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Photography by John Russo

Paula Patton’s Mission Possible

by Elina Fuhrman | Jezebel magazine | October 31, 2011

I’m about to meet Paula Patton at blÜ, a swanky high-rise apartment complex in Beverly Hills, for her JEZEBEL cover shoot. When I arrive, Patton is flashing her washboard abs in a man-trapping look: teeny bikini bottoms, a sultry corset and extra-high heels. A security guard is on hand to keep an eye on a glistening pile of jewelry that Patton’s retro-sexual look seems to demand. I think to myself, it’s no wonder she just snagged a CoverGirl endorsement contract.

Posing for the camera—with the help of Eartha Kitt’s voice bellowing in French in the background—Patton is luminous. She’s like a major chord of exuberance, her eyes singing to the tunes. “I’m having a blast,” she confesses, laughing. “For photo shoots, I often use music that inspires me because it’s hard to be yourself in front of the camera. But when you get to [channel] Eartha Kitt for three minutes, it’s fun!”

Away from the camera, Patton reverts to a girl-next-door, her soft hair falling down around her face. I have a lot of questions for the 35-year-old actress, who is about to become a major star once her movie, Ghost Protocol, the latest Mission: Impossible installment, hits theaters on Dec. 16. “I just got to see the movie finally, a week ago, and I was blown away,” says Patton. “It is very gritty and, somehow, the most impossible seems possible in the coolest way.” She then erupts in laughter again.

Patton has a great laugh—it’s full and rich, her eyes smiling as her whole body rides along with her for the guffaw. She laughs easily as she explains how she got the female lead role opposite Tom Cruise. “The truth is that I really didn’t think that I was going to get it. I remember them calling me and asking me to come in and read for the director, and I was like, ‘Come on, guys, don’t waste my time!’” When Patton got a call from director Brad Bird and producer J.J. Abrams offering her the part of Jane Carter, she could hardly believe it. “I was like, ‘Stop! Stop!’ It was a great moment,” she reminisces.

Playing a secret spy in an action-packed flick was something new for Patton, who only recently started acting professionally. “I’ve always wanted to be an actress, since I was a little girl; I went to a performing arts high school, but then I got sidetracked and decided that maybe I wanted to be a filmmaker,” she says with a half shrug.

Patton graduated from USC Film School magna cum laude and started working her way up in the business, first as a production assistant on films (“Charge my walkie-talkie batteries!”), then as an assistant (“Go get me a cup of coffee!”), before being given an opportunity to shoot a camera and produce documentary episodes. “I was around 27 when I had this epiphany. I was writing screenplays and trying to do my thing, but, in all honesty, it was a lot of procrastination. “Then I thought to myself, ‘What have I always loved to do?’ and the answer was, ‘to act!’ My next thought was, ‘Screw it, I have nothing to lose.’” Patton enrolled in acting classes, and it wasn’t long before she auditioned for a film that “never got off the ground.” But the meeting with the casting director led to an agent, and, before long, Patton was on her way. “I got lucky,” she admits with a smile, “I feel like everything has been that way since I made the decision [to start acting]: pure luck.” She still pinches herself every time she is on her way to set because, as she says, she can’t believe this career is happening for her. But she still believes that her luck is a reward for trusting herself and her instincts. “I like pretending to be somebody else.”

From her role as sexy songstress in Idlewild, to her courageous and indelible heroine in Deja Vu, to portraying a lesbian teacher in Precious and a mad-cap newlywed in Jumping The Broom, Patton has been turning a lot of heads in Hollywood. Studio execs are eager to see her on the big screen as a potential new action hero. But for Patton, this Mission: Impossible gig is just another role that she loved and learned a lot in between. “That’s what I love about being an actress! I learned all kinds of physical stunts. It helps you become the character and bring honesty to whatever person you are playing and find a real person [inside that]… It gets you into a head space,” she adds.

A good perspective is not the only reason for Patton’s positive outlook—there’s her six-year marriage to striking R&B singer/songwriter Robin Thicke, whom she met when she was a teenager. The couple’s 1-and-a-half-year-old toddler, Julian, is the center of their universe. “Four days is the longest I’ve been away from him,” she says, her voice softening. “I like to hang out with my son; I love painting with him, taking him to museums, singing and dancing [with him].” She starts imitating her little one attempting to sing and then breaks into laughter at the thought, “Well, he doesn’t really sing.”

Her mom, a former schoolteacher, is another rock in her life: “The best mommy in the world!” Patton exclaims affectionately. Patton isn’t keen to talk about her childhood, except to say “things were not perfect—as many childhoods aren’t—and for me, my escape was my imagination.”

To this day, Patton admits she “doesn’t like reality very much,” which is perfect for her chosen profession, but there are some parts of the real world she does love. “I love my son; I love my husband; and then I want to take them into my dream-world.” And what does Patton’s dream world look like? “My dream is Paris, and good food, and beautiful sunsets, and no worries, and no stress and life floating on a cloud!” What’s so impossible about that?