Maria Menounos Maria Menounos

Last month, Maria Menounos left a three-year gig at Entertainment Tonight to serve as both a special correspondent for Access Hollywood and a contributor to NBC's Today. What's it all mean? The 27-year-old Greek goddess found a few minutes between her new jobs to speak with about the move and to weigh in on a watershed day in infotainment history. When you were in the 1996 Miss Teen USA pageant, you told host Bob Goen that when you "grew up," you wanted to work with him on ET — and your wish came true. Kinda wishing now you'd aimed for world peace?
Maria Menounos: That and a puppy for everyone. [Laughs] Some could argue that leaving ET for Access is like quitting the Mets to join, well, the Mets. I mean, aren't they basically the same shows?
Menounos: There's a major rivalry between the shows, so it's more like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox. But for me it was just an opportunity — Today was something that I definitely couldn't pass up on, and at Access I'm getting to do more specialized things. Like not starting off every sentence with "Brangelina..." or "TomKat..."?
Menounos: [Laughs] Yeah, I'm getting to do more sit-down interviews and stuff that I really enjoy doing. And [executive producer] Rob [Silverstein] is an amazing boss, so I'm having a great time. He and [coanchor] Billy [Bush] have been trying to plant seeds in my brain for such a long time, and I didn't even consider it. But when my contract came up, NBC expressed a strong interest and it went from there. Oct. 5 was one heckuva day, huh? We started with the Lindsay Lohan-car crash story, followed by Nick-Jessica divorce reports, a rumored secret Brad-Angelina wedding and, to cap it off, the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes pregnancy! I was saying here at the office that should an Eva Longoria sex video turn up, the walls would implode.
Menounos: I know, it was wild right? And I was completely out of the loop — for Today, I was in San Francisco doing a story on the third most expensive house in the country. So when I checked in with Rob, he goes, "This couldn't be a crazier day" and went down the laundry list of things. I was like, "Oh, boy!" On a scale of 1 to 10, how shocked were you to hear that Katie and Tom are expecting?
Menounos: Probably a... 10. I was caught off guard. I think everyone was. But good for them! Good for them. How do celebrities survive the interrogationlike spotlight under which they live these days?
Menounos: It's really hard. That's why I try to avoid doing things that I wouldn't want done to me. I honestly think that people have no idea how difficult it is to be in the public eye like that. They have such a misconception about what this business is — that it's all glamour and parties — when everyone in this business, from you to me to full-time actors, works their tails off. I'm glad that I understand it from all angles, because I like to educate people as much as possible. I especially feel bad for the moms in Hollywood, having interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow and others. I "get" that it's fair game when a celebrity is out in the public to get their picture taken, but when they're being chased and they have their child? That's crossing the line. I saw a picture of Britney Spears in her backyard sunbathing — do you think it's fair that they have helicopters over her house? I get really upset about it all. It's a very interesting business. I read somewhere that Menounos is Greek for "miniskirt fanatic." Is that true?
Menounos: No! [Laughs] No.... I did try to figure out what it meant once, but I forget what we came up with. Tell me about the "James Bond: From Russia with Love" video game you voiced, to be released next month.
Menounos: It was really, really fun. I'm "Eva," and I try to take down Bond. I have what I call a "Grussian" accent, because it was kinda Greek and Russian blended. Did you get good 'n' cheesy dialogue?
Menounos: How about this: [In heavy accent] "Eeeva to base! Jamez Bond haz beeeen eliminated!" You've almost completed a film you started producing at age 18, and have two shorts — starring no less than Lara Flynn Boyle and Wilmer Valderrama — on the festival circuit. Did you ever imagine you'd be such a prolific producer?
Menounos: Absolutely, because that's what I did before I did anything else. I was studying film and journalism in college, knowing that I wanted to do both. Did I know how it would all unfold exactly? No. [Laughs] I'm a Gemini, I've got too many moving parts — I knew that I'd be dabbling in anything under the sun. Including many charitable causes.
Menounos: Take Action Hollywood! is a charity that I formed after my trip to South Africa, and we have done a number of group projects. We helped get distribution for a film called Paper Clips, about these students down South that started learning about the Holocaust for the first time just three years ago; we put together the Cosmo Girl Cup, a nationwide program for high-school-age students to come up with a creative solution to a problem in their community; and we're trying to set up an event with the North Shore Animal League to raise awareness of adopting pets abandoned by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I also did Habitat for Humanity last week, which was amazing. What was your specialty as a handywoman?
Menounos: I grew up in a home of laborers, so it's not like it was foreign to me, but my hammering improved tremendously. I'm almost in the Four Club — that's how many hits it takes you to get the nail all the way in. [Proudly] I'm going to be in the Two Club soon. There's a joke there, I'm sure, but I'll just wrap this up by saying that it has been great speaking with you.
Menounos: Listen, I'm usually a bit more fun, but I've been up since 1 a.m. — and I'm actually waiting outside of court right now to go show them that I put a license plate on my car. [Laughs] There's ET's story for tomorrow: "Maria Menounous: Scofflaw!"
Menounos: Huge scandal.