(Health.com) -- As I sit down across from Ginnifer Goodwin in a Hollywood café, it hits me that she could easily pass for a French ingénue. In fact, with her simply chic T-shirt and cardigan, and her pixie haircut that oozes Paris, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear a "bonjour" come out of her mouth.
But then the Memphis-born actress, 32, offers a lilting "Hey there," and her subtle Southern accent makes you want to kick back and hang out down home.
Now, as her HBO show "Big Love" goes into its fifth and final season (she plays Margene, the third polygamous wife) and before her iPhone rings (to the tune of "All You Need Is Love"), Ginnifer shares her trick for staying in great shape, her lifelong love of dance, and the feel-amazing secret she learned from her mom.
Q: You're from Memphis. How does your background help or hurt when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle?
A: Oh my gosh. I would assume that it helps, in that I consider myself an extremely healthy person. But I know that's sort of contradictory to the fact that you go to the South and all vegetables are deep-fried! I really did go through a period when I was very little when I remember realizing that vegetables did not come out of the ground deep-fried.
I changed my eating habits in fourth grade because I was a heavy little girl, and I was unhappy. And I remember my mom making dinner for me the first night that I was on this new program, and I burst out crying because the vegetables were green, and I thought she was trying to starve me to death.
Q: Considering your busy work schedule, what's your go-to healthy snack?
A: Jeanne Tripplehorn taught me -- and this is the most amazing thing in the world -- make some instant oatmeal, and put a tiny spoonful of peanut butter and a tiny spoonful of jelly in it, and mush it all up. It is like a mushy peanut butter--and-jelly. It's genius. And it's very satiating.
Q: Do you have a favorite way to stay fit?
A: I have been a member of Weight Watchers for 23 years, and I'm back on it right now. It's the only thing on the planet that doesn't dehydrate you or just make you miserable. I've never had a dramatic weight problem, it's just that I tend to indulge, and then I need to get back on track so I can button my pants.
Q: How do you know you're at your happy weight?
A: I actually have a number, and I know that some people say that's not the healthiest gauge. But I have had a number for, honestly, 12 years that's my happy number where I feel good about myself and my energy's high. I call it my "shooting weight," because it's also the number that doesn't freak me out when I see myself on screen.
Q: Is it true you do ballet?
A: Looooove ballet! I do it when I'm feeling good enough to put on a leotard. [Laughs.] But I have a trainer who used to be a New York City Ballet ballerina, and she does a lot of hybrid Pilates ballet. I did join a gym in the Valley, which freaks me out way less than working out in Hollywood, where I feel like I'm going to run into people I know.
Q: What's your favorite kind of cardio?
A: I like the elliptical, 'cause I feel like I'm dancing. And I'm also big on speed-walking outside. Like, I'll speed-walk a couple of miles, get a cup of coffee, speed-walk back. It's so easy. Just break a sweat for 30 minutes and you're fine.
Q: Do you have any trouble zones you try to tone?
A: It's my hips and my upper thighs. Even at my crazy skinniest, where I've looked at myself and been like, "Ginny, you're too skinny," those are still there. And I think it might be ... permanent? [Laughs.]
Part of it might be that when I was younger, I was a figure skater, and a ballerina, and a horseback rider. And there's something about figure-skating jumps -- your thighs get very muscular.
Q: When do you most feel body-confident?
A: Even when I'm too heavy, I'm still confident because I never actually let myself go. I can be indulgent for six months and put on some weight, but I still never actually get to the point of being unhappy and self-destructive. And working with my amazing stylist, I'm really good at hiding things, so I'm always pretty confident. Except when I'm in a bathing suit. It doesn't matter what my body looks like, I hate putting on bathing suits in front of other people.
Q: I know. It's your underwear. Basically.
A: It's your underwear! Which used to not be the case, because as recently as -- what, 80 years ago, 90 years ago? -- women were still swimming in really cute dresses and, like, bloomers.
Q: You seem to love fashion.
A: I gravitate toward French designers. And what's interesting is that I definitely have a more Italian body type. I have always been curvy. I will always have hips, boobs, and a small waist. Not big boobs -- little boobs -- but still curvy.
Q: You wear a lot of bright color, right?
A: I don't own a lot of black. To me, clothing is like an extension of the self, and the truth is, my default setting is pretty happy. I probably am kind of colorful and definitely very animated, and color cheers me up.
Q: If you could take a celeb body and stick it on your fridge for inspiration, whose body would you pick?
A: I met Jessica Biel in person and she's a freaking knockout. Jennifer Aniston, too. They might be the only two women in the world who have bodies like that, so I'm really glad that they chose a profession where we all get to look at them all the time.
Q: What does being healthy mean to you?
A: Healthy is beautiful. Because what comes with health is a clear mind and a high spirit. When I'm not healthy, I can't think straight, and I'm unhappy. I'll realize that I'm an emotional mess, and it's because I'm dehydrated. Or I'm cold and cranky, and it's because I'm not exercising and my circulation is poor.
Q: You have such amazing skin. What's your secret?
A: Honestly, my grandmother told me when I was very young that I should wash my face only once a day, because your oils are there for a reason. And my grandmother's skin is so beautiful, I've gotten in the habit of washing my face once a day. But I can dry out, so I do have to be careful that I use very gentle things, and that I don't pick at anything. But that's not true. I'll pop a zit. I'm an excellent zit-popper.
Q: Has anyone ever given you any great health advice?
A: My mom always taught me to listen to my body. If I wasn't feeling well, there was no push for me to go to school, because my mom was all about honoring that. And I was also always encouraged to sleep until I feel good and maybe not get drunk if I'm going to feel bad the next day. So I've always been really easy on myself, which I think contributes to all things. Not just to our health, but our appearance, too.
Q: You've joked that actors are not the poster children for healthy relationships, but your current boyfriend, Joey Kern, is an actor.
A: Actors are professional liars, and we put ourselves in very tempting situations. And male actors are sometimes the most charismatic people on the planet. [Laughs.] But I live very ethically by the monogamous code, and no one ever has to worry about me, and I realized I needed to give other actors the benefit of the doubt.
Q: Do you think a healthy relationship leads to a happier, healthier life?
A: Well, I'm a hopeless romantic! When I'm in a healthy relationship, I'm more secure, I'm more alive, I'm more challenged, I'm more ... open.
Q: When and where do you feel most relaxed?
A: Watching movies at home with my two cats. They're bathing each other, and I'm watching a classic. Give me a good "The Philadelphia Story" or "The Thin Man."
Copyright Health Magazine 2011