If you’re a British actress fired by Simon Cowell from the judge’s chair of a reality talent show — after three days — you do what any British actress fired by Simon Cowell would do: You go on a long holiday.
You just don’t expect that to lead to “Piranha 3D.”
That, in a nutshell, is the journey of Kelly Brook, the Internet sensation, Playboy cover girl and co-star in the campiest of summer movies. It’s that last one where audiences across the United States will get a chance to see her in what is, by all reasonable assumptions, a first in mainstream cinema: an unclothed, underwater Sapphic love scene. In 3-D.
Brook attempts a breakout of sorts in the Alexandre Aja movie, one of her first notable film roles after a decade of parts in little-known indies such as “School for Seduction” and “Survival Island.” (“Smallville” devotees may also remember her as Victoria Hardwick in the show’s first season.)
Brook’s in-person appearance — dark hair pulled back, dark skirt — exudes a restrained elegance, but talking to her, one quickly is shown a giddy, almost daffy side. When asked why she thinks producers chose her for “Piranha,” she replies, “Well, there are two obvious things,” and gestures to her breasts, laughing.
As the actress orders a very un-model-like side of garlic truffle fries at a restaurant at the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills, where Dimension Films is putting Brook up for several weeks of film promotion, one is struck by a sense of self-reflection — though that self may not entirely be filled with musings on the collected writings of Soren Kierkegaard.
“I’ve always been branded the girl who’s not that bright, the bimbo, because I’ve got big boobs and I laugh a lot and I’m girly,” she says, laughing again. “All of those things in England that growing up you have to fight against. And all of a sudden I’m in a movie for me.”
She sees this as a nice rebuke to her critics: “‘I’m going to be all those things you told me I was going to be and I’m going to be in a big blockbuster doing all those things you said were really bad for me.’ I’m 30, for goodness’ sake. For me it’s, like, the perfect thing to do right now.”
The actress, whose laugh is airy, with a certain musicality, began modeling and appearing in Maxim while still a teenager. Television and small film roles followed, as did a place in the limelight as a girlfriend of British action-star Jason Statham.
But after years on the margins of Hollywood, she decided to give up on an American career. Several years ago, she stopped making the trip to Los Angeles for pilot season, as she had done for years, and stayed in England, where she has modeled, co-starred in the West End production of Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” and competed on the reality show “Strictly Come Dancing.”
That is, until Cowell struck. In January 2009, the prickly producer fired Brook from “Britain’s Got Talent” as a judge just days into the show, creating a mini-stir in the Cowell-crazed British tabloids. “I didn’t quite know if I didn’t flirt with him enough. The line was it was a format decision,” she says, alluding to the decision to use three judges instead of four. “Whether you believe that or not.”
She then took a vacation to Los Angeles and, sitting in a Santa Monica restaurant with a friend, was approached, out of the blue, by film producer Alix Taylor. Taylor was about to shoot a movie in Arizona, a remake of the Roger Corman-produced low-budget hit about killer fish, with French auteur Aja.
Brook had never heard of the film nor had she seen anything Aja had directed, but she went back to her hotel and Googled Taylor and Aja. Taylor, meanwhile, went home and did the same for Brook. “She was very sexy, but she was also wearing a sundress that day and there was something demure about her,” Taylor recalls in describing why she walked up to her.
The producer then sent the script to Brook, who was enamored by its over-the-top campiness. “When I read it, there were a few moments that I thought it was probably the most exploitational and most ridiculous thing I read in my life. I thought, ‘This is going to be huge.’” (In fact, the film opened weakly over the weekend.)
Taylor wound up casting Brook in the part that would have her as a B-girl partier on the boat where much of the main action takes place. The idea was to cast Brook as a foil for adult film star Riley Steele, with whom she would do the film’s show-stopping scene — that display of love, which plays both scandalous and comedic, with classical music accompanying the underwater frolicking.
Not long after Brook landed the job, she texted Cowell. “I hear you found a great new singer named Susan Boyle,” the text went. “Good luck with that. I’m in Arizona getting eaten by a fish.” (Brook says she has no hard feelings toward Cowell.)
The actress’ odyssey highlights the serendipitous nature of fame, but also suggests a more distinctly 21st century phenomenon. It’s one in which the Internet, celebrity glossies and reality television (and a certain hotness) can propel a person further than an acclaimed on-screen turn; despite an absence of a hit TV show or film, Brook seems to be better known than many higher-paid and better-credentialed actresses.
Brook’s popularity is only increasing with her appearance in the September issue of Playboy (“The U.K.‘s Hottest Export,” the cover line says), something she says she did in part at Dimension’s behest. “It was a tricky one. If I was 20, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” she says. “But all of a sudden I have a big studio behind me saying we really want you to do it, and it’ll be great for the movie, and you’re already naked in the movie anyway.”
Whether “Piranha” marks the beginning of a soaring film career is an open question: It’s not as if the movie particularly showcases performers’ acting skills.
“I’m halfway between an Oscar winner and a porn star,” she says, referring to co-stars Elisabeth Shue and Steele. “I could go either way right now.”
There is a weird sense of anxiety, even fatalism, beneath Brook’s cheerfulness. “I’ve probably got the next five or six years to do something big,” she says. “And I don’t want to screw it up.”
But then she snaps back into glass-half-full sunniness. “I’ve gotten to a point in this business where I’m resilient to the highs and lows.” She laughs. “If I could make being fired by Simon Cowell into a positive, I must be doing something right.” She laughs again. “My mum says I fall in ... and I come up smelling of roses.”
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