December 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

”Baywatch Hawaii” star Brande Roderick recently cohosted the first ever Citysearch Baywatch Talent Search National Finals in Los Angeles, at which two unknown but seaworthy actors won guest spots on the show next year. But the spotlight will remain on Roderick, 26, a California native who may be better known as Playboy’s Miss April 2000 and a former flame of 74 year old Bunny wrangler Hugh Hefner. talked to the actress about what it takes to be a ”Baywatch” lifeguard, why posing nude builds character, and whether life is better after leaving the Playboy mansion.

What does it take, aside from the obvious, to be a TV lifeguard?
I think you have to have some sort of foundation in acting, and other than that, be a good swimmer. We’re out on the waves all day, and it’s not always a pretty sight. And we end up doing a lot of stunts, like surf diving and jumping off the rocks into the ocean, so you have to be in shape. You know, after judging the contests, I was surprised by how brave some of these people were. They have to get up in front of a crowd and go through a Q&A period, a reading and a screen test. I don’t think I could have done that before I started acting.

But you weren’t too shy to bare all for Playboy. How terrifying was that?
Of course it was scary. I was shaking at first, but I started to realize that this photographer sees tons of girls every day, so he’s not going to feel any differently about me. After I figured that out, it got a lot better.

Now that you’ve also appeared on shows like ”Two Guys and a Girl” and ”Jesse,” do you ever regret having been a centerfold?
Never. On a personal note, it’s helped me a lot as far as my being more comfortable with myself. And since I think it’s helped me as a person, I can only think it’s helped me in my career. When I go in for auditions, my agents never mention that I’ve been a centerfold, so I’m not even sure most people know until after I’m hired.

C’mon, tell the truth: Is the cast of ”Baywatch Hawaii” fake baked that perfectly golden brown color?
One secret is we all use self tanner. The brand I use goes on the color it’s going to be on your skin, so there’s no streaking. We put on 50+ SPF waterproof sunscreen all day, every day, which is really important. Even with sunscreen, you still get some sun damage. And you also need a sunscreen for your hair, even if you just comb on some conditioner.

We know David Hasselhoff is no longer starring on the show. But since he’s still an executive producer, have you had to listen to him sing?
No, I haven’t. But I really wanted to see him in [the Broadway production of] ”Jekyll & Hyde” when I was last in New York. Unfortunately, I was working through the show times.

How do you respond to people who call ”Baywatch” jiggle TV?
I haven’t really bumped into a lot of that, but if people do think of it as all T&A, they should know that this season it’s been a whole new show. It used to be all about the rescues, but now we’re focusing more on character development and we’ve wrapped drama, suspense, and comedy into the show. And my character is unlike any other female that’s been on the show. She’s a really strong leader. A lot of women have come up to me to say they like her because she doesn’t take any crap.

When you and Playboy pin up twins Sandy and Mandy Bentley were dating Hugh Hefner, all at the same time, the media became fascinated with your foursome. Has that had any impact on your career?
I don’t know what people might think about me, but when I audition I do the only thing that I can do, which is go in and give the best performance possible. I think once they meet me they can see I’m not whatever they imagine because of all of the press. Really, all I can do is show them I’m a great actress.

One of the people who’s been most curious about your relationship is Howard Stern. Do you dread visiting his show?
I think that Howard’s really nice. When he’s off the radio, he’s just a sweet, nice person. But when the microphone is on, he gets a little bold. A lot bold, I should say. But I think because I go in there knowing what to expect, it makes everything okay. I always have a good time.

By the way, are you dating again?
I’m just working. I didn’t date anyone the whole time I was in Hawaii working on the show because it wouldn’t be fair to them. I just don’t have the time. And since I’m only in Los Angeles for two or three months at a time, I can’t really devote myself to anyone I meet here, either. But I’ve never been single before, really, so it’s kind of nice to be my own person and be strong and independent.

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