”Don’t forget to breathe. that’s the most important thing. That’s the first thing they teach you.” Denise Richards here. The wild-haired actress with the party-size lips has just surfaced from a gigantic water tank inside a cavernous soundstage at Pinewood Studios near London. Naturally, since this is a Bond set, she’s wearing a scuba suit. A very tight, very wet scuba suit. With lots of dewy water droplets slowly rolling down its slick black rubber skin. Down the hairpin camber of her half-zippered decolletage, down the soft bump of her taut belly, down the sinewy stretch of her slender, endless thighs…um, what was she talking about again?
”All that scuba equipment makes it hard to breathe normally,” she goes on, relaying what she’s learned in today’s diving lesson. ”You literally have to remind yourself to breathe. In and out. Breathe.”
Heavy breathing is obviously a subject Richards, 27, knows something about. In this androgynous-chic era of stick-figure supermodels — a time when most sex symbols make Rosa Klebb look bodaciously curvy — she’s a startling Hollywood throwback: an old-fashioned, va-va-va-voom-style bombshell. Her roles so far haven’t wowed many critics — she battled alien arachnids in 1997’s Starship Troopers and bedded Matt Dillon (and Neve Campbell) in last year’s Wild Things — but never mind. Retrofitted like a Raquel Welch for the 1990s, she has gotten herself noticed, attracting a huge following of deeply devoted teenage boys who’ve made her one of the most fantasized-about women of the late 20th century (or at least one of the most downloaded; her online pinups draw more Internet action than Amazon.com).
And now Richards is about to climb the Everest of babe roles: Bond girl. Playing Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear weapons expert (hey, it’s a Bond movie) who helps 007 thwart an evil scheme to corner the West’s oil supply in The World Is Not Enough, she joins a sisterhood of starlets that began 36 years ago, when a bikinied Ursula Andress first sauntered out of the ocean singing ”Underneath the Mango Tree” in Dr. No. It’s a part that could rocket Richards to a whole new level of fame (just as it did with previous Bond girls Carey Lowell and Jane Seymour). Or maybe not (just as it didn’t with Shirley Eaton and Claudine Auger). Either way, it’s the biggest break of her career so far, a chance to finally broaden her appeal to the postpubescent masses.
If she can get a handle on that breathing thing.
”What makes a good bond girl?” ruminates pierce Brosnan, the man who gets to sip 007’s vodka martini these days. ”A great sense of humor and a great body. But not necessarily in that order.”
The scuba suit proves Richards has one of those assets—and there are promising signs she possesses the other. ”They have me defusing nuclear bombs in this movie,” she says a few days before her diving lesson, relaxing over coffee in a London hotel. ”I’m pulling wires all over the place, connecting and disconnecting them like crazy. A few times I’ve had to stop in the middle and ask Pierce if I look like an ass. I mean, who the hell is going to think I could actually do any of this stuff? I can’t even start a lawn mower.”