Romijn's father Jaap, a furniture maker, and mother Elizabeth, an English teacher, divorce when she is seven years old. Her parents live across the street from one another and raise Rebecca and younger sister Tamara to value hard work and humility. "I'm a diligent person, and that came directly from having hardworking parents," she tells In Style in 2006. "They also gave me a certain amount of humility."
Romijn enrolls at the University of California at Santa Cruz to study singing. After her freshman year, a friend who models takes Romijn to an agency in San Francisco and the 19-year-old is offered a contract to model in Paris. "In retrospect it was scary," she tells In Style in 2006. "I didn't have any money, I didn't know where I would live." But the gutsy move pays off when she lands the cover of Elle. "I became more confident, and I polished up. Living in Paris was a crash course in chic."
After three years of modeling in Europe, Romijn returns to the U.S. where she is chosen to model for lingerie giant Victoria's Secret. "I don't mind doing sort of sexy, raunchy pictures if there's a sense of humor about it," she admits to Detour. That year, she also poses for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, eventually landing the cover in 1999.
Romijn, 21, meets Full House star John Stamos, 31, (right) while backstage at a Victoria's Secret fashion show in New York City. "He took my breath away," Romijn tells In Style in 2001. "I just went, 'Oh my God. That's the most beautiful human being I've ever seen!'" The relationship blossoms from a friendly first date at Disneyland to their engagement on Christmas Eve 1997 when Stamos presents Romijn with a 1930s platinum four-carat Boucheron diamond ring.
PEOPLE picks Romijn for its annual 50 Most Beautiful issue. Among fellow models, Romijn is known for her wacky sense of humor. "She's so funny," fellow catwalker and pal Tyra Banks (left) tells PEOPLE. "I get a cramp in my side from laughing at her jokes." In 1999, Romijn makes the list again.
Romijn plays David Schwimmer's (right) perfect scientist-girlfriend with a freakishly messy apartment on Friends. "You know that old joke about a person hearing music when they have a major revelation," she tells the Orange County Register. "That's what I had on the set of Friends...I realized I wanted to be an actress. I realized I loved performing." In 1999, she returns to TV as David Spade's wife on Just Shoot Me.
Romijn replaces Daisy Fuentes as host of MTV's fashion TV show, House of Style. "She has a root-for-her beauty," MTV president Judy McGrath tells PEOPLE. "Women don't resent her. She's real." The gig lasts until 1998. "I was getting very antsy and restless just modeling," she confesses to the Dallas Morning News in 1998. "I was bored off my ass, basically. It's not a very stimulating job."
Determined not to be typecast in roles that focus on her looks, Romijn makes her film debut as a drunken, bearded lady in the 1998's Dirty Work. Though the comedy, which stars Norm MacDonald, is a dud (less than $10 million at the box office), Romijn enjoys the work. "Making people laugh is the greatest experience," she tells the Chicago Tribune. "You really feel like you're doing your job right: communicating. That immediate reaction is so satisfying."
Wearing a low-cut, empire-waist Badley Mischka gown, Romijn marries John Stamos (left) at the Beverly Hills Hotel in front of 400 guests, including Tyra Banks, David Spade and Rob Schneider. An hour before the ceremony, Stamos sends Romijn chocolate-covered strawberries and a box with a note that says, in part, "I'll see you at the altar, and will know it's you because you'll be wearing this pin." She wears the antique heart pin in her hair and becomes Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
In the first film installment of the comic-book-inspired X-Men trilogy, Romijn-Stamos dons blue body paint to play the evil mutant Mystique (right). Though the film grosses more than $157 million at the box office, it had its drawbacks – including the eight hours it takes to get into character. "It was a drag to sit through eight hours of makeup and then be expected to act and be evil, when I was ready to pull my hair out," she tells the Chicago Tribune. She reprises her role in the 2003 and 2006 sequels with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Ron Galella/Wireimage; Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Landov