New Look

Brooklyn Decker on Her ‘Horrible’ Modeling Experiences, Marriage, and Cracking Hollywood

The curvaceous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model opens up about her transition into acting with the new CBS sitcom Friends with Better Lives.

Gus Ruelas/Reuters

First impressions are tough to eradicate—especially in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. Once your role in the industry is set, you’re ensnared worse than Chris Farley in a little coat.

For Brooklyn Decker, her entrée into the entertainment world came on Feb. 8, 2010. On that night, David Letterman announced on The Late Show that the statuesque blond had been chosen as the cover model of the 2010 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The stunning image of her, smiling coquettishly in waist-deep water in the Maldives, breasts strategically obscured by hand-bra, was plastered on billboards and newsstands everywhere.

The image became so indelible that, one year later, Decker sported an identical yellow bikini in her big screen debut, wherein she portrayed the how-the-hell-did-he-land-her trophy wife of Adam Sandler in the high-concept comedy Just Go with It. A pair of underwritten roles, as Taylor Kitsch’s eye candy in Battleship and another younger trophy wife in What to Expect When You’re Expecting followed, and the burgeoning actress began to question her place within the movie machine.So she did what so many other underutilized actors are doing these days: turned to television. First came the role of Gina Gibiatti, a nightmare of a woman who’s turned on by bum fights, in the F/X comedy The League, followed by a memorable cameo in arguably the best episode of Fox’s New Girl. The TV gods were so impressed that, when pilot season came around, Decker was cast as Jules Talley, a naïve single gal engaged to a New Age-y nut ball in the comedy Friends with Better Lives, alongside small screen vets Kevin Connolly (Entourage) and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek). The show was picked up by CBS and made its premiere on March 31, immediately following the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Decker, 26, chatted with The Daily Beast about the role, her transition from modeling to acting, and much more.

How did your parents come about naming you “Brooklyn?”

My mom’s best friend had a horse named “Brooke,” and it was a name she always loved, so as a joke, my Dad suggested “Brooklyn.” So I was named Brooklyn and grew up in North Carolina, which was very weird. I ended up living in Brooklyn for a couple of years, but they’d never even been to New York when they named me.

Friends with Better Lives deals with a group of pals who all believe the others have it better. Have you ever wanted to switch places with someone? Maybe long for your single days?

Yeah. I travel a lot for work, which I love, and I have a lot of friends where I live in Austin and they all have dinners together and have a very normal existence, and don’t have to worry about where their pets go when they’re traveling, so I think, “That consistency seems nice.” But because I live in Austin, I stay out of the whole Hollywood scene. I lived in New York for work and left once I could. I crave that smaller life, and a more normal existence. Austin’s more about food, and music, and being outdoorsy, and nobody cares who anyone is. Now, this huge, hipster culture we see everywhere is becoming more of the norm, so I’m curious to see how Austin changes in the next couple of years.

Since your co-star is James Van Der Beek, I’ve got to ask: did you watch Dawson’s Creek?

I had hippie parents, so I wasn’t allowed to watch TV until I was about 14 years old, so I’d sneak over to my neighbors to watch TGIF. I completely missed Dawson’s Creek, 90210, and so many ‘90s references go straight over my head because my parents wanted me outside building forts.

Well, at least you got some TGIF in. Boy Meets World fan?

Boy Meets World is my JAM. That, Family Matters, Step by Step… what happened? We really don’t have TV like that anymore.

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I enjoyed your stint on The League as the awful Gina Gibiatti. Did that help you prepare for your stint on a multi-camera sitcom like Friends with Better Lives?

The League helped me a lot. I’d just come off a few movies and people… some of them didn’t do so well, and I think people wondered, “Is this girl going to stick around? What’s her place in this business?” So when The League came around, it was totally different for me and a ton of improv, and the writing was very risqué, so when it came around to pilot season, I think that role helped people see me in a different light. I’m a really good bitch. I loved playing that character a little too much, I think, which is frightening.

You were also on a great episode of New Girl where the gang plays “True American” and Nick and Jess kiss. Do you even know the rules of “True American?”

OK, so they don’t even know the rules. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that… but it’s this total crazy game that they’ve made up, and they just throw lines, former presidents, and so many things out at you, and you’re yelling, and it makes no sense whatsoever. But filming it was a blast. It was complete chaos.

You came up in the modeling world, and I have friends who’ve had varying experiences with modeling. It can be quite cutthroat at times. What was your experience like?

I moved to New York when I was 18, and I hadn’t left the country, and had just gotten a passport. For me, it was an incredible way to see the world and travel. And I learned grown-up things like how to pay rent. But modeling itself, I was just never a good model. I didn’t really work that much. I just didn’t enjoy the job at all, which was horrible.

Why was it so horrible? Did it make you self-conscious?

For sure. In 2005, I moved to New York, and at that time, there was a very big Brazilian and Eastern European presence in the industry. We didn’t have the Kate Upton’s, the Miranda Kerr’s, or the Chrissy Teigen’s of the world—these beautiful, curvaceous bodies. It was all about how much you can look like a hanger on the runway. So I came on the scene with a total bod and this southern personality, and I really didn’t work. Now, it’s totally changed with social media. You can see how intelligent and well-traveled models are and get a sense of their personalities, but at the time, we didn’t have any of those tools, so it was just basically how you looked on a piece of paper. I didn’t fit the industry and the industry didn’t like me.

Hollywood loves to pigeonhole people. Was it initially tough for you to break into acting because of your modeling background?

I think I was. People oftentimes think they’re being judged by how they look or their background, but it also gives you incredible opportunities. I probably wouldn’t have gotten Just Go with It if I hadn’t made a bit of a name for myself in the modeling world. I had auditioned for that director [Dennis Dugan] several times for other movies so he’d seen me perform, and this was the one I happened to get. I’m sure I was and will continue to be pigeonholed, but at the same time, it’s given me so many opportunities.

What’s going on with this untitled Warren Beatty film you’re shooting now on the life of Howard Hughes?

I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but I can say that I know Warren and we’d had a meeting in the past, and he asked me to come in on the film and improv for a couple of days. We may see none of it, we may see all of it. I have no idea. He’s a legend though, and it was a huge honor to work with him.

You’re a very busy actress these days juggling movie projects and a sitcom, and you’re husband is retired and doing sportscasting. How do you two make it work as a couple?

I have no idea and I’m still new at this, but the idea of living in a place like Austin where Hollywood doesn’t reign supreme is really important. I grew up in Matthews, North Carolina, and saw it as a very normal upbringing, so I crave normalcy and a slower pace. I think being outside of the crazy, hectic industry is a great way to make your relationship work.