Helio Castroneves raced to first place and into the hearts of millions during his championship run on Dancing With the Stars. Along with the Mirrorball trophy, he earned stateside celebrity status and became another athlete household name. The 32-year-old IndyCar driver, who split with fiancee Aliette Vasquez after his DWTS win, opens up to OK! about his newfound fame, why he won’t be acting any time soon and his plans for Valentine’s Day.

How does it feel being a celebrity now?

It’s different now, but I feel like the same person. I have not changed much. I haven’t gotten a big ego or anything. I’m enjoying it very much. I know that when the next Dancing With the Stars finishes, I will be yesterday’s news! [Laughs] Seriously, I am having fun with it, but it’s kind of weird having people talk about your personal life in the media.

You are part of the celebrity scene both in Brazil and now in America due to Dancing With the Stars. What are your thoughts about being associated with such two strong countries?
People know me now as a dancer from the show and it feels great. I think as long as you know how to conduct yourself, it’s great. In my business, I represent many sponsors and partners and you have to take care of that image so I am happy to be part of both countries in a way.

How has the transition from being famous athlete to famous TV star been for you?
It’s kind of hard now because everywhere I go people ask me, "Can I dance with you?” I tell them I don’t know how to dance and they say, "Well you won a competition so you must know!" But I just follow steps and I don’t know how to do any kind of choreography! At the end of the day, it’s all good.

What are your thoughts on your home country of Brazil getting so much recognition through the entertainment, modeling and tourism industries?
To be honest, Brazilian people are fun people and the country is amazing. It’s full of beautiful people. I love the beaches. Gisele Bundchen made a name for herself in the world of modeling, but there are many other beautiful women in the country! Plus the weather is amazing and the country also has many famous athletes and models as well.

Now that you are famous for winning Dancing With the Stars, have you thought about going Hollywood?
I don’t think I would be a good actor! People enjoyed Dancing With the Stars because I was myself and every time they told me to say something, I would say my own words so I don’t think I could follow a script well! [Laughs] But if I had the chance, I would have to prepare myself well. After Dancing With the Stars, I would never say never!

Who are some Hollywood actresses that you would like to work with and why?
I like people with a good sense of humor, like Jennifer Aniston. She is amazing and is a great actress. I like Friends very much. Also Penelope Cruz would be a great.

What do you like about American entertainment culture the most?
You guys throw in a good sense of humor in everything you do, which is nice, and you also show respect in some areas as well.

Do you have any thoughts about Heath Ledger’s passing?
It was a shock, a shock. It’s so sad and he was such a young and very talented actor. I saw Brokeback Mountain and Heath did a great job. My prayers go out to his family.

With all your traveling, touring and now being the brand spokesperson for [rum-maker] Leblon, how do you relax on your days off?
Believe it or not, I just like to stay home in Miami and hang out with my dog Tuggi [a Beagle], and boy, he is a troublemaker! When I am traveling, my sister whom I am very close to, takes care of him. I am really a homebody. I also work out every day and I do follow a strict diet — no red meat on the days of racing, no pork and lots of salads, fish, fruit. When I feel like having a drink, it’s Leblon of course!

Why did you decide to lend your image and name to Leblon?
It has a lot to do with where I come from, the place, the people and the image of something so clean, fun and exciting. It’s also a great drink and people will fall in love with it like they do with Brazil!

Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?
When is it? [Laughs] Only kidding! I’m not sure what I am doing yet. I still have time to plan.

Are you dating anyone now?
No, I am single right now and just having fun.

By Ravi Yande

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