Girls want to be her, guys want to ... well, you know. Alyssa Milano lets off some steam about fame, nudity and her broken heart.
She's so normal, I still can't believe it. When you do a photo shoot with a celebrity, you just expect them to create a little drama. You know, snap at someone, refuse to wear something, decide they don't feel like being interviewed today. Not Alyssa Milano, she even pours her own coffee. That's not the way things are supposed to work in Hollywood - being thin, neurotic and demanding are part of the job description. Talent? Humility? They're way down the list. At first, I decide 27-year-old Alyssa is such a good actress she's just conned everyone in the room into thinking she's really nice. Surely she won't be able keep it up for a whole six hours? She'll have to crack, won't she? But no. From the moment she walks into the studio to the moment she goes home to watch a basketball game on TV (she's got a crush on one of the players), Alyssa doesn't once deviate from being a total pussycat.
I was expecting trouble. The day before the shoot, her publicist called with a list of demands - no lingerie, no swimsuits, no skimpy outfits, no asking questions about her divorce. Hello? Alyssa's great body and messy break-up are the stuff that everyone's interested in seeing and hearing about. Sounded like diva talk to me. So it came as a relief when Alyssa turned up to the shoot un- accompanied by minders. Wearing leather ok hands and introduced herself to everyone. She looked like a regular (albeit very prettty) girl. She talked like a regular girl. And so, it didn't take long before everyone was treating her like a regular girl - giggling over gossip, swapping fashion tips, comparing nail polish. When she tried on clothes for the shoot, it was like being in a group changeroom, except she was the only one in there getting undressed. She stripped down to a nude G-string in front of the unisex crew and kept on blithely chatting.
Yep, I've seen Alyssa Milano in a G-string and nothing else. Big cachet at dinner parties, let me tell you. It's pretty safe to say Alyssa's comfortable with her body. She's unperturbed by being naked in front of three men (the fashion editor, hair stylist and make- up artist), and says she wouldn't mind flashing for the cameras either, except she's trying to stay covered up these days. Since she sued porn websites for showing unauthorised nude photos of her (and won), she doesn't want to give them any more ammunition.
Her publicist, Todd, rocks up about an hour later. I'm expecting a neo-Nazi type, but he turns out to be young and good-looking, with a sense of humour (highly unusual in the publicity world}. He jokes that in the past, he'd turn up at shoots, ask where all the clothes were and Alyssa would cheerfully point to a pile of teeny weeny bikinis, He just couldn't make her keep her gear on. Our ultra- heterosexual photographer suggests Todd give him a call next time Alyssa is about to enter a naked phase ". After posing for the camera for three solid hours - with a quick gossip/coffee/ciggie break between each outfit change - it's time to do the interview thing. Alyssa grabs a piece of garlic bread from the catering table and settles down beside me to answer all my questions. Aside from the Big Banned One. But, hey, she ends up mentioning the divorce thing herself, anyway. So much for all those pesky publicist demands.But we start off by chatting about more general things. Like how she became a celeb. Alyssa started acting at age seven, scored her first sitcom at 10 (Whos The Boss? and proceeded to grow up awkwardly on screen. Not exactly the best path to long-term success in showbiz - think Punky Brewster, Macauley Culkin, all the Brady kids ". She admits her previous penchant for raunchiness probably had something to do with reminding viewers she was all grown up, and having "sex like most adults do:
Cosmopolitan: So, what made you decide to get into acting at such a young age?
Alyssa: "My babysitter was trying to be an actress on the New York theatre circuit. One day, she took me with her to an open Annie audition. I saw all these kids singing on the stage, and she asked if I wanted to audition, too. I didn't know what the word meant, but I did know I could do what they were doing. Out of the
1500 kids, only four were picked - and I was one of them. It just felt right. I think that my script must have been already written at that point - I really don't know how else to explain it."
Cosmopolitan: Do you think you missed out on experiencing a "real life" as a kid?
Alyssa: "It's not easy growing up in the business, and I think the only reason I'm still alive is because I was able to go home each night. It was important to my mom that when I came home, there was a meal on the table. I could just walk through the door and be a totally normal daughter. My brother was hugely important, too, because he didn't give a shit. He'd just say, "Wow, look at those pimples!", and I'd be like, "Oh ... right ... OK. I'm going to go and use some Oxy10 now..."
