ORLANDO, Fla. -- Paula Patton is as bubbly as a freshly-popped magnum of champagne -- always.
Flirtatious, girlish, she's married to her childhood sweetheart, pop-star-of-the-moment Robin Thicke. But she still works it, on screen and off, especially when she's late for her interview.
"VERY tight dress," she explains with a giggle. "I almost died, getting into this thing." An L.A. baby who grew up across the street from the 20th Century Fox backlot, Patton might have spent a perfectly agreeable Hollywood career as a gorgeous second banana in mostly forgettable films such as "Just Wright," "Deja Vu" and "Hitch."
But then, on the backside of 30, she landed a key supporting part in one of the most acclaimed films of recent years -- the Oscar-winning "Precious." She found "gentle life in her angelic character, an alternative-school teacher who tries to help Precious," Moira Kelly noted in the Seattle Times. And Hollywood noticed, too.
"'Precious' helped me land ‘Mission: Impossible,'" Patton says. "Tom (Cruise) had seen it and liked it.
"You never know what got Hollywood's attention. People are moved by different things you've done. ‘Precious' certainly opened a lot of doors for me." She landed a leading part in the engaging African-American wedding comedy "Jumping the Broom." That hit led to work in the Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg actioner "Two Guns."
And "Precious" gave her a fresh chance to make a romantic comedy about a flight attendant who jets hither and yon, tracking down old boyfriends to try and land a fiance in time for her sister's wedding. "Baggage Claim" wasn't doable until Patton's profile rose.
"I was dying to do it, but at the time, the studio went ‘Who IS this girl?' They didn't know me. They went another way, but the movie never got made. It fell apart . Meanwhile, these other films -- ‘Precious,' "Mission: Impossible' came out -- and I had my child, my most IMPORTANT production. And they called me back."
She "jumped up and down" when the chance to play Montana, the lovelorn flight attendant, returned. The not-lovelorn Patton was drawn to the script -- full of supporting characters in the airline industry who help Montana get herself working on flights with the most eligible bachelors (Taye Diggs and Djimon Hounsou among them) from her past -- "and I got Robin, my husband and my best friend, to read it out loud, and we both laughed.
"I really wanted something funny and clever and romantic, all the travel and the scheming that was involved. It was what I was in the mood for, you know?"
Montana is a "woman with a goal, and a plan," Patton says. "She's kind of old-fashioned, and she's determined to be a lady about it. But she's determined to have a date and a fiance by this wedding. How do you manage that, unless she gets some desperate guy in jail? Or needs a Green Card? I loved the way the movie tries to solve that problem -- going back and revisiting the guys from her past that might have worked out, but didn't."
"Baggage Claim" should herald another busy stretch for the actress. She's supposed to star in an "About Last Night " remake, an African-American take on a hit romance from the ‘90s based on David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." There may be another "Mission: Impossible" turn for her. And with a little luck, there'll be less attention by the tabloids for her and Thicke, now that the MTV Video Music Awards buzz has died down.
Thicke says that he "cleared" plans for his overtly sexual hit "Blurred Lines" with her, and Patton has publicly shrugged off his Video Music Awards twerk-off with Miley Cyrus.