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Girlfriend Next Door: Elise Neal

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If life were a bowl of cherries, actress Elise Neal would have a pile of pits, juice-stained fingers and a satisfied tummy. Co-starring in UPN's popular comedy The Hughleys (Monday nights at 9pm/8c) and engaged to marry movie director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, Set It Off) next year, this budding big-screen actress (Scream 2, Restaurant, Money Talks, Rosewood) and ex-dancer from Memphis literally sashayed her way to Hollywood success. We caught up with the 29-year-old southern belle to find out how she stumbled into acting, what she thinks of "The Hughleys" move to UPN and how she stays grounded -- and in love -- in the City of Dreams.

How did you get into acting?
I originally had no desire to be an actress. My biggest goal was to go to New York and become a dancer. I did a couple of off-Broadway shows like revival of Sophisticated Ladies, Dreamgirls and some music videos. But then I wound up doing commercials for Burger King, Nike and other companies, which led to me taking an acting class. Acting just kinda stuck, so I decided to give it a shot.

How did you land the part of Yvonne on The Hughleys?
D.L. Hughley had seen me Rosewood and Money Talks so he hand-picked me to play his wife on the show. I was very flattered by that.

Why do you think the The Hughleys was pulled from ABC and then picked up by UPN?
I think it's sad that a lot of the major networks are just not getting Black shows. It's hard for them to keep the shows on because they don't understand our families or our jokes. We just don't have enough high-ranking Black television execs. On the flip side, at UPN, the experience has been wonderful. A lot of the pressure has been taken off of everybody and we're taking some creative chances I felt uncomfortable taking before.

How do you and your fiancé find balance despite being a couple in the public eye?
Because we are both really down to earth and our relationship is built on how we feel about each other, nobody really intrudes on our space. We don't care if the media appreciates us as a couple -- we're really not tripping off of the Hollywood 'hot couple' thing! I love the times I hang out with Gary and just go to the movies. Just doing normal stuff. Also, getting away for a weekend every now and then-and I'm definitely the facial and spa chick!

How do you maintain that fabulously fit bod?

I work out three times a week. I have a gym at my house where I'll jump on the treadmill, and I do free weights. I find time by doing 200 sit-ups or some squats while watching TV! I love Tae-Bo. I also do a workout called Barry's Boot Camp. You sprint for a minute, walk, sprint again, work with resistance bands for your arms. It's a way to get shapely arms without building them up too big."

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