Joanna Krupa is best known as a reality tv star and – of course – for her drop-dead beauty, but if she had her druthers she'd rather you recognized her first for her animal advocacy work. The blue-eyed, blonde-haired 5-foot-7 stunner has graced the cover of Playboy twice, and remains atop AskMen.com and Maxim's lists of the worlds most beautiful women and was even a lingerie model for Frederick's of Hollywood, but she's proudest of her provocative and extremely successful campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and for her own non-profit animal rescue organization, Angels For Animal Rescue.
Before all that she was a young girl who knew she always liked being in front of the the camera. She didn't care if it was modeling or acting, as long as she was entertaining, she knew she'd be happy. That's why, years later, when a jealous ex boyfriend gave her an ultimatum – the kind that went, "It's me or your career" – it took her less than two seconds to make the choice that broke his heart. Almost immediately, she packed up everything she owned and moved from her hometown in Chicago to L.A. to pursue modeling.
"When I finally talked to him months later, I was like, 'I'm in L.A., so thanks for the ultimatum! '" she told HNGN exclusively. "That ultimatum gave me the power I needed to pursue my dreams."
Those dreams began in Warsaw, Poland, where she lived until she was five, spending her days recording videos with her sister, the two of them acting, singing and dancing for their own pleasure.
"I definitely had that vision in my mind," she explained. "And I just wanted to do it." Not long after that, she moved to Chicago where her parents put her in local modeling contests. That didn't lead to much, until she was 20, when she landed her first gig on "The Jenny Jones Show," as one of the models that would bring out guests and hand off prizes. While modeling was such a huge part of her career, she's moved on to focus on her other passions.
"Over the last couple of years, I haven't focused on the modeling much," she said. "I mean, if a magazine is promoting projects I'm doing, of course, I will always do that. But I haven't really been pursuing strictly modeling jobs. I've been doing more TV and acting and reality, so that's more of my passion now. I've just been building my brand."
She's built quite the resume for herself, and a lot of it started with her time on the hit reality show "Real Housewives of Miami." From that came "Dancing With The Stars," and she is now currently the host of "Poland's Next Top Model." While she has "Real Housewives" to thank for much of her television career, she's glad all the drama that came with it is in the past.
"I'm grateful I had the opportunity because it gave me a different fan base for shows like 'DWTS.' Everything that you do in this entertainment business, you build a fan base. So people that weren't aware of me from my other ventures became aware of me from the housewife show, and it built me a bigger fan base," she explained. "So as stressful as it was with some of the people on there, I'm very grateful...I don't miss the nasty drama, and I won't eliminate myself from future reality shows. But this one in particular – it was just a certain cast that was tough to deal with. But, as I am with everything I do in my life, I'm very grateful for the opportunity. There was definitely some positive in there as well, so I can't complain."
While on the show, she got to marry the man of her dreams, Romain Zago, in a beautiful wedding with what seemed like the whole world watching. "I mean, when else do you have the opportunity to have your wedding seen all over the world?" she said, cheerfully. "That's a memory that I'll never forget. I was very happy to be able to share that with my fans."
Because of her loyal fan base, the dancing skills she never knew she had, and the help of her partner, the amazing Derek Hough, she was able to come in fourth on "DWTS." When asked if she's watching the current season, she said she's rooting for Hough and his partner Bindi Irwin. "I'm always rooting for him," she said. "He's such a great person and he just made my experience so amazing that I'm always rooting for whoever he's with."
Coming in fourth place was something she never expected – especially on a season with big names like Kelly Osbourne and Donny Osmond.
"Coming into the show, I was probably one of the least-known celebrities, so I really had to prove myself. I had to be a decent dancer to even stay on the show, and I surprised myself. I didn't realize I could do a good job. All the hard work definitely paid off," she said. "I had to work ten times harder than someone like Osbourne or Osmond who already had a huge fan base. But I won't lie, if I was as popular as people like them, I think I would have won because when it came to the dancing part of it – not to sound snotty – but I think Derek and I did an amazing job and we deserved to get to at least the finals. It's a popularity contest and I totally understand that."