Cosmopolitan: Your mum was also your manager at one time. What was that like?
Alyssa: "Yeah, she still is, actually. I really can't imagine my life without my parents, they're very young in spirit and I enjoy being with them. Every week, we have 'family Sunday'. Mom cooks us big Italian feasts and we eat at like three o'clock in the afternoon, and it keeps going and going. I don't feel like I can get through the week without going to hang out with them. And Holly [Marie Combs], who plays my middle sister on Charmed, is very close to my family, too. She goes over there when I'm not in town and she'll leave a message on my phone saying, 'I'm sitting in your seat at the table and sharing salad with your father'."
Holly's name tends to come up frequently during the time I spend with Alyssa. Shannen Doherty's doesn't. It's a glaring omission, but Alyssa refuses to be drawn on the issue. All she'll say is "Shannen and I are very different people." They're friendly, of course. After all, Shannen did attend Alyssa's wedding last year making the trek all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the ceremony. And the pair are often photographed smiling and hugging each other at various parties. But I get the feeling it's with Holly that Alyssa has the most fun.
While Holly and Shannen both have horses, it was Holly that took Alyssa riding. Now Alyssa's hooked. She seems to have stumbled on the whole girl-pony connection a little late in life. She remembers going trail riding when she was a kid, but she never considered actually owning a horse herself. "I'd, like, hang out with Holly and I'd be, like, wow, that's your horse, that's so cool," she says. Now she has three of her own. She loves the fact that they don't care what she's wearing or whether she has any make-up on, and also that she can't bring stresses or tensions with her because the horses are so sensitive to her moods. It's taught her to live in the moment. But there's just one thing she's not able to relax about - her aching desire to have babies. She just can't seem to find the right guy.
Most recently, she divorced her husband of 11 months, musician Cinjun Tate. Before they were an item, she suffered a broken engagement to Party of Five's Scott Wolf. At the time, she griped, "He left me a month before the wedding. It was his publicity gimmick." But the pair have since managed to settle their differences. Now, she's a bit more philosophical, saying, "Thank God he did it." But the break-up with her husband was far more traumatic.
She and Cinjun met after one of his concerts and married on New Year's Day, 1999, a month after their engagement. That same year, they filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences." It's been suggested that her 14-hour days on the Charmed set, combined with his constant touring, caused them to drift apart. But relationships are more complicated than that. When we speak, it's only a month after their split, and she's still smarting over the field day the US tabloids had with the news.
Cosmopolitan: What do you hate most about fame?
Alyssa: [Long pause "It's not being able to keep certain things private. Like when I got my divorce. It was everywhere, immediately. And it was really hard. There's definitely a time I'll be ready to talk about it, but some members of the press feel they have the right to expose you. I understand because I know the feeling of wanting to know about people I admire or am curious about. But when it's you ... it doesn't help. It's a really bizarre thing."
Cosmopolitan: Has it put you off the whole "settle down and have kids" thing?
Alyssa: "No! I want kids desperately- I'm the typical twentysomething girl. I have a bit of a nesting complex. I need to take care of a lot of things. Every time I want a child, I get another animal. I have two dogs, eight birds and three horses. Does that tell you anything?"
Cosmopolitan: You seem pretty positive about life.
Alyssa: " I've tried to surround myself with people who make me happy rather than drag me down, because misery loves company. When I was younger, I had the friends who were, like, male-bashing miserable girlfriends, and we'd sit around the kitchen table and talk about how much we hated men. There was a point where I said, 'Wow, look at that cloud over us! ' It's not conducive to being happy."
The other thing that makes Alyssa happy is music. By the time she was 20, she had five pop albums under her belt. None of them was released in the United States because, she feels, "people don't give actors who sing respect." Now, she contents herself with the karaoke machine her parents gave her on her birthday. And she travels everywhere with her stack of CDs. As she unpacks her collection at the Cosmo shoot, she decides to put on Rage Against the Machine - loud - to get in the mood for the camera. It's a harsh and driving album that reverberates through the studio. The photographer winces with horror, and moans that it's awful. She just laughs. She may be a regular girl, but there are times when pulling rank has its advantages - like, forget it, no- one's changing the CD on Alyssa.