You guys have got to calm down!” Amber Valletta sounds like she is in the midst of a nap-deprived kindergarten class, so raucous is the melee coming through the phone line. But no, it’s simply a play date at a relative’s Los Angeles home for her nine-year-old son, Auden, and his cousins, who are all exhibiting the effects of a sugar high from pre-holiday cookie baking. Valletta is apologetic, though she needn’t be; it’s easy to see her as the favorite aunt in this scenario, kids climbing all over her if only because she’ll let them. “I came into this room because they were all out there, and the next thing I knew they were all around me,” she says, confirming my suspicions.

I can’t help but draw parallels between this everyday occurrence and Valletta’s latest movie role, as the mom to three kids in the just-released The Spy Next Door, which stars Jackie Chan as a CIA operative who falls outside his comfort zone when girlfriend Valletta asks him to babysit her trio of overactive cherubs. “He’s a great teacher of physical comedy,” Valletta says. “It’s ultimately a kids’ movie, so the action is pretty benign and comedy-driven. But Jackie’s awesome; he has this amazing talent for finding physical comedy in the simplest thing.”

If it sounds like Valletta was an eager student, there’s good reason: She has shined in supporting roles, ranging from a vengeful apparition opposite Harrison Ford in What Lies Beneath (2000), to the wife of Gerard Butler in last year’s Gamer, and what has to be her most high-profile part, as a down-to-earth socialite who falls for Kevin James in Will Smith’s Hitch (2005). But make no mistake, acting is her craft and chosen path, a point made when asked if she feels like a unique success story as a model-turned-actress. “I don’t believe I’ve done anything particularly extraordinary—plenty of actors started out as models: Uma Thurman, Marilyn Monroe, even Brad Pitt,” she points out. “It’s funny that people still think of it as this phenomenon. It’s a little frustrating, because all my income comes from acting these days. I’ll model in a photo shoot as part of the press I do when a movie comes out, but doesn’t every actress do that?”

Indeed, it’s been nine years since the 35-year-old Valletta called herself a model—or, more accurately, supermodel—and in that time she has observed the ironic changes in the industry. “When I was a supermodel I couldn’t keep off the covers of magazines,” she notes. “Now I can’t get on a Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar cover, because all the fashion magazines want [the top tier of] actresses. It’s a very weird place to be in my business, but I’m really OK with it, because I love what I do.”

Based in Los Angeles and married since 2003 to Olympic volleyball player Chip McCaw—“I have a really good support system, with a husband who’s a real guy and not in the business,” Valletta notes—these days find her in the enviable position of taking on projects for the sheer pleasure of doing them: Witness her collaboration with clothing line Monrow, a capsule collection that launched in December. “I really loved doing it,” she says of the 13-piece selection of wrap dresses, T-shirts and other separates. “At the time I was in the mood to explore something different, and this seemed like a really good match when it came along. And as a capsule collection it was small enough that I felt like I could handle it, rather than jumping into some huge undertaking.”

From a scoop-neck jersey dress to tissue-weight Ts or a romper with a mesh back, the collection carries the vibe of looking like pieces Valletta would love to wear, or perhaps throw into a suitcase for an impromptu escape. “Those were definitely ideas I was going for,” she confirms. “I don’t like frivolous things or throwaway fashion; I’ll go to Target and buy a Rodarte piece because it’s a special designer like Rodarte, but for the most part the things in my closet have been there forever. So with this I wanted to create pieces that would last.”

Valletta hopes the collection will continue and has ideas about future designs, such as including more eco-driven fabrications. But even as she is swarmed by kids and dogs on this December afternoon—“Geez, where did you guys come from?!”—her focus rests squarely on reading scripts and the next role to come her way. “I just keep doing the work—like a basketball player, the more you practice, the better you get at it,” she says. “I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to take on only those projects I want to do. More than anything, I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

TOP IMAGE: Jumpsuit, Amber Valletta for Monrow ($188). ronherman.com. Bolero, RM by Roland Mouret ($685). Similar styles available at net-a-porter.com

BOTTOM IMAGE: Jacket, Louis Vuitton ($6,000). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-5806. Romper, Talbot Runhof ($1,125). Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-6161. Shoes, Gucci ($930). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-868-6504. Two for Trinity bracelet ($11,250), Panthère de Cartier ring ($24,600) and Entrelacés necklace ($1,540), Cartier. Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305- 864-8793. (Right hand) Ring, David Yurman ($2,750). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-867-1772

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>