The new C.J. Parker has come a long way since cold-emailing her headshots.
Plutarch, in the first century, posed a question known as Theseus’s paradox: If every wood plank on a ship is replaced, is it still the same ship?
For our purposes, Baywatch (in theaters Friday) is the ship. The new planks of its movie-version reboot are the genre shift (ham-handed drama becomes self-referential, occasionally puerile comedy) and the actors: David Hasselhoff’s Mitch has been supersized into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; David Charvet’s Matt is now a seventy-two-packed Zac Efron; and Pamela Anderson’s C.J. is being channeled by 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie of the Year Kelly Rohrbach, in her movie debut.
Rohrbach, twenty-seven, describes filming as “intense”: six months on a barrier island near the Spanish-moss-encased city of Savannah. Sixteen-hour shoot days. Four sessions with a personal trainer each week, and another three with a swim instructor. (For some, that wasn’t enough. “Zac was really committed,” Rohrbach says. “They’d call ‘Cut!’ and he’d do a hundred push-ups.”) She even shadowed a lifeguard in Malibu for a month beforehand, though it was winter and they were more likely to encounter bonfires than drowning victims.
Notably, the preparation did not include lifeguard training. “We had stunt coordinators,” she explains. It did, however, involve bingeing a season of the original series with her two sisters, which they had devoured while growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Everyone thinks I’m lying when I say how much Baywatch was a part of our lives,” Rohrbach says. “We used to sit on the couch with our blankies, suck our thumbs, and watch.”
Her parents preferred that they, along with their younger twin brothers, play outside. Her father, Clayton—a retired partner at Morgan Stanley, who, according to Rohrbach, calls her “the good-time gal”—motivated her to pick up golf at a young age. She had an aptitude for the sport, and was eventually recruited by Georgetown. In college, she studied acting for six months at a London conservatory. After graduating in 2012, she knew she wanted to move to Los Angeles to pursue it—”I felt guided,” she says—but had neither connections nor a sense of how to make them. Her mother, Anne, scion of Wholey’s fish market (ask your buddy from Pittsburgh), encouraged her to try it for six months; if it didn’t work out, Rohrbach would return east. She’s never left.
C. J., it seems, is a role destined for an actress whose breakthrough happens relatively painlessly. After all, Anderson (who has found an unlikely third act as Julian Assange’s squeeze, ferrying goody bags to him at the Ecuadoran embassy in London) was discovered in 1989, at age twenty-two, after she was shown on a Jumbotron at a Canadian football game, and she went on to become a Labatt-beer spokesmodel. Once Rohrbach arrived in L.A., she got her own break quickly: She cold-emailed her head shot to talent agencies and ultimately signed with industry behemoth IMG, which helped her land her first modeling gig—in SI. Soon after, she landed small parts on sitcoms (The New Normal, the Ashton-era Two and a Half Men, Broad City), and by the time her second issue of SI hit newsstands, in 2016, she’d been cast in Baywatch.
The similarities end there. The character’s, and the show’s, DNA may have carried over into the film—Anderson and Hasselhoff even make guest appearances—but it’s expressed in an entirely new way. It took two millennia, but Plutarch finally got his answer.