She’s a coal miner’s daughter who fired our furnaces as the fresh-faced Noxzema girl. Now she’s trading creams for screams in Urban Legend—and showing Maxim her dark side.
It’s just days since Rebecca Gayheart completed Urban Legend, this fall’s horror flick about a campus psycho with a fatal folklore fixation, and already she’s scanning new scripts in her Los Angeles backyard. She likely inherited her work ethic from her coal miner dad back in Kentucky. Such determination, not to mention her drop-dead looks, have kept Rebecca in demand—first as the nubile Noxzema spokesmodel, and now as one of the big screen’s hottest young actresses—since she left home to start her career at the age of 15. Fortunately, she still knows how to lay on the Southern charm, tempting us with a comfortable chair, a Red Stripe beer, and a bowl of cherries for our little poolside chat.
MAXIM: What’s your favorite urban legend?
REBECCA GAYHEART: I love the one where Mikey, that Life Cereal kid, explodes because he mixed Pop Rocks candy and Coca-Cola. There’s a scene in Urban Legend where I’m dared to do the same thing.
M: They still make Pop Rocks?
RG: Apparently, since I had to eat them for 12 hours straight. The novelty of the crackling noise really wears thin after 10 packets, and I was getting a major sugar buzz. Eventually they got me a spit bucket.
M: Is this one of those horror movies where you don’t know who the psycho is until the very end?
RG: It’s going to be tough to guess. It’s definitely a whodunit, and at one point or another you start suspecting everyone. I play a devil-may-care coed who doesn’t believe the deaths are connected.
M: Are you a suspect?
RG: Everyone is a suspect.
M: Why do guys always take girls to horror movies?
RG: Oh, you know why: because the girl gets scared and clings to the guy, so he gets to put his arm around her without that awkward moment—and maybe even cop a feel. If the guy gets scared, of course, it blows the whole plan.
M: Is there any spooky folklore back in your hometown of Pine Top, Kentucky?
RG: Well, supposedly my family’s house is built on top of an Indian graveyard; I got teased a lot about demons. Then there’s the haunted bridge on Dead Man’s Curve. If you tried to speed across it, a ghost would make you crash. My brother swore he saw it.
M: Besides all the supernatural activity, what did you and your friends do for excitement?
RG: Well, Pine Top has a population of about 1,000. It hasn’t even scored a McDonald’s. When I was a teenager, the big thing was to cruise around the Wal-Mart parking lot until the cops came to break it up. The cool kids were up partying on strip jobs.
M: Strip what?
RG: Strip jobs. That’s just a big mountain where everything is stripped off because the coal is gone. I was hardly ever invited.
v M: Do people there go see your movies?
RG: Sure, even if they’re rated R, which means they’re really supporting me. There’s no theater in Pine Top, so they have to drive 30 minutes to Hazard. And apparently the Video Corral can’t keep my movies on the shelf—or at least that’s what my dad says.
M: Your father’s a coal miner. Did your family ever have any cave-in scares?
RG: I remember being little and hearing the ambulance go by and everyone would get on the phone. Thank God my dad was never hurt, but we had neighbors who weren’t so lucky.
M: Your mother was a Mary Kay Cosmetics sales representative. Did she drive one of those pink Cadillacs?
RG: [laughs] You have to sell tons of freaking makeup to earn the Caddy, and there just weren’t enough people in Pine Top—everyone in town would need to look like they joined the circus!
M: If you’d stayed in Kentucky, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
RG: Probably picking up my kids from cheerleader practice and heading home to make chicken and dumplings for my husband.
M: Is that why you left at 15 to model in Manhattan?
RG: Exactly. Really, I just woke up one morning and said, “Mom, I’m going to New York, and I’ll call home every night, I promise.” I had to go.
M: And you hit the big time.
RG: Not for a while. I waited tables, ate peanut butter, and jumped subway turnstiles because I didn’t have any money. But it really was the best summer of my life. It was a sensory overload, and I felt reborn. There was no way I could go back to Kentucky.
M: How did you convince your parents to let you stay?
RG: I laid a whole guilt trip on them, told them they were ruining my life. I threatened to become a prostitute if they made me go back home.
M: A prostitute in Kentucky?
RG: [laughs] No, I was going to run off somewhere else and be a disgrace to the family. I was so stubborn, I would have, too.
M: Were you still a bit of a Southern belle back then?
RG: A bit? I wore turquoise bows in my hair with matching socks. But once I moved into an apartment with some other models, they felt sorry for me and put me in a tight black top and black stretch pants.
M: An apartment full of models? What was that like?
RG: Pretty messed up. Two girls were always arguing over the air conditioning, and one night they had a huge, clawing, scratching catfight, the whole time screaming, “I’m prettier than you! I’m skinnier than you! I ate less than you today!” One girl ended up throwing the other girl over the staircase railing.
M: Did you have a Southern accent then?
RG: [instantly turns on thick-as-molasses drawl] Sure, honey. Give me a bottle of wine and it still comes out strong. [Switches it off again] A Southern accent is a beautiful thing. I’d love a role where I could use it.
M: If I remember correctly, Wayne and Garth named you one of the hottest babes of the year on “Wayne’s World” during your early-’90s stint as the Noxzema girl.
RG: Yes! They awarded me a “schwing.” I consider it a great honor. They even showed Garth washing his face with Noxzema set to opera music.
M: In The Hangman’s Daughter—the upcoming prequel to From Dusk Till Dawn—your character is pretty schwing-worthy too, right?
RG: Well, I start out as a missionary who is so uptight, she refuses to have sex with her husband. But after I get bitten, I become this sacrilegious vampire and try to seduce him. Want to see my fangs?
M: Uh, yes. I think so. Yes.
RG: [disappears into house, returns moments later, and smiles, revealing a disturbingly realistic set of vampire choppers] Scary, huh?
M: Definitely. So, do women like sex as much as men?
RG: [removes fangs and licks lips] Well, I like sex a lot. Women not only enjoy it physically, they enjoy it mentally and emotionally. Sex is a big party to women. It’s like, “Yes! I know I’m going to feel good after this.”
M: You’ve made three horror movies recently. Have you perfected your screaming technique for these roles?
RG: Oh, yeah. There are several different types of screams. There’s the surprise scream, like when you turn a corner and run into someone. Then there’s the seeing-a-dead-body-freaked-out-of-your-mind scream. And then there’s the I’m-about-to-be-killed-please-God-somebody-help-me scream.
M: Will you scream for me right now?
RG: My neighbors would probably call the cops.
M: Oh, come on. Just one good scream.
RG: [laughs] Don’t make me show you my dark side.
M: One more question: Did you ever hear the urban legend about the reporter who runs away to a tropical island with this hot actress he’s interviewing?
RG: Hmm, I’ve never heard that one. But I’m sure it has a really gory ending.