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More: Five questions with Brooklyn Decker

She's graced one of the world's hottest covers (of course we mean ours), but everyone's favorite swimsuit model has her sight set on an even loftier goal—Hollywood.

She's trekked from Miami to the Maldives, to the Grenadines and beyond, all to frolic in turquoise waters, for sizzling photos that set men’s hearts aflutter. Lately Hawaii has been the exotic locale beckoning Brooklyn Decker, though artful bikini shots aren’t the reason. The girl who’s graced five consecutive Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues—with this year’s edition, she adds the highly coveted cover to her repertoire—has transitioned into acting.

And before you say it, she’s heard it already. “I know it’s such a clichéd thing to say: the model who wants to be an actress,” Decker says. “But to me it felt like a very natural progression. I don’t feel like I’m great at it yet, but I’m willing to work my butt off, and filmmakers seem to be respecting that. I just want to be given an opportunity, the chance to work incredibly hard at it.”

BLOCKBUSTER BEGINNINGS
Hollywood must indeed be taking notice, because it’s not low-budget independents that Decker is booking, but rather plum roles in A-list blockbusters-to-be. First up: Just Go With It, set for release February 11, starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, from his highly lucrative Happy Madison production company. “I play his dream girl,” Decker says of the comedy, which sees Sandler’s character enlisting his office assistant, played by Aniston, to be his pretend wife.

For maximum kismet, consider when Decker found out she’d landed the role. “I’d been in to see them several times,” she remembers. “Then they called me in for the table read, even though I hadn’t been offered the part yet. I walked away thinking, At least if I don’t get it, I got to do a table read with some amazing actors. It was the week my Sports Illustrated cover was announced, and that same night I was doing Jimmy Kimmel’s show.” Right before Decker walked onstage, her cell phone rang; it was Sandler: “Congratulations, kid, the part is yours.” “I just thought, This can’t be my life right now,” Decker says.

When we spoke in September, she was back in Hawaii for her next part: in the Peter Berg helmed Battleship, starring Alexander Skarsgård and Liam Neeson, due for a 2012 release. “Pete’s an amazing director, a creative genius who’s also fun to work with,” Decker says. “It’s night and day [from Just Go With It], but that’s great for me, because it’s a really great way to learn, to go from something sweet and funny to this intense action film.”

STEERING HER OWN SHIP
While the idea of a model-turned-actor is far from novel, Decker points out that the lines have undeniably blurred in recent years. “Modeling and acting are so intertwined now,” she says. “You look at a Revlon ad, and it’s Halle Berry; Carey Mulligan is on the cover of Vogue. There’s no divide anymore.” Decker adds that it’s doubtful she’ll walk away from modeling entirely: “I’m at the point where I only want to do projects that are meaningful to me, and Sports Illustrated is one of them—they’ve watched me go from a girl who just graduated high school to what I’m doing now, and they’ve supported me every step of the way.”

At 23, Decker does seem to be leading a charmed life. I’m tempted to point out that it would be easy to indulge in the luxury of being Mrs. Andy Roddick (the pair was married in 2009), but I don’t bring it up, because it’s clear she’s driven by an ambition that would never be content to rest on wife-of-tennis-star laurels. “I feel really fulfilled by acting,” she says. “It’s very stimulating; with modeling, you go on a job for three days and you’re done, but in a role you have to give part of yourself to a project.” And the journey, she notes, has only just begun. “I definitely want to keep studying and learning,” Decker says. “I feel so lucky to be given these kinds of opportunities. You can float through this business on luck alone, but I don’t want to do that. I want to study and feel like I’m growing. Sure, it’s scary, but in the best possible way.”

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