Forgive Brittany Murphy if she seems fizzier than a juggled cream soda these days. And why not? On Dec. 31 she accepted a proposal—along with a platinum Tiffany solitaire ring—from best-boy grip Joe Macaluso, 32, whom she met on the set of her 2004 romantic comedy Little Black Book. Almost instantly, “I turned into a big, gushy, happy bride-to-be,” says the 28-year-old actress and Edison, N.J., native. Another huge cause for celebration: Murphy’s mom, Sharon, 53—with whom she and Macaluso share a home in L.A., has been cancer-free for more than a year after undergoing a double mastectomy in 2004. Between paging through bridal magazines and prepping to shoot Sin City 2 this spring, the actress spoke with PEOPLE’s Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna.
FINDING MR. RIGHT
We both traveled 3,000 miles to find out that the love of our lives was just across the Hudson, where we grew up. [Macaluso is from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; the pair started dating in the summer of ’04, shortly after Murphy split with her then-fiancé Jeffrey Kwatinetz, CEO of Hollywood talent agency the Firm.] I just knew he was a nice guy—and devastatingly handsome. I asked him to go to the movies and dinner. It was the first time in my life that I ever asked someone on a date. He didn’t want to be Rebound Guy, but I knew there was some connection there. We made it to date 17 without kissing. It’s a true, old-fashioned romance.
THE WEDDING PLANNER
I have a whole stack of bridal magazines. I’m thrilled about it. When I was a little girl, I always wanted a winter wedding at the Plaza Hotel. I always loved the winter and snow in New York City. But we don’t know.
HER MOM’S BATTLE
My mom is my earthbound angel. She is the strongest human being I know. [After battling breast cancer while Brittany was filming her breakout role in 1995’s Clueless, Sharon Murphy had a relapse in 2003.] We watched Gilmore Girls every time she had chemo. If she was in the hospital for a month and a half, I was on a cot in the hospital for a month and a half. After the chemo finished, her incentive was to go to the Little Black Book premiere, which was so adorable. Recently I went to London to film Love and Other Disasters [with Orlando Bloom and Gwyneth Paltrow], on the heels of spending every single day in the hospital for a couple of years. I went to London as a girl, and I came back a woman. It coincided with a crucial time in my life in every aspect: in love, in career and in health.
SHE’S FRIENDS WITH HER EX
Jeffrey is an amazing friend of mine, one of my dearest friends in the world. [Murphy had previously dated Ashton Kutcher.] God has a way