In 2009 when Polish American model-actress Joanna Krupa was named one of the Top 25 Sexiest Women in the World by Playboy, there were some who assumed her triumph would be short-lived. After all the shelf-life of the average Playmate is limited to say the least. Krupa, however, is a rare personality and true force of nature, and other equally impressive accolades continued to pile up, as did ad campaigns, contracts, cameos, and, eventually, her very own shows as well major appearances on Dancing With the Stars and The Real Housewives of Miami.
Named the Sexiest Woman in the World by Australia’s Inside Sport, she’s also a staple on Maxim’s Hot 100 list of the world’s most beautiful women, a magazine she’s appeared on the cover of in addition to some 100 others. She had a cameo in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes in 2001 and has appeared in films alongside stars like Don Cheadle and Minnie Driver, exhibiting charm, grace, class, intelligence, integrity and a genuine good nature that seems especially rare in today’s culture of self-obsessed celebrities and the love-hate farce of fandom.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty has now become a truly devoted animal rights activist with her own animal rescue organization, in addition to one of the most searched-for names on Google. She boasts over a million Instagram followers and somehow finds time to host Poland’s Next Top Model and keep several movie roles in development as well. For this issue, she gave Luxury Life one of her most in-depth interviews ever, revealing her hardships, how she stays happy, what she holds dear to her – obviously very large – heart and how she survives in the shark infested waters of Hollywood.
What is your philosophy in life?
My philosophy in life is: live every day as if it’s your last, treat others with respect, treat others the way you would like to be treated, and work hard. Never make excuses for yourself, work your best, give everything you have and always hope for the best. I think having a positive outlook on life is the most important thing because, you know, we all go through ups and downs in our life, some good, some bad; but I think as long as we learn from our mistakes, things can always get better. Even if storms come into our life, sometimes changes are good.
How would you describe your work ethic?
Always be on time, be super professional, and treat everybody with respect. It’s not all about you – it takes teamwork. It’s about the lighting guy, the makeup artist, the hairstylist, the photographer, the videographer, the director, the producer – I mean it’s everybody that makes a show, a photo shoot, a movie, happen. I treat them all the same, and I think that’s very, very important. Just to always be respectful of everybody’s job because it takes a team working hard in order for a project to become successful.
What have you learned over the course of a colorful career?
I have learned that I’m very blessed. I’m very grateful that my hard work has paid off. I still have a long way to go to reach the end line of success and I feel I have a lot more to accomplish in my life. But I’m very happy with everything that I have achieved to this day because it’s been a difficult road to get there. I didn’t have anything handed to me, I don’t have, you know, a famous family member that I fall back on or super-rich parents to pay my bills. Life has been tough. I was told “no” a million times at the beginning, and I always decided to be positive, to have a thick skin, to never, never give up and just keep moving forward.
Who inspires you on a daily basis?
That’s a good question. I think my mother. We emigrated from Poland when I was five years old, and she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and she had maybe $200 in her pocket to move from Poland to Chicago. She worked seven days a week, 15- possibly 18-hour days in a factory making cups for different fast food restaurants, in over 100-degree temperatures inside the factory and on her feet, not sitting. And she always came home happy, she was very positive and I believe she’s inspired me to be grateful, no matter what, for everything that you have. I think back to all the hard times she had, and she never was negative. I’ve seen what she’s been through and even if I’m having a bad day, I think of the moments when she was younger, and how hard she had to work to survive, and it’s very inspiring.
What “children” do you have as a “pet parent”? Are there other animals you really care about?
I have five dogs: Sebastian, Shaggy, Prince, Rugby and Darla. And I love them to death! They’re all different ages and they’re all adopted. Through my animal rescue, Angels for Animal Rescue (angelsforanimalrescue.org), we have saved all kinds of animals from pigs to chickens to snakes, hamsters and bunnies… in addition to dogs and cats.
What first got you interested in animal rights?
I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. My mom always taught me to love others, to love anything that has a heart, anything that breathes, so not only human beings but also animals. I never really knew that cruelty to animals even existed, until about 2005 when my sister received an anonymous email with a link to PETA’s [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] website (peta.org), about how animals are skinned alive, and that was absolutely traumatic. And ever since that day, I wanted to get involved with PETA and other organizations, to help spread awareness and to educate people about the horrific things people do to animals so we can stop it.
Because animals don’t have a voice, people take advantage of them and they are so very cruel, and that is what led to my first out of five PETA ads, “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur,” which I was told by PETA was one of one of their most successful campaigns ever. I’m super proud to be involved with PETA. They are such an amazing organization and they get the message out there. It’s just about helping one animal at a time, and I think it’s very important to keep spreading the message and educating people about the horrors that are out there.
Why is it important to you to be so passionate about helping animals?
