lauren hill makes a great first impression
What took us so long? Last year we discovered Lauren Michelle Hill at a swimsuit competition in St. Croix. But she's been in front of the camera her entire life.
"Mom owned a modeling agency and used to take her girls to New York," she tells us. "As soon as school was over we'd go there for the summer. Mom would take all four of us -- I have two brothers and a sister -- to auditions. Every one of us has acted and modeled. Even our cat. He was in That Darn Cat. We got him from the set."
Lauren modeled clothes for department store catalogs and posed for the art on Hasbro toy boxes (she's not telling which ones, but we're sure they'd make great collectibles). As a well-coiffed teenager she appeared in ads for hair care products and was spotted by film producers on location in the South.
"In Heavyweights, the movie with Ben Stiller about kids at a weight-loss camp, I played the dream girl at a dance. They do a slow motion of me walking across the floor." Not one to let the job description "dream girl" remain just an entry on her résumé, she took a break from landlocked Columbia, South Carolina and tried her luck in Los Angeles. Within a week she'd landed on the Baywatch beach.
"In one episode I played one of the boy-crazy junior lifeguards who are sent away for a weekend to learn about teamwork. A strong current sweeps two of the girls into a cave and another girl and I run back and bring everyone to rescue them." Lauren laughs. "Isn't that a great plot summary? I can't believe how that show keeps going on and on."
During a stroll along the tree-shaded Horseshoe walk at the University of South Carolina, where Lauren's a journalism major and a cheerleader, this soft-spoken and ambitious (isn't that one paradigm of a Southern woman?) native talks about Southern writers, expectations of Southern women ("a lot of them are brought up learning how to raise a family, cook and sew") and her deep affection for sports. "I grew up watching sports all the time, and in college especially you're out there to win, giving your all for yourself and the team."
Lauren makes sure that the South Carolina Gamecocks give it the old college try. Eighty thousand fans roar when she leads the cheers at football games. "There were 70 girls at tryouts. When I made the final cut, I called my mom and told her, 'You're not going to believe this, but I made the team!'" (We're not surprised.)
What do cheerleaders do after class? They practice. Three hours is the norm. "And not just stunts," Lauren says, "but lots of conditioning, too -- laps and runs up and down the stadium steps." The squad is also deployed to boost the University's basketball and volleyball teams.
Standing a few inches taller than her teammates (most cheerleaders are petite, because the men on the squad have to throw -- and catch -- them), Lauren caught the eye of a varsity basketball player. "He saw me working out in the weight room the first week of my freshman year. I saw him, too. It's that typical basketball-player-with-the-cheerleader thing," she deadpans.
Their relationship has turned long distance since her seven-foot-tall drink of water signed on to play pro ball in Europe. Lauren also keeps her passport handy for the modeling assignments that take her to all the warm places -- most often around the Caribbean. But she notes that a swimsuit model's life isn't always a day at the beach. "You have to be in makeup around 5:30 a.m. so they can start shooting as soon as the sun comes up." How does a beautiful woman manage such a tough job? "You practice the steps and the stance," she says. "You have to make that suit look as good as possible while you're looking natural."
We think Lauren looks spectacular when the swimsuit is optional.
"I originally said no to Playboy," she says demurely. "I didn't think I could be a Playmate because I'm just kind of normal-looking."
Naturally, we disagree, as did the many readers who wrote us after seeing the October issue, begging to see Lauren featured. Your wish is our command.
Photography by Stephen Wayda