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Brooke Burns: Nothing Shallow Here

Brooke Burns boasts one of the most effusive laughs in Hollywood, and that gorgeous guffaw may have earned the actress her feature film debut in Shallow Hal. In fact, the film’s producers (Bobby and Peter Farrelly) were so taken by Burns when she auditioned for the part of Hal’s neighbor (though they didn’t offer it to her because she looked too much like star, Gwyneth Paltrow), they wrote a role specifically for her: Katrina, the woman with whom Hal shares a cab, only to find out later he is seeing her inner beauty rather than her true outward appearance.

Brooke Burns-Nothing Shallow Here

“[The Farrelly Brothers] told me I was the dorky-est pretty girl they had ever met,” Burns says with her trademark chuckle. “I didn’t know whether to be happy or insulted, so I just said thank you!”

When they offered to write her into the movie, Burns, 27, didn’t believe they would follow through. “I thought it was a typical Hollywood thing that wouldn’t happen,” she says. But the filmmakers made good on their offer, and Katrina became one of the movie’s most memorable characters.

A Bubbly Beauty
Being “Katrina, Beautiful on the Outside” was the easy part – Burns is breathtaking. She’s been modeling since she was 16, has appeared on several television shows (including Baywatch) and was even cast in the reoccurring role of Jennifer, the fantasy girl on Ally McBeal. The hard part was making Burns ugly, or “Katrina, Beautiful on the Inside.”

Brooke Burns-Nothing Shallow Here

“It took two and a half hours to get me into all the makeup,” she says. “I had two noses, fake teeth and big capillaries all over my face.” Not that she minded the makeover. In fact, she even wore the new look to the mall one day – and learned a bit about human nature.

“I saw people’s reactions to me, and it was a lonely place to be,” she says. “It was like being handicapped.”

Burns was dismayed that people wouldn’t make eye contact, help her in stores or even look her way. “Now when I see people with a deformity, I think of what they have been through,” she says. “Scars are always a sign of victory, not of defeat. They make you a better person, because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Putting Life Lessons to Work
Burns used this knowledge in her role as host of NBC’s challenge competition show Dog Eat Dog. In what she describes as “Fear Factor meets Weakest Link,” contestants vie for prize money by competing in a series of wild and taxing stunts designed to send losers to the “Dog Pound.”

Hosting allows Burns to be herself, as opposed to a different character, and she ad-libs the entire hour-long show. “I’m excited about the improvisational side of the job, and I think the key to being a good host is listening and being who I am,” she says.

Which comes easily to this Dallas, Texas, native. “I grew up in the ‘Bible Belt’ and my dad is an elder of our church,” she says. “People glorify TV and actors, and that makes actors superhuman. But it’s just a job – a really fun job!”

Brooke Burns-Nothing Shallow HereAfter studying ballet for 12 years, a ski injury dashed her dance dreams (though she still takes ballet class each week for fun and fitness). Next, it was off to model in Europe, followed by gigs in New York and L.A. A brief marriage to actor Julian McMann (Charmed) resulted in Burns’ “best friend”: daughter Madison Elizabeth.

“Ever since I was 12, I wanted to have a baby,” Burns says. “I’ve fulfilled that dream. I’m happy to be a young mom; it’s enhanced my work and who I am as a person.”

Making the Most of Motherhood
As much as she loves to laugh, Burns is serious about being a mom. “Motherhood deepens you as a person,” she says. “Having that in your life exposes you to so many aspects of yourself. Kids are little mirrors, and they make you think about what you say. It is so rewarding to go home and have something that grounds you.”

Burns didn’t plan on being a single working mother, but now that she is, she believes it may have happened for a reason. “Working is fun for me,” she says. “I used to think I would be a stay-at-home mom, but now I enjoy working and not depending on someone else.”

Which is a good thing, because babies tend to put a damper on dating. “I date, then I don’t date,” she says. “The baby weeds out all the bad guys – when they come to my car and see the car seat and the bottles, the guys who were only interested in having a good time will be like, ‘Gotta go now – bye!'”

Brooke Burns-Nothing Shallow HereBut Burns would like to fall in love again. “I always romanticized the idea of marriage,” she says. “But it turned out for the best because I have my best friend. I’m a relationship kind of girl and want to get married and have more kids.”

Growing up, Burns says people would comment that her older sister was the smart one and Burns was the cute one, and those labels hurt. Today, Burns is smart enough to know that Hollywood careers don’t last forever – and cerebral workouts may be more important to her than physical ones. “I’m in the process of going back to school to study child development,” she says. “I’m at that place now where you really want to work on your brain just like you work on your body. I feel better about myself when I exercise all parts of me. Eventually, I may want to teach or be a psychologist.”

Brooke Burns-Nothing Shallow HereKicking It With the Kid
When Burns does work on her body, she swims, practices ballet and uses her own body weight as resistance. Her demanding personal trainer keeps her to a punishing schedule. “My trainer is 2 feet tall, doesn’t let me sleep, wakes me up early, keeps me up late, makes me crawl like a kitty cat, and bicep curls and squats are all part of our routine!” she says.

Then there’s the food factor. Burns sticks to a specific eating plan: “Yeah, I eat Spaghettios, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly!” she says, laughing. “Seriously, I don’t diet because whenever I’m on a diet I eat that food plus whatever else I want. Eating is a joy!”

So how does she look the way she does? “The key is everything in moderation,” she says. “If I tell myself I can’t have a candy bar, I will think about candy bars all day. But if I have one bite of Godiva chocolate, I am fine. The less you obsess, the better. If you’re happy, you have fewer problems with eating disorders. You’re mentally and physically sound.”

In her spare time, Burns enjoys basketball, hiking, running – and writing. “I write stories about Madison; I tell her stories about ‘Princess Madison,'” she says. “You have to write them down. You also have to keep a journal of all the things they say, so you don’t lose track of them. Like the other day when I bumped into something and said, ‘Ouch!’ Madison said, ‘It’s OK, honey!’ She is the greatest.”