I think you must be passionate in life, whatever the causes, or whatever makes you happy. For me it’s being a voice for the animals, because they’re just like children, they can’t call 911 and ask for help. They can’t cry for help. People just take advantage of animals, so I have dedicated my life to being their voice, because what goes on in the world, when you really look into the animal cruelty around the world, is absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s very stressful for me, it’s very depressing for me, because I can’t help them all, I can only save one animal at a time.
Tell us about Angels for Animal Rescue. What made you decide to start your own charity?
I’ve been an animal lover my whole life, and I’d been doing so much with fostering and donating to different charities. I met my rescue partner Gabi Gutierrez over the years and we were adopting animals, fostering animals, asking for donations and going to charity events. So at one point she asked me “Why don’t we just open our own nonprofit?” and we did in 2013. The challenge that we face is people saying, “Well you’re successful, why don’t you help this animal?” And if I post something on social media like, “Can you help raise funds for this dog or this cat of this animal,” people are really cruel with responses like “Well you have money, you can help.”
But they don’t realize I cannot help every animal on the planet, that it takes a whole village to save as many animals as we can. So that’s very tough and very hard for me when people are so close-minded. Then you have the amazing people that do want to help, but it’s truly a challenge to raise money.
Have you been able to change people’s minds about the way they treat animals?
I definitely can see a difference in attitudes. Speaking up and educating people does help. Obviously, there are those that have a heart, those that are open-minded and those that care. Over the years I’ve gotten massive amounts of emails from people whose minds have changed – one example would be this girl who e-mailed me, her whole life she and her family had a fur store, and ever since she found out about me and my campaigns against fur, she researched it and saw the horrific videos and she promised me, “No matter what, even if I’m starving, I will never, ever sell another fur coat. Thank you for educating me.”
So, I think people do listen, people do change, people do care, but it’s still a huge process, it’s still a huge fight for all these animals because there’s so much cruelty that goes on in the world. But you know as I said before you’ve just got to think about helping one animal at a time.
You look like a prom queen, but you’ve talked about being bullied in school. What happened exactly?
It was in high school, and maybe grade school as well, I don’t recall 100% how old I was, but I was called a dumb blonde, and you know a Polish blonde, I had jokes made about me all the time. I had kids throw eggs at me walking home from school and they pulled my hair. I was never popular. Other kids never really talked to me because I was very shy in school. I didn’t have many friends, and I kind of stuck with my Polish crowd and my family. I was never into after school activities, I was kind of in my own little world at that time, and just a super, super shy girl.
Kind of the opposite of what I am now, as hard as it is to believe! But I still have that shy girl in me. I think I’m a pretty good actress, sometimes I’m able to give off something that I’m not…. I look like I’m tough on the outside, but I’m really a soft girl on the inside, and I do still get shy. I’m much more outgoing and I have more confidence than I did back in school. I also have thick skin and looking back the bullying in school helped me become a stronger person now.
Obviously, you overcame that very successfully. How did you do it?
I had amazing parents and a small group of close friends that I kept tight with, but honestly, I didn’t really tell my parents about being bullied, I kind of kept it to myself. I’ve always been that little adult, I grew up fast and I didn’t have much of a childhood, so I never wanted to show weakness in my life, even at a young age. So, I think that’s what helped me overcome it.
How did you first get into modeling?
I always dreamt of modeling, or just being in the public eye or in the entertainment business since I was a little girl. I borrowed my mom’s clothes and her makeup, I recorded little videos with my sister of us dancing and singing and walking the runway, so I really had that passion. I think I started when I was like 13, when I went to a modeling school, but it truly wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20, where I struggled for the first two years; and about two years later I really started accomplishing things in the modeling world.
You’ve always been known for your grace and poise. Did that come naturally or was it something you had to learn?
I think I am pretty much an open book – what you see is what you get, so everything just came naturally, I don’t believe I became anything that I wouldn’t be otherwise. It also helped me having an amazing mother who really taught us how to respect others, how to be a good person, and have a big heart. I feel that really helped me in business as well, because I’m very respectful, and very professional, and that goes a long, long way with clients, and just in general with people you work with, because they enjoy working with you as well.
How important are wealth and fame to you? Do you ever wish you weren’t famous?
That’s an interesting question, because obviously there are ups and downs to being in the public eye, because you get so much cyberbullying these days. And having been bullied as a child it’s really tough that I have to deal with cyberbullying as an adult. People are hidden behind their computers saying nasty stuff to other people, and it’s not just celebrities, it’s just in general, and I believe it’s something that should be illegal. So that’s the tough part of it, when you get the hate and the bullying, but otherwise I’m very happy about having this platform because as I said earlier it just gives me a bigger voice to go after the things that I’m so passionate about: fighting for animal rights and educating people on all the animal cruelty that goes on in the world.
