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Malin Akerman's Super-Hero Workout
"OK, there is no way that I am going in there."
Malin Akerman is sitting in a low-key Los Angeles bakery talking about a charter-boat trip she took in Bora Bora a few months back. A cushy gig, to be sure--until she spotted the fins of some black-tipped sharks slicing through the Pacific waters. "I was so nervous," she recalls, "I felt like I needed to pee."
But somehow Akerman was persuaded to slither into scuba gear and take the plunge. Funny thing: Once submerged, she felt an unexpected calm and powered up her flippers to get a closer look at the lean, mean eating machines. "Turns out, I couldn't catch them--or even get close to them," she says with a laugh. "I realized that sharks are amazing, beautiful animals who have absolutely no interest in checking me out."
That would make them pretty much the only ones not taken with the 30-year-old actress. Nibbling on a lunch of vegetable quiche, Akerman oozes chic in jeans, a long-sleeve black tee, a casually tied black-and-gray checked scarf, and a jaunty black beret. Even in a land of knockouts, this is a woman who turns heads. But though Akerman isn't totally oblivious to how the world perceives her, she's quick to dismiss the superficial. "I've always felt so different from how I look," she says. "I meet so many pretty girls who are like, 'Here I am! Don't you want me because I look good?' That concept is so weird to me. I want to know, 'What else do you have going on?'"
In Akerman's case, plenty. This month, she'll hit the big screen in a big way as Silk Spectre, the femme fatale in Watchmen, the movie based on the popular graphic novel. Spend just a few minutes watching her kick, run through flames, and fight evil in a body-hugging latex suit, garters, and three-inch heels, and you think: This woman is capable of anything.
Akerman's life has successfully morphed so many times, it seems as if she has her own superhero powers. Born in Stockholm, she moved to Toronto with her model mother and insurance-broker father when she was 2. She was nudged into modeling after going on some of her mother's fashion shoots ("It was a great excuse to get out of school," she says). At 16, Akerman won the Ford Supermodel of Canada search but decided to focus on her studies, enrolling in Toronto's York University with the goal of one day becoming a child psychologist. After about a year, she "hopped off university for a bit" to see what else was out there.
Akerman moved to L.A., where she picked up a few small parts here and there, including one in the pothead cult hit Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. She also became the lead singer and only female member of the alt-rock band The Petalstones. Today, Akerman readily admits: "I wouldn't have made it past the first round of American Idol auditions. It was months before our first song was recorded. The guys were like, 'Just seeng!' And I was like, 'I don't know how to seeng! Can't I just play the triangle?'" The band released an album, Stung, in 2005, but couldn't get any major labels to bite, so they called it quits. Akerman didn't leave it all behind, though: In June 2007, she married the band's drummer, Roberto Zincone, in a ceremony on Italy's Amalfi Coast--or, as she puts it, "I went back to acting, but kept my husband."
Turns out Simon Cowell's loss was Lisa Kudrow's gain. Akerman soon landed a spot as an ingÃƒÂ©nue in Kudrow's critically acclaimed HBO series The Comeback. Two juicier film roles followed: one as Katherine Heigl's scheming little sister in 27 Dresses and another as Ben Stiller's bride from hell in The Heartbreak Kid, an intimidating but, she says, ultimately awesome experience. "So I'm going face-to-face with Ben Stiller, and I'm a wreck," she recalls of the first week on the set. "I called my husband every night crying--'Why did I ever think I could do this?'" Slowly, though, Akerman's confidence grew to the point where she could twist Stiller's nipples in one seriously contorted sex scene, snort tri-tip out of her sunburned nose, and fart loudly--all without a second thought. "The goofier I was, the better it went," Akerman says. "In that sense, I have no pride."
The movie's premiere, however, was another story altogether. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'OK, in five minutes, everybody is going to see my breasts'"--including her husband and her mother, who were flanking Akerman in the audience. But no worries. "My husband laughed the hardest, and my mom actually had tears rolling down her face," Akerman says. "She's not conservative. In fact, she could have taught me some of those poses!"
Not wanting to be typecast as the blonde ditz, Akerman seized the opportunity to don latex and jump into the fantasy world of Watchmen. (Well, maybe not so much the latex: "It was the complete opposite of comfortable," she says, noting that to make her shoulders look like a fighter's, she had to wear a corset so tight it shrunk her waist by three inches.) The story takes place in an imaginary 1985 in which Richard Nixon is still president, nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia looms, and superheroes roam the streets. "There are so many layers: politics, conspiracy theories, love stories," says Akerman, who plays the daughter of Carla Gugino, the first Silk Spectre. Akerman carries much of the film's emotional baggage: She wraps up one romance with Dr. Manhattan, played by Billy Crudup, and embarks on another with Night Owl, played by Patrick Wilson. "My character gets around," she says.
Silk Spectre kicks some ass, too. So a month before filming began, Akerman began spending six hours a day getting buff, with the help of L.A. trainer Logan Hood, a former Navy SEAL, prepping for scenes like the one in which she roundhouses three guys in a row. Her regimen included an obstacle course of crab walks, pullups on rings, and hauling around a 50-pound bag of sand by a long rope.
"For the first week, I felt like an 80-year-old woman," she says. Unfortunately for Akerman, her costar Wilson couldn't commiserate: "He had a costume with foam outlines of muscles, whereas I had to [develop] my own," she says, adding with a smirk, "the little bastard."
Complementing Akerman's physical regimen was a strict diet her trainers created. "I basically stuck to it," she says. But she does cop to cheating now and then--usually with a glass of wine or a brownie, since, she says, "I can't walk by chocolate without eating it." Another irresistible: Nutella. "I dig my spoon in and eat it straight out of the jar. I can easily go through one a week." Still, she doesn't seem to put on a pound. "Don't hate me, but I've always been skinny," she says with a shrug. "I got lucky."
The Good Life
Actually, lucky would be a good way to describe Akerman's entire life. "I really hit the jackpot," she says of her marriage to Zincone. "Roberto is so accepting and supportive. People would say, 'I'll give the two of you five years.' But it gets better and better every day." When she's not working, the couple can usually be found hanging out, eating pasta, and drinking wine on the balcony of their L.A. home. Akerman, whose parents divorced when she was 6, also loves spending time with Zincone's large Italian family. "It's seems like every time we visit Italy, there's a new family member to eat lunch with!" She says she and Zincone might call Italy home when they start their own family. "I've always wanted a big table of kids," Akerman says. "But we'll probably end up having two of our own and adopting one."
Until that happens, Akerman busies herself by going through a big pile of psychology books stacked beside her bed and checking out the political news on moveon.org--even though as a self-described "Swedish-Canadian mutt" she can't vote in U.S. elections. "My only requirement for life," she says, "is that I don't get stuck in a rut." Let's see: alternative rock...nipple-twisting...Navy SEALs...sharks...
Something tells us that's not going to be a problem.
Check out Malin's workout.