From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Not that long ago, French actor Gilles Marini was best known as Kim Cattrall's naked neighbor in 2008's Sex and the City: The Movie. This past March, when he stepped into a ballroom and began to mambo, fully clothed, on Dancing with the Stars, he had us at bonjour.

The former Armani model is generating heat every week on DWTS with his professional dance partner Cheryl Burke. So convincing is their chemistry that many viewers are wondering if there's more going on between the two than just fancy footwork. That sort of speculation tickles the 33-year-old Marini: "If you think that, then I should get an Oscar!"

In fact, he's been happily married to his wife, Carole, a homemaker, for 10 years. The pair met in the French resort city of Cannes, but it wasn't love at first sight. "I thought, 'Oh, another beautiful guy that's going to have a really big ego,'" says Carole, 32. But Gilles won her over—"She was the whole package," Marini says —and now they are happily raising Georges, 10, and Juliana, 2. "I'm very lucky," says Carole. "He's such a good guy with a big, big heart."

Born not far from Cannes in the town of Grasse, Marini worked long hours at the family's bakery with his father, Georges, a pastry chef, who died when Marini was 19. "He showed me you need to work hard to get anything," says Marini, who moved to Paris to become a firefighter. Training to do the job "was grueling," says Marini. "It made me the man I am today." Though a modeling scout spotted the buff Marini before he ever battled a blaze, his emergency training still has come in handy.

Last September, when the family went out for ice cream near their Studio City, Calif., home, Marini's little girl managed to swallow her barrette and started to choke. "She was turning blue and stiff like a piece of wood," Marini recalls. "The Heimlich maneuver didn't work. My wife is crying; Georges is yelling. I put my two fingers down her throat and broke the clip with my fingers. One half came up; the other she swallowed."

Now, amid rumors he'll appear in the upcoming Sex and the City sequel—"I would love to do it," he says with a smile—Marini is enjoying every minute of ballroom bliss. But if he doesn't bring home that coveted mirror-ball trophy, it's no matter. "The proudest thing I've ever done in my life is having this family," he says. "Everything else is just a bonus."