.: Holly Charms Hollywood :.

By Deanna Kizis

Charmed's Holly Marie Combs reveals the reason she's psyched to be single--and why she didn't heed Tom Cruise's advice.

As one-third of the hot trio starring on the WB's top-rated Charmed, 27-year-old Holly Marie Combs has every right to be living an ultraglamorous life. But you'd be more likely to find this down-to-earth actress at a rough-and-tumble rodeo than on Beverly Hills' posh Rodeo Drive.

On her days off, Holly, who lives in L.A.'s rustic Bell Canyon in a Spanish-style three-bedroom home, drives her gargantuan pickup truck several miles down the road to the stables where she boards her precious quarter horses Jake, Jesse, and Jezebel. It's there, in her grungy barnyard getups, that the no-frills beauty is most comfortable. "I'm a hick," she says, petting Jezebel's chestnut mane. "I can't get away from trailers. I work out of a trailer on the Charmed set. I love to go camping in a trailer. I drive a truck so I can pull my horse trailer. I guess I'm trailer trash!" Not exactly. But one thing's for sure, even if she's way too humble to admit it: This Hollywood star is turning heads.

Breaking Into the Biz

Combs was born in San Diego when her mom was just 15 and her dad was 17. Her parents married, dropped out of high school, and made ends meet as best they could (her dad worked at a feed store and her mom got a job at the Del Mar racetrack exercising horses), but they divorced two years later. When Combs was 8, her mom decided to pursue acting, so they moved to Manhattan. Since breaking into showbiz is no easy feat, Holly's mother held down waitressing and modeling jobs to help pay the bills, while her stepfather--who married her mom when Holly was 12--worked as a bartender. The family was so cash-strapped, they often had to live in cramped apartments. The worst was a teensy studio they lived in when Combs was a teenager. "I had a loft, and my parents' bed was underneath," Combs says. "You could only be alone in the bathroom. I don't know how we did it."

With such family closeness, it's no wonder Holly caught the acting bug as well. Around age 10, she began going on auditions and eventually appeared in several national TV commercials and landed a blink-and-you'll-miss-her part in Born on the Fourth of July. Looking back, says Combs, "I thought I knew everything at 16. I was very confident." Case in point: During the filming of Born on the Fourth of July, the film's star Tom Cruise pulled Combs aside to give her a little friendly advice. "He said, 'Don't let [director] Oliver Stone scare you,'" remembers Combs. "I was like, 'I'm not scared at all.' and Tom said, 'Really? He scares the hell out of me.'"

Megaproducer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) got a similar dose of Combs's self-assured attitude when she read for the role of earnest teenager Kimberly Brock on his 1992 series, Picket Fences. After her audition, Kelley told Combs she didn't have "a big enough heart" to play the part, so Combs did what came naturally: She told him off. "I said, 'I just came off the subway, and you can't have a big heart on the subway,'" she remembers. "If you're looking for someone with a big heart, what the hell are you doing in New York?" Two weeks later, Kelley called Combs to tell her she had the role. The lesson Combs learned? In showbiz, it's often the size of your cojones, not your heart, that really counts.

Finding Prince Charming

Despite her take-no-prisoners auditioning style, Combs has a tender side, one she can't hide whenever she talks about David Donoho, her 35-year-old live-in boyfriend. The couple met two years ago on the Charmed set, where Donoho works as a key grip. At the time, Combs was gun-shy, having already been married (to actor Bryan Smith) and divorced at the age of 23.

Smith and Combs had met through a mutual friend when Combs was just 19 and tied the knot after dating for only three months. "It wasn't even really dating," Combs admits. "We'd been sleeping together for about eight days when we decided to elope to Las Vegas." The marriage lasted four years, and Combs thinks it failed because she was too young. "It was romantic to run off," she says. "But marriage is more difficult than most teenagers can handle."

Nevertheless, Combs decided to get engaged again at 24 to a schoolteacher she met while vacationing in Mexico with costar Shannen Doherty. Why do engagement rings seem to leap onto Combs's finger? "Maybe I'm just the marrying kind," the actress offers. "I tend to have long-term relationships. I'm not one to date a lot of people." Fortunately, when she began having second thoughts about getting hitched, Combs called it quits before walking down the aisle.

Determined not to make the same mistake with Donoho, Combs has vowed to take things slow. "I had to really get to know him as a person before realizing I was attracted to him," she remembers, "which is so much better, since with my past instant-attractions, everything has gone really wrong in the end."

They decided to move in together last February, and so far, they seem to be drowning in domestic bliss. "He does romantic things, like start my car for me every morning before work," she says. But it's their mutual love of the outdoors that really connects them. Recently, Donoho taught Combs how to ride four-wheel dirt bikes, and the two regularly go camping and riding in Pismo Beach, two hours north of L.A. "I'd never been an adrenaline junkie," Combs says. "And riding these things on huge sand dunes is ridiculously frightening. But when it's over, you're like 'Yeah, I did that!'"

Fun and Games

Starring as Piper Halliwell, the most "grounded" of Charmed's three witch sisters, is another kind of adventure for Combs. Although she admits that her hit series is "pure bubble-gum entertainment," the shoots themselves can be grueling. "There's nothing we don't do," Combs says. "We're like action heroes." Albeit well-dressed ones. "We used to have to chase demons wearing Prada stilettos," she continues. "But they've finally started letting us wear sneakers for those scenes. It's a little more realistic."

In spite of the trying work conditions, Combs can always count on her costars to lift her spirits. "The chemistry really works among the three of us. We're friends, and that makes the show more real," says Combs, who has nicknamed the set the Estrogen Dome. When tensions do run high, the tight threesome lets off steam by playing pranks on one another. "We've trashed on another's trailers so many times, I've lost count." Combs says with a smile. "We once put plastic spiders in Shannen's trailer, and we another time, we t.p.'d Alyssa's trailer door shut while she was still inside."

As she finishes her story, Combs glances at her watch and realizes it's time to head home to feed her ever-growing number of pets (in addition to her three horses, she owns five dogs, two cats, and two rabbits). After which, she hopes, she'll have time for a sit-down dinner with her boyfriend. "I'm not really into the whole Hollywood scene." Combs says before climbing back into her truck. "Nowadays, the simple pleasures in life suit me just fine."