Big Picture: Gourmet Detective star has an appetite for comedy

Ten years after Brooke Burns first came to Victoria to play a trophy wife who outwits a killer in Murder On Spec, she doesn’t appear to have aged a bit.

“It’s just good genes. I have to give credit to my mom and dad,” says the actor, whose svelte physique is more astonishing when you consider her recent eating habits.

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“Omigosh, I feel like I’m eating 20 meals in one day,” says Burns between takes in the Times Colonist building, which is posing as the San Francisco Police Department for The Gourmet Detective: Death Al Dente.

In the third instalment of the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel series executive-produced by co-star Dylan Neal, Burns plays Maggie Price, a headstrong San Francisco detective and single mom.

Maggie has a love-hate relationship with partner Henry Ross (Neal), the crime-solving culinary whiz who follows her hunch that a restaurateur was murdered.

“We have amazing caterers that feed us very well,” Burns says. “Any time you have props food, though, it starts out great but by take five, it’s like: ‘OK, where’s the spit bucket?’ ”

While great care is taken to present authentic, camera-friendly cuisine, the onscreen food can only whet an actor’s appetite for so long, she says.

Continuity considerations require that you eat the same food “in take after take” before or during lines of dialogue, says Burns, 37. “We did a scene where I had these little lemon pastries, and I have such a sweet tooth and I was sick to my stomach by the end of it.

“I was like: ‘Oh, God, I am going to be on a crazy sugar high and then I’m going to crash. Somebody’s going to find me sleeping in the corner.’ ”

The Dallas-born actor, who got her start playing lifeguard Jessie Owens on Baywatch, has worked steadily since. Notable credits include her recurring role as fantasy mail girl Jennifer Higgin on Ally McBeal; her characters in North Shore, Melrose Place and the sitcom Pepper Dennis; and her stint as the dorky and gorgeous versions of Katrina opposite Jack Black in Shallow Hal.

Burns says she welcomed the opportunity to play Maggie in the Gourmet Detective films inspired by Peter King’s mystery novels.

“I love that Maggie is super-sassy and a single mom. I can relate to that,” says Burns, who raised daughter Madison on her own for 10 years.

“And it’s comedy, which I love to do. Having a bit of that Texas attitude, I love to play and banter and tease, and I love Maggie’s internal strength of character.”

She says she had fun doing “that Moonlighting, Castle-esque kind of banter” with Neal, whose Mike Nichols-inspired “no a--holes allowed” hiring policy appealed to her.

“Dylan said that if we’re going to be doing this for a while, we want to be doing it with nice people,” she said. “There are many talented people who are not fun to be with day in and day out, for long hours and extended periods of time. I knew that was really important to him, and it always trickles down from the top. We’ve got the best cast and crew.”

Burns, who loves stuntwork and action sequences, said growing up around guns in the Lone Star state was a bonus for character preparation.

“It’s more about learning what works for TV in terms of angles,” says Burns, playfully shouting “SFPD, hands up!” while striking the pose.

While the way actors point a gun for the camera “looks like you’re actually shooting someone three feet to their left,” it looks great on screen, she said.

Burns says she has lived and learned a lot since Baywatch, and it has paid off for her as an actor. “Life changes you. Parenting changes you,” says Burns, who is now married to director Gavin O’Connor.

“I’ve experienced tragedies in my life and people close to me have died,” she adds. “I always try to find the truth of a character from some kind of experience I’ve had.”

One traumatic experience was when she narrowly avoided becoming a paraplegic after breaking her neck in a diving accident 11 years ago.

She required complex surgery that left her with 10 screws, a fusion rod and a titanium plate in her neck.

She has had an anniversary celebration each Nov. 11 since then with family and close friends. To honour her 10th anniversary, she created 10 pieces of jewelry from the titanium pieces surgeons use for neck fusions. She sold them to raise money through Life Rolls On, quadriplegic surfer Jesse Billauer’s foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal-cord injuries.

Burns, who also hosts the U.S. version of the British game show The Chase, hopes to soon start work on Bound, another line of jewelry. “I want to do inspiration pieces for young girls, but something that has meaning.”

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