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Originally published Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Renton's Jesse Brune grows up, and buffs up, on Bravo's "Work Out"

Who knew there could be so much Sturm und Drang in a gym? But there it all surfaces, in an elite Beverly Hills gym, on Bravo's reality TV...

Seattle Times staff reporter

On TV

"Work Out"

Season three begins Tuesday, 11 p.m. on Bravo.

Who knew there could be so much Sturm und Drang in a gym?

But there it all surfaces, in an elite Beverly Hills gym, on Bravo's reality TV show "Work Out."

Alpha dog is gym owner Jackie Warner. Sassy. Killer body. To-die-for hair. Her relationship IQ, however, is questionable. Exhibit A: Uber-needy Mimi from last season. You wanted to reach inside the TV and throttle her.

The gym's trainers include a past contestant from "The Amazing Race" named Rebecca Cardon. How to identify Rebecca? She's the one who looks as if her gym pants are about to creep down her backside. She's also the most petulant of the group and still pouts over Jackie, whom she used to date and who has since moved on.

Then there's trainer Jesse Brune, whose most identifiable characteristic last season was his paunch.

But in this third season, which begins Tuesday, Brune has reinvented himself. He's 20 pounds thinner, has a boyfriend and, compared to Cardon, has grown a lot more mature.

Brune, 27, a Renton native who studied dance at the Cornish College of the Arts, telephoned recently from Southern California. He spoke about being fat, being gay and Warner's sex appeal.

On becoming a reality-TV star: "I was acting for a couple of years, but I hated auditioning. And honestly, I was told by a lot of my management people that I had to be in the closet and that I had to portray myself as straight. It didn't feel like I was being true to myself."

On food and cooking: "I grew up a Southern Baptist, and food was very much a part of my life. My mother is from Charleston. I learned my way through the kitchen with my mom. I've always liked family dinners, cooking for other orphans in Hollywood, feeling like there's a sense of community created around the table.

"I've always fantasized about going to culinary school and becoming a chef. As soon as I quit acting, that's what I did [enrolling in the California School of Culinary Arts]."

On eating, dieting and becoming a physical trainer: "I had a feeling that I might gain weight [while in cooking school], so I started training. It was just something to do for extra money. But then in my last three weeks of culinary school, I got approached to do 'Work Out' and I was like, 'No! Come on!' They said, 'We'd feature you as a trainer as well as a chef.' So I went on the show to feature my food."

On season two: "I was featured as gaining a lot of weight. And when I saw myself, I thought, 'Oh my God. I look terrible.' But looking back, I'm grateful. It was such a wake-up call. I wasn't just someone who had gained weight. I was someone who wasn't happy. I knew I was going to have to change my life.

"I started eating organic foods. I started working out regularly, mixing it up with yoga, weight training, Pilates. Spinning has been my savior. And I started getting really centered.

"My whole thing now is Jesse Brune, the happy-living expert. I now not only train my clients, but I cook for them, too."

On all the series drama: "People ask, 'Is it amped up?' But every gym I've gone into, there's always something intense going on."

On last year's death of trainer Doug Blasdell: "He brought an energy and a light to work. We're definitely missing something."

On why so many straight women crush on Warner: "She breaks a lot of molds. She's beautiful, she's masculine, she has a sense of fashion. And she's super-charismatic."

On Warner's new love, 20-something bartender Brianna: "Oh God, no comment. With Jackie and relationships, I've learned not to get involved. Everyone just smiles and nods, because who really knows?"

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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