I think for me, the most beautiful thing is when somebody comes up to me who recognizes me and is like, “Joanna I love you for what you do for the animals, thank you.” And you know what, for me that is truly the most beautiful thing, the most important thing. I don’t think about the wealth. I don’t think about anything else but the fact that people are listening to me, and it makes my heart feel really, really good.
You were raised a strict Roman Catholic; did that make it difficult when you became a celebrated sex symbol?
Actually, what’s crazy is my mom is very religious, and we used to go to church every Sunday, but I think my parents are very open minded, and they’re very proud of everything that I’ve accomplished in my life. Obviously sometimes my mom’s like, “Can you just not wear such sexy outfits already, can you just, you know, wear something else?” And my mom complains occasionally when she sees sexy photos on social media or in magazines. But if you ask her, she’s very proud, because she says I’ve done so much good in my life. Because of my success, she’s very happy that I can be a voice for those that don’t have it. My mom knows I have an amazing, big heart and I wouldn’t hurt a fly and she is very proud of me.
You’ve been named the “Sexiest Women in the World.” How did that feel and did it put a lot of pressure on you?
Honestly it was an amazing accomplishment, and an amazing feeling. There are so many beautiful women in the world that I felt very special. At first obviously it seemed a bit surreal, I didn’t believe that my dream of being successful in this business, something that I’ve been wanting since I was a little girl, had come true. A magazine giving me that title was absolutely humbling. I guess for some people it would make them into a diva or make give them a big ego, but for me, it made me even more humble. I just think it’s such an amazing feeling, it’s such a beautiful thing, and I’m so grateful for it. I would never think of it as anything but a huge compliment, and I’m just very proud of even having that opportunity.
What do you consider your greatest success? How about your biggest failure?
I think everything I work hard on has been a huge success in its own right, especially all the magazines that I’ve done over the last 15 years. But what truly helped me in my career was being named the Sexiest Woman in the World, and that led to Playboy, which led to ABC’s Superstars, which led to Dancing With the Stars, which led to Real Housewives, which led to other projects like Poland’s Next Top Model and my dog show in Poland. So, I think every single project I’ve done was just another stepping stone to moving forward and being successful. Honestly, I don’t feel there’s anything that I really regret, or even if thought it was a mistake at the time, as I have learned from everything I have done.
You must have met a lot of predatory people in the entertainment business and been shown the proverbial “casting couch” many times. How did you deal with that?
Yes, it’s funny – in Hollywood everybody’s a producer, everybody’s a casting director, but I would say I’m intelligent, and any time that I met these types of people, who were all like “Let’s do dinner, let’s do drinks,” I kind of felt it out and knew deep inside that there’s no way you do business after hours, after nine to five. Once I met my manager, I would just say, “OK thank you, give me your business card and I’ll have my manager reach out to you.” I was never that girl that fell for it, I think have a good intuition and I am able to identify which people are real and which ones are bad. But I also had a good manager, a woman, who basically weeded out all the predators.
Who would you like to work with most?
Goodness, it depends on what category of work we’re talking about. If it’s acting it would be a pleasure to work with Charlize Theron or Angelina Jolie, I think they’re absolutely the most stunning women and the most amazing actresses. But really the list would be long, it would be huge.
You’ve posed for some very provocative photo shoots. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Definitely not. The magazines that I’ve done are the top magazines in the world, from Playboy to Maxim to FHM, and they’re very high-quality magazines. As a woman if you feel confident in your own skin, you love your body, you love yourself, and you think you look great, then there’s nothing wrong with it. If you come off as confident and beautiful, and as long as it’s done in a tasteful manner, I have nothing against it and I never felt like it was a decision that I would later regret.
How do you prepare for posing nude? Is it difficult to look beautiful every minute of the day?
Of course, it’s hard to pose nude, because you want your body to look amazing, but as long as you know your angles, you know your lighting, and you know how to pose where your body looks great, and you work out, you stay fit, it’s not much more difficult then posing in lingerie or a bathing suit. You always must take care of yourself, and be in your best shape all the time.
Along with praise inevitably comes criticism. How do you respond to your critics?
I’m very happy in my skin, I’m very happy with who I am, I know who I am and I know I’m a good person and I would never do anything to purposely hurt somebody. And I just feel sorry for [negative people], because unless you know somebody you shouldn’t judge, you shouldn’t talk bad about them. And as I said earlier cyberbullying is such a big problem now, it doesn’t really hurt me, but I know it hurts other people, or kids in school, and it’s just a horrible thing. But I grew up fast, I took care of my sister at a young age, I have thick skin, and I’ve been through a lot, and I don’t let negative criticism affect me. It gives me more strength to be more ambitious and to do more in my life. I’m a happy person, I’m happy with who I am and I think nobody can ever criticize me or say anything that would make me feel bad about myself.
How do you deal with negative comments and “trolling” on Instagram and social media?
I feel sorry for them. You know it’s just people hiding behind their computers, miserable with their lives. They probably have a pathetic life, hate their jobs, maybe aren’t happy in a relationship, maybe are not in the shape they would like to be, and they love to hate on other people, so just I feel sorry for them to be honest with you.
You were very into playing poker at one point. Is that something you still do? What excites you about gambling?
I think it’s really a lot of fun. Right now, I mostly just do it for charity causes, so anytime there’s a poker event I can attend for a charity, I love to do it. It’s a great social scene and it’s fun. I don’t take it too seriously because it’s very stressful and it takes a long time to get to be a real professional. But I think it’s a terrific way to raise money for different charities.
You had a very public marriage (to Romain Zago) which recently ended. Do you have any regrets and is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I think in life you live and learn. You learn from your mistakes. He and I are best friends, we talk all the time. Our relationship in that sense has not changed. We’re respecting the ten years we were together, but you know we both made mistakes. I put my career first, he put his career first, I was always traveling and I think we just didn’t put as much time as we should have into the relationship. We were so caught up in being scared of losing it all one day, because we both came from nothing, we both came from poor families, and we knew we had to continue working to continue our lifestyle.
We decided to put having kids on the back burner, and to dedicate our lives to our careers, and this is what happened. We lost the passion between us, and it came to an end, but we ended up being best friends. So obviously our mistakes taught me the things I shouldn’t do in my next relationship, and hopefully for him, he’s learned a big lesson as well.
What are the things you look for in a romantic partner?
Somebody that makes you laugh. Somebody that, you know, makes you feel good about yourself, confident, sexy. Somebody that puts you on a pedestal, makes you feel like you’re the best and most amazing person in the whole world. Somebody that just makes you happy. I think that’s one of the most important things. Somebody that makes you smile.
What are your essential luxuries? What things can you not live without?
I’m not a crazy fanatic when it comes to designer brands. I don’t have to have the latest big designer dress or shoes. I think as crazy as it might sound I’m really just the girl next door. I love to be in my sweats, comfy clothes, my hair up, no makeup. I’m not that into materialistic things. Yes, I love to have my nice home, I love to have a nice car, but I don’t need to have crazy items that I need to show off, like “Oh my God I have to go get the new line of Chanel, or the new line of Gucci,” whatever is coming out. I don’t
have that passion, because every time I think of that, I’m like “How much can I give to an animal to save it,” to my animal rescue. So, in my mind I’m always thinking, “OK I don’t really need this, but I could use this money to save this dog or save this cat.”
What is your favorite car and why? Which car would you most like to own?
A couple of years ago my favorite car was the Audi R8 [performance coupe], which I had for the last three years. I just sold it, and I’m thinking of getting the Mercedes G-Wagen. It’d be good for my doggies, and also a true luxury item.
What fashion brands and designers you wear and admire the most?
I love and adore Stella McCartney because she’s all vegan, she’s anti-cruelty, and she makes amazing handbags, very durable. And she’s a woman with passion and she helps animals, and I admire her and I think she’s an amazing human being, especially for what she does to be cruelty free.
Where is your favorite place to go on vacation and why?
Honestly, I love being home. I just came back from Mykonos in Greece, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful place, but after a few days I just miss home. There is no place like home. But one of my favorite places in the whole world is Italy, and I still have to go to Positano. I haven’t been, so that’s one of my places, and I bet you if you ask me this question after my trip there I will probably say that would be my favorite place. But overall, I would say Italy.
Do you have other philanthropic interests or causes you care about?
Anything that has to do with animals, but I do love kids. I think kids and animals are very similar, they’re both voiceless and defenseless. My ultimate dream is to have my own animal sanctuary which is also a therapy center for kids, and maybe even adults. I haven’t thought about it that far but I think animals are such great therapy, especially for me. When I was going through my divorce, I got offered to do a TV show in Poland aside from Poland’s Next Top Model, which was an animal rescue show, and for me I think these dogs have really helped me get through the sad process of the divorce. It’s not only that I try to help as many animals as I can, I feel animals have helped me, even my dogs at home [aka her “fur children”].
Even if I’m in a bad mood or I’m in a sad mood, when I come home my puppies give me all this love and attention, they love you unconditionally… And I don’t think there’s anything more special than that. They’re amazing therapy for human beings, and unless somebody has a dog or a cat or other animal for themselves, they will never realize how amazing these little creatures are.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How about ten?
Honestly, I don’t like to think that far in the future. The number one thing in my book is health, because as long as you have health everything else will come. I’m going to continue working hard and we’ll just have to see what happens. I don’t like to plan ahead, because if you do plan something and it doesn’t happen, it’s sad. But if you don’t plan, and a fun project or something wonderful does come up, then it’s a nice surprise. So most of all I’d like to be surprised in the next five to ten years.