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Maria Menounous Is Hollywood's It Girl

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 TVGuide.com about the move and to weigh in on a watershed day in infotainment history. TVGuide.com: 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 pu

Matt Webb Mitovich

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 TVGuide.com about the move and to weigh in on a watershed day in infotainment history.

TVGuide.com: 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]

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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!"

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: Did you get good 'n' cheesy dialogue?
Menounos: How about this: [In heavy accent] "Eeeva to base! Jamez Bond haz beeeen eliminated!"

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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.

TVGuide.com: 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]

TVGuide.com: There's ET's story for tomorrow: "Maria Menounous: Scofflaw!"
Menounos: Huge scandal.