Former Miss USA Landry proud of La. heritage

As a former Miss USA, Ali Landry is thrilled that Sunday’s national beauty pageant is in her native Louisiana.

“I’ve always been proud of my state, and I’ll always be a Louisiana girl at heart,” Landry said recently in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Raised in Breaux Bridge, Landry won the 1996 Miss USA crown at age 22, and went on to a West Coast-based modeling and acting career.

“I find that all the different places I’ve traveled, and everyone I’ve met, there’s always been such a fascination and intrigue with our beautiful state, so for it to be highlighted and showcased in Miss USA, of course, I’m very, very proud,” Landry said. “I want them to do an amazing job and really show everything that Louisiana has to offer.”

Landry’s ties to the Miss USA organization continued after her year as Miss USA.

“I hosted (the show) for many years after I gave up my reign, and they’ve invited me several times to attend or be a judge,” she said. “For some reason or another, I was working or something else was going on, and I haven’t been able to make it, but I was thrilled when I heard the news that it would be” in Louisiana this year.

Landry noted that Baton Rouge hosted the Teen Miss USA pageant in 2005. Teen Miss and Miss USA are both part of the Miss Universe organization.

Post-Miss USA, Landry got her big break in television in a commercial that first aired during the 1998 Super Bowl. From that 30 seconds of sexy strutting through a library filled with gawking males while munching on chips, she gained the title of “the Doritos girl.”

She said people loved the Doritos commercial, which was part of a huge advertising campaign that gave her tremendous public exposure.

“People say, ‘Do you mind people calling you the Doritos girl?’ and I say, ‘No, I bought my first house with Doritos, so no, never,’ ” Landry said.

Ensuing TV credits include hosting the hidden-camera series “Spy TV” in 2002, starring as Rita LeFleur in the regular cast of the UPN sitcom “Eve” from 2003 to 2006, and competing on the reality series “Celebrity Fear Factor” in 2002, in addition to other recurring roles, guest appearances and hosting stints.

Landry also recently completed a TV show pilot that she said is being shopped around Hollywood.

A feature film, 2006’s “Bella,” won Landry the People’s Choice Award for Best Actress at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her husband, Mexican-born Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, directed “Bella.”

She said she and her husband are thrilled about his new film, set for release in August.

“Hopefully we’ll be doing a screening of that in Louisiana,” Landry said. “It’s called ‘Little Boy.’ It’s a beautiful film taking place in the 1940s during World War II, that takes place on the homefront, and it’s really a special film.”

Landry portrays the character of Ava in the film, which stars Emily Watson, Kevin James and David Henrie.

“I’m in it and I’m very pregnant with my second child, like about to give birth,” Landry said.

An Open Road Films project, the tentative U.S. release date is Aug. 22, she said.

“Right now we’re doing screenings and kind of a grass-roots marketing, doing a final edit right now,” Landry said.

For economic reasons, the film was shot in Rosarito, Mexico, which was transformed into a California coastal town. Landry said she wishes it could have been shot in Louisiana.

“I told my husband, ‘If you want to make your wife happy, my dream is that we one day shoot one of your films in Louisiana,’ ” Landry said. “That, to me, would just be amazing.”

She said she never imagined as a young girl growing up in Louisiana that she’d be in the entertainment business, let alone that she might have an opportunity to work in that field in her home state.

Louisiana remains close to Landry’s heart.

In between career and commitments in Los Angeles, Landry said, she gets back to Louisiana about twice a year for family reasons and occasionally for work or for an appearance or speaking engagement.

She said she usually spends a few weeks each year with her parents in Breaux Bridge.

“My children think Louisiana is better than Disneyland,” she said. “They just love it there. They love being with my parents and running around and learning about the culture, and being with all their cousins and their aunts and uncles. We really try when we’re there to explore the state and expose them to as much as possible, to their history and their culture.”

On the Monteverde-Landry homefront are daughter Estela, 6, and sons Marcelo, 2, and Valentin Francesco, 11 months. The baby’s middle name was inspired by the couple’s meeting Pope Francis just before their second son’s birth.

“That was an experience of a lifetime,” Landry said. “It was last year around this time, right after Easter. A lot of my husband’s investors in his film are a part of the Papal Foundation and they donate money to support the pope’s charities, so a few times a year they have a private audience with the pope, and we were invited as their guests.”

She said it was a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment trip.

“I was very close to the date where the doctor says you can’t travel anymore, but we made it,” Landry said. “We had a very beautiful experience in Rome, with all the cardinals and the bishops and the private Masses and access to the Vatican that not everyone gets, and one of the experiences was to have a private audience with the pope.”

She said the pope asked if he could bless the baby and put his hand on her belly to bless the unborn child.

“My husband doesn’t even remember the moment because he was so nervous, but we have the pictures and it ended up being in the Vatican newspaper the following day,” Landry said. “I’ll never, ever forget that moment.”

Pregnancy inspires her, the mother of three said.

“I think that’s when I’m most inspired, and I work so much. I have a few big national campaigns (commercials) going on right now, one for Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, and I have another campaign coming up with Sensa,” Landry said

She said she also works with car seat safety and does a lot of events promoting car seat safety awareness.

Landry recently had an app released through Apple called “Favored.By.” The app is to help moms with babies and small children find the No. 1 favored product in different categories.