Something about Vivica A. Fox’s spirit is as light as the foam on her caffe latte. She has slimmed down from a size eight to a four and shows up for lunch all in white, but it’s not just about the flesh. Her buoyancy comes from her easy laughter and her liberal sprinkling of the word positive throughout our conversation. And she doesn’t seem to be mouthing words. Her optimism is a warm pool you could float in all day.

This is not the stuff of a naive girl who has never known heartache. Fox has buried a few dreams, weathered a divorce, and then suffered what seemed at the time an almost unbearable public breakup with another celebrity. On top of that, she turned 40 last July and admitted it, in an industry where most folks start rolling back the clock in their late twenties.

Fox isn’t afraid of the big 4-0, or of finger-waggers who may poke fun at her for acting younger than her years. Yes, she hopped on the stage unannounced at the MTV Video Music Awards last summer in short shorts and danced with rapper Lil Jon and crew, whose biggest hit had a hook about sweaty private parts. She went there because the group invited her and she thought it would be fun—and besides, the stunt landed her some TV hosting gigs to boot. “Don’t put me in a box,” she warns. “I’ll bust out of it.” She says this while sitting at a patio table at The Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills, enjoying the breeze as she leans forward in her white fedora and takes a bite of her healthy salad. Light dances off her earrings, her neck. Even her belt buckle and clear sandals are frosted.

Fox has appeared in dozens of movies—Soul Food, Kill Bill: Vols. 1 and 2, Independence Day—and has been praised for her on-screen authenticity in capturing the Black woman’s emotional truth: that balance between loving you unconditionally and being willing to cuss your behind out—if the occasion requires.

These days Fox, who stars in the detective show Missing on the Lifetime network, is feeling pretty good about herself. She not only has plenty of work, but she’s also careful about who plays with her in the sandbox: “When I’m around people who get me, it makes me a more positive person. You know what I mean?”