After participating in two major reality shows, Krupa didn't hesitate when she was offered the hosting duties, and a chance to explore her roots, for "Poland's Next Top Model." "It's our fifth season now, and it's one of the top shows in Poland. I love doing that because me coming from basically nothing and then living the American dream...I see myself in a lot of these up-and-coming models, so it's great. I can give them a lot of advice and experience." she said, adding, "Of course, I have to be a little tough because I'm considered the Polish Tyra Banks, but I'm probably the sweetest and nicest one of all the judges, so it's like I'm a big sister to the models."
The show is very similar to the Tyra Banks-hosted "America's Next Top Model," but Krupa believes it's so much better.
"At first, I was a little worried because I wasn't sure what the show would look like, but because of the quality of the show and just everything, it's 100 times better than 'America's Next Top Model,'" she said. "'America's Next Top Model' is kind of very cutthroat, kind of just one level. Here, we're goofy and fun – it's a very different atmosphere. Obviously we still have extreme assignments for the models when it comes to fashion shows and photo shoots, but we just try to bring in fun and show the behind the scenes looks."
Krupa says that living in Poland after being away for decades was a little tough for her at first, especially since she never really spoke perfect Polish. "It's funny because I brought in – you know how they say Spanglish? – so yeah, I brought in Polish and English together," she said, laughing. "Half my sentences were in Polish, half were in English. At first the models were like, 'What?' But now they love it. It's a cool thing."
Krupa is currently filming three upcoming movies: "You Can't Have It," where she plays an undercover CIA agent posing as a bartender; "Another Day in Paradise," where she works alongside Frankie Muniz and "Pretty Little Liar's" Brendan Robinson, playing a caring first aid nurse at a water park; and "Wind of Heaven," playing an animal activists who helps save a horse.
Her role in "Wind of Heaven" hits close to home because Krupa is a passionate animal activist. She even has a PETA-approved skincare line, Cellogica, which isn't tested on animals and never will be, Krupa says. And she's also been a major part of PETA movement for several years now. It all began when she recieved an anonymous email about animals getting skinned alive for fur.
"That made me furious, and angry and depressed," she said of the email. "I was an animal lover my whole life, but I never realized that humans beings were capable of such cruelty. It was never in my head. I had never even thought of researching animal cruelty because I just didn't think it existed as much as it does. I wouldn't even think it, I mean who would think people could be so evil and cruel? It was a huge wake-up call for me, and I knew I had to get involved, so I dedicated my life basically to being a voice for animals because they're voiceless and defenseless."
Krupa has certainly given the cause her all! Back in December 2009, she took part in a controversial PETA ad in which she posed nude, depicted as an angel floating in a Catholic church filled with puppies, covering herself with only a crucifix. "Be an angel for animals. Always adopt, never buy," the ad's tagline read. While it was a stunning photo, the Catholic League had some not-so-nice things to say about it.
"It's understandable that the Catholic League is wary of another sex scandal, but the sex we're talking about pertains to dogs and cats," she said in a statement at the time. "As a practicing Catholic, I am shocked that the Catholic League is speaking out against my PETA ads, which I am very proud of. I'm doing what the Catholic Church should be doing, working to stop senseless suffering animals, the most defenseless of God's creation. I am a voice for innocent animals who are being neglected and dumped by the millions at shelters. In my heart I know that Jesus would never condone the suffering that results when dogs and cats are allowed to breed."
Krupa then went on to pose nude for PETA ads several more times, mostly in anti-fur campaigns. In addition to these issues, her activism has focussed on ending the captivity of whales and dolphins in places like Sea World. She also started her own animal rescue organization, Angels For Animal Rescue, with her friend Gabi Gutierrez. It's a small organization, but it's saved over 100 animals. While she knows 100 may not be much when comapred to the efforts of major organizations, any little bit helps. "We try our best," she said, adding. "Any little bit is still something. We save dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, snakes – we help save all types of animals."
"If you're an animal lover, just try to educate your friends and be a voice. Always try to find products that are not tested on animals and stay away from fur," she said, cautioning, "There's no reason for animal cruelty and there's no reason for animal testing. The more people can educate others or promote these facts on Facebook, the bette. It's amazing how powerful social media can be – animals can be saved just because people share info and care It's all about being active and just trying to make the world a better place."
If you're interested in helping Krupa's non-profit organization make the world a better place for animals, you can donate to Angels For Animal Rescue here.