Madeline Raynor
February 14, 2017 AT 10:00 AM EST

Jason Aaron Baca has been a vampire, a highlander, a cowboy, and an everyday heartthrob. Whoever he becomes, his bare chest and muscles are always on display. That’s the job of the most popular romance novel cover star since Fabio, the man known for his flowing mane and countless romance novel covers in the ’80s and ’90s.

Baca made headlines earlier last year when he beat Fabio’s record of covers (462), and now he’s surpassed the 500 mark. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, EW caught up with Baca about the major milestone, Fabio’s legacy, and so much more.

Congratulations on reaching 500 covers. When did it happen?
500 just passed the other day. It actually came without me even doing a shoot. They used one of my unused [photos] from my old cover shoots.

How does it feel to hit 500?
It’s always been the journey that’s brought me the pleasure. It’s not so much reaching 500 or getting past a major public figure like Fabio. When I reached his milestone, it was great but there weren’t any balloons waiting for me at the end. It was just like, “Okay, well, get back to work.”

What was your motivation for accumulating so many covers?
Yeah. When I started doing these covers, it was something I just loved. Having to do these big workouts. The intensity of it all was something that really thrilled me. It’s such a unique arena. Not many people can say that they are romance cover models. That’s something that really appealed to me. I’ve always strived to be somebody different, somebody unusual.

Is this the normal output of a romance cover model?
I think I’m a little bit higher paced than everybody else because I think I have that passion a little more so than others. A lot of other people might be in it for the money. They might just be like, “I want to get paid this amount and I won’t do this kind of a book cover shoot.” Whereas for me, it was something that was very heartfelt. Every night I go to bed and I think okay I want to work out that much harder and that much better so that way when I’m on these book covers and they’re standing up right when you walk into a Barnes & Noble, somebody’s gonna walk by and see me on that cover and go “Wow, look at that guy.” They’re not going to be able to pass it without picking it up and wanting to purchase it.

How did you start romance cover modeling?
I was trying my hand at acting. I was a double for the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. I just realized that I could not act. I just could not speak my lines in an audition. I just sounded so funny. But when I was at the location for I Know What You Did Last Summer, I was discovered by the staff photographer. I did [fashion modeling] for eight, nine years. It wasn’t something that I ever really enjoyed doing.

I saw a romance novel at Barnes & Noble and I just totally loved the idea of becoming one. I emailed 80 to 100 authors trying to find out how. Finally, one of the authors responded and said we have a shoot coming up [for a cover] and we need somebody with your description.

Do you read the romance novels when you’re on the cover?
Yeah, those are pretty much the only ones that I do read. I want to know what I’m doing in the books. You get 10, 15 pages into it and you realize, “Oh my god, what a hero. This is me. The hero, the highlander, over here, here’s me as the duke, here’s me as the big heartthrob.”

Craig Williams

Have you ever met Fabio?
No. I’m sure he’s very aware of me by now. I’ve definitely helped him out in later years now that he doesn’t do the covers anymore with him getting a lot of the publicity stuff traced back into the limelight.

How do you feel about him? Do you admire him?
I wouldn’t say I admire him, but I definitely have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s done well with the tools that he’s been given. If it wasn’t for him, I think that half of the people that are out there wouldn’t even know what a romance book is.

How do you feel about Fifty Shades of Grey?
I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t read the book. It’s funny because right after [the movie] came out, I had a shoot and the photographer was just fooling around and he wanted me to do that same pose with the co-model where the guy’s kinda crushing her cheek and she’s got her arms back on the wall, and it felt so overposed. I’m not one that does poses well. I’d rather just flow with it.

Do you have any Valentine’s Day tips?
Guys out there looking to score some brownie points with your lady, don’t just hand her a box of chocolates and say “Happy Valentine’s Day” and then walk off. No. Put some love into it. Ladies want to feel things from the heart. So when you give her those flowers or chocolates, sit down, look her in the eyes, and tell her all the many ways she’s made you happy inside. Show her everything you feel. Take time out of the everyday monotony on this day to explain and take inventory in your relationship. She’ll love you forever for it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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