"It looks like I swallowed a basketball!" jokes Jeri Ryan of the walloping belly that, come March, will produce a baby girl for her and new husband Christophe Émé, the Michelin-starred French chef (and, with Ryan, co-owner of the popular West Hollywood eatery Ortolan). "I mean, I'm carrying so forward that if there hadn't been a clear shot in the ultrasound, I would have sworn it was a boy."
Yep, forget about those tight, tiny-waisted business suits she sports as Jessica Devlin, James Woods' tough-talking law partner on Shark. And absolutely ditto that for the famously skin-hugging catsuits she squeezed her bodacious 5-foot-8-inch frame into during four years as Seven of Nine, Star Trek: Voyager's part-human, part-Borg. Today Jeri Ryan is hauling around a whole new set of curves.
Before the writers' strike halted production on Shark — and kicked off Ryan's maternity leave two months early, in November — she and costar Woods spent their on-set breaks having "belly-offs." "Jimmy would jokingly call me 'fatty,'" the actress recalls, "so we would compare bellies on a daily basis. By the fifth month, I had won the competition!"
The actress — who nabbed the title of 1989's Miss Illinois and placed fourth in the 1990 Miss America contest — has been on a year-long winning streak. First, the self-confessed "lifelong Francophile" and foodie got hitched in a Vera Wang gown at a "fairy-tale" wedding in Émé's native Loire Valley on June 16. Then, after a two-week honeymoon that included pit stops in Paris, Tuscany and the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, the couple (Ryan met her husband-to-be four years ago at a chef's charity event) returned to their San Fernando Valley home to find that their "ideal plan" of cooking up a "honeymoon baby" had actually succeeded.
"It simply couldn't have worked out better," enthuses the actress, who will turn the big 4-0 just two weeks before her daughter's birth and still seems rather astonished at her latest good fortune. "To get pregnant the first time you try at 39? I mean, I tried to explain to Chris how unusual that is — we have so many friends who are having such a hard time — but his response was [she affects an accent as theek as her husband's], 'Well, I'm French!'"
"But of course," says a grinning Émé, 38, jauntily buffing his fingernails on his white chef's coat as he preps for the day's work at Ortolan. "When you're French, you expect everything!" A soccer-loving, woods-romping farm boy from the tiny village of Jarze who, says Ryan, "hadn't even seen a video game before he moved in with me and my son [13-year-old Alex, by former husband Jack Ryan]," Émé intends to speak only in French with his new femme fatale. This could be tough for Ryan, who groans that, despite a good bit of studying, "I still speak French about as well as a 5-year-old."
Émé likes the idea of their daughter becoming an actress — "She'll have it in her blood already," he says to Ryan's protestations of, "No, I'd never wish an actress' life on anyone!" Yet shockingly, he's never seen a single episode of Voyager. "He's sort of curious," reports Ryan, "but it's not like I sit down and go, 'Oooh, here, watch me on this old DVD!'" That said, Ryan good-naturedly concedes that the iconic Voyager character Seven of Nine is very likely the role that "will be the first line" in her obituary. "Once you're in the Star Trek world, you're in it forever. The bad thing about [Trek] is it's notorious for pigeonholing actors who then can't break away and get other jobs."
That hasn't been a problem for Ryan, who has enjoyed an enormously successful post-Trek TV career, with stints on Boston Public (the show she says she's most recognized for in France), Boston Legal and, now, Shark.
She's lucky, too, that at this moment, with feet up and stomach out, she's able to lie in bed at home. "It's terrible to say," the actress confides with a laugh, "but, selfishly, the timing [of the strike] couldn't have been better, because I was cooked — my schedule was killing me, and I needed this break desperately."
Nor does her husband's occupation hurt. "He's always pampered me, but now it's getting ridiculous," she says of the gourmet treats her new hubby constantly whips up. So is she ever surprised at how well life has worked out? "Christophe and I just look at each other and shake our heads all the time," Ryan says. "I'm astoundingly lucky, and I'm completely aware and thankful of that every minute of every day."
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