Marisa Tomei: A Brooklyn Beauty

Mel Gibson. Robert Downey Jr. Matt Dillon. Christian Slater. Vince Vaughn. Hugh Jackman. Antonio Banderas. No, I'm not ticking off a list of men to drool over. These are the men that actress Marisa Tomei has worked with. Lucky, eh? When asked if she ever had a crush on one of them, she diplomatically replied, "I think I had a crush on all of them. They are all really great actors. There is something mysterious with a little darkness in all of them, which I like." Her favorite? "What can I say? That's like picking a favorite relative."

Her most recent film, In the Bedroom, earned the 37-year-old actress an Academy Award nomination. And although Tomei failed to take home her second Oscar for Best Supporting Actress this year, her performance definitely put her in spotlight, with critics singling out her role as major comeback performance.

Not that she's really disappeared since she made her big screen splash as the spunky girlfriend of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie in 1992 -- a role that earned her an Academy Award, which subsequently lead to some nasty rumors. The juicy tidbit was that Jack Palance, the actor who presented the award to the relatively inexperienced Tomei over more seasoned actresses like Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave, accidentally read the wrong name. Nasty, yes. True? Not a chance.

The affable, down-to-earth actress has said she definitely felt the pressure of being honored with the Academy Award so early in her career. But, she hasn't stopped working since. Although none of her films (until In the Bedroom) reached the same level of success as Vinnie, she's been very busy acting. Tomei has had top billing in about a dozen movies including Untamed Heart, The Paper, Slums of Beverly Hills and Happy Accidents. And she's had at least another dozen supporting roles in popular film such as Someone Like You and What Women Want.

Born in Brooklyn, Tomei started her acting career in a fairly typical way -- attending auditions she read about in the newspaper. Her father, a trial attorney, and mother, a schoolteacher, were always very supportive of Tomei and her younger brother, Adam, who's also an actor. "I started off on a couple of soaps. My grandmother had a friend of a friend who was an agent, and she represented me on my first soap job. From there -- it just took off. It's been a lot of hard work. It's been exhausting, as a matter of fact," she said.

She landed her first film role (a bit part in The Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon) after her freshman year at Boston University, and dropped out after that to pursue acting full time.

Tomei is lucky that her career took off. She said she never had a backup plan. "Nothing ever presented itself that I thought I could do," she said. "I pretty much always knew I wanted to be an actor."

The slim brunette actress keeps herself in shape with yoga, hiking and -- believe it or not -- singing. "Singing really oxygenates your blood," says Tomei, who's been taking singing lessons for the past year. "You stretch your lungs and take in much more air into them than before. It's really good for your health."

As for her beauty secrets, she claims there are none. "I'm just a bar of soap kind of girl. I use a Cetaphil soap and some random moisturizer. I guess I should do more, but I don't really have the patience for it."

With homes in L.A. and New York, Tomei spends a lot of her free time going to auctions and flea markets trying to fix up her pads. She's quiet about her love life, except to say, yes, she has a boyfriend. Although she wouldn't give his name, her date to the Academy Awards looked very much like her old boyfriend, playwright Frank Pugliese.

As a big fan of Ghost World and director Terry Zwigoff, Tomei said she'd love to work with him as well as actor/director Steve Buscemi. And, of course, Todd Field (director of In the Bedroom) again.

Look for Tomei later this summer in Just a Kiss, a dark comedy with Kyra Sedgewick and Taye Diggs, and then in the fall in The Guru with Heather Graham.

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