With a last name like Fox, Ms. Vivica was destined to keep the fellas at attention. Now settled in her 40s, the actress and producer continues to embrace the love and attention of younger men–and encourages more 40-somethings to give it a try. Between takes for her role as KeKe Palmer’s mom on “Tru Jackson VP,” the veteran star shared why cougar isn’t a dirty a word and how your dream man may be years younger.

ESSENCE.COM: You’ve embraced dating younger men and even hosted the reality show “The Cougar.” When did you realize you were a cougar?
For me, Cougarism has been happening for the last five years, that younger guys have been attracted to me. Age is a state of a mind. Many younger guys are so attracted to older women because they are independent, don’t have major baby mama drama and they’ve got their own bank account, so they can pick up the tab sometimes. When the term “cougar” first came out, some tried to give it a negative connotation. But now with so many celebrities turning 40, like Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry, guys are like, “I don’t have a problem with it. She can still get it.”

ESSENCE.COM: And what are the perks of a younger man?
Well . . . (laughs). They have less drama sometimes. I’m not attracted to a man with a lot of kids or drama, to be honest. I don’t limit myself to young guys, but right now that’s what’s happening. The young guys who attract me have more spirit; they aren’t set in their ways. Most of time they want to travel, go out, go dancing and have fun. They are more outgoing and free-spirited.

ESSENCE.COM: We all remember when 50 Cent thanked you for wearing that dress during his acceptance speech at the 2003 BET Awards.
(Laughs.) Yeah, that started it all. The one thing that I’m grateful for from the 50 Cent relationship is that it introduced me to a whole new generation. Perhaps had I not dated him, they would not have followed my career, not known who I was even with the movies. Young guys are like, “Yo, she went out with 50; I might have a chance.” I thank him for that. He kept my name current. I don’t really date guys in entertainment though, because I feel it’s kind of competitive.

ESSENCE.COM: So how’s the dating world treating you now? Would you marry again?
I’ve been really busy but I’ve got my eyes open. I’m not dating anyone specifically, but I am accepting applications. Please have your own credit card, your own place to stay and your own identity, because I’m not a sugar mama. I don’t mind sharing, but I ain’t taking care of you. A man still needs to be a man, even if he is younger. Right now, I don’t see myself getting married again. That’s a lot of paperwork and I don’t think a piece of paper validates a relationship. I just want to find someone who can be my partner. And then if he wants that commitment, we let that happen.

ESSENCE.COM: Yes, ma’am! And what’s your message to women who are hesitant to give younger men a try?
Don’t limit yourself. It used to be taboo, but things have changed and the stigma is gone. I did the show to show women; it was liberating. If a younger guy is attracted to you, don’t shy away because he’s younger. Once you turn 40, there is no putting you out to the pasture. You are at your peak. Show ’em what you’re working with!

See photos of celebrity cougars