Heather Graham. Now, though her character was offed in the original, Velasquez is back for The Mummy Returns. Those clever scriptwriters not only found a way for her to resurface, they also gave her more to do--she cozies up to Brendan Fraser and gets to kick Rachel Weisz's behind.

DENNIS HENSLEY: How does your Mummy character return from the dead?

PATRICIA VELASQUEZ: I'm reincarnated. My mission is to resurrect the Mummy so he can bring me back to my original state. I'm the biggest troublemaker in the whole movie.

Q: That outfit you wore in the first Mummy was something else. What was it made of? A: It was just paint and a little thing here [gestures to her crotch area].

Q: Do you have sexy getups in this movie, too?

A: Very, but the thing you're going to go crazy over is the fights. You've never seen a movie with such good fights between women. I had 82 bruises when I finished.

Q: Did you count them yourself?

A: I had help from a friend. [Laughs]

Q: Your heritage is South American Indian. Is theatricality part of that culture?

A: Not really. We were never allowed to express ourselves. Almost everyone in my family is shy. I was in a dance theater company when I was five years old, and that was my way of releasing thank God.

Q: I read that your family had to carry buckets of water up 15 floors to your apartment.

A: Yes. That time was really hard, but also I'm very thankful for it because it gave us six children the strength to work really hard.

Q: Was supporting your family a motivation for you?

A: I don't do it so much anymore because everybody is fine, but in the beginning, it felt like my mission. When I was 18 and modeling in Japan, they paid me a big lump sum, which I sent home. That's how my family got a new house.

Q: Your parents were educators, right?

A: Yes. My father worked in the university and my mom at a little public school, so we got to go to the best schools.

Q: Were you the poor kid going to school with the rich kids?

A: The guy I ever dated was the nephew of the president. Imagine, this guy wanted to pick me up. I said, "No, you can't," and I took the bus and met him at the movies.

Q: Did you see American movies as a kid?

A: The first time I ever went to the theater was to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Q: How did you get started with modeling?

A: A friend of mine told me about this man that was coming to our city to Pick one girl and take her to Milan. She went to Caracas to meet him and showed him her book. There was a picture of me inside and he asked, "Who is she?" And she said, "My friend, but she's not a model." He said, "Can we talk to her?" So he came and spoke to my family, offered me a contract and in a month I was in Milan.

Q: Was your friend mad?

A: Oh, yeah, but if it had been reversed, I would have been happy for her.

Q: Did you get heavily into the party scene when you were modeling?

A: During the time of the supermodels we were all going crazy. I wasn't doing drugs, though. I did them before when I lived in Spain, and I got sick of it.

Q: How old were you then?

A: I was 19. My boyfriend did lots of drugs and I starred to do them. One night I took coke and ecstasy and smoked hash. I got a call the next morning to do my first magazine cover in Madrid, and I was so out there I lost the job. I thought, "What are you doing? Your family is in Venezuela with no water." So I stopped.

Q: What's the craziest thing you witnessed during that time?

A: I was in a club in Paris where there was a long table covered with coke. Later, we went to dinner at the most expensive Chinese restaurant in Paris and there was not one person that wasn't famous at that table. The waiters kept bringing food and nobody would taste it because they were all so high on coke.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to act?

A: Always, but I never went after it because it's what every other model thinks. Then the producers of a movie called Le Jaguar saw me in an interview and got in touch with me. When I read the script and saw that it was about saving an Indian village, I became interested. I went to the Amazon for three months and fell in love with the acting experience. It changed my life.

Q: You're also coming out in the Showtime movie Fidel. What part do you play?

A: Castro's first wife. The film goes from his childhood to the present. In real life, Castro doesn't mind if people say bad things or good things about him, as long as they tell his story.

Q: How's your offscreen love life these days?

A: Zero. Nothing. It feels a little bit weird being single, but I'm liking it.

Q: You were in a relationship with Sandra Bernhard in the early '90s. Are you still friendly? A: Yes. Sandra is somebody that will always be in my heart because she was a mother, a friend, everything. When I came to this country, I didn't even know what a credit card was and she helped me. I adore her.

Q: What qualities attract you in a person?

A: I like people who are happy and who don't like playing games.

Q: Where's home for you now?

A: New York. I love it. Not that I have anything against L.A., except earthquakes.

Q: What drives you crazy about Hollywood?

A: It seems a bit racist sometimes. You lose a part because you're not light-skinned enough.

Q: Tell me the moment when you felt you had really made it.

A: It was when I was modeling in France. I had to take a horrible medical test every year. I did it for five years. The first time, I went by subway. The second time, taxi. The third time, I took a plane from L.A. The next time, the plane ride was first class. The last time, I took the Concorde, and that's when I felt like I was a success.

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Dennis Hensley interviewed David Boreanaz for the February issue of Movieline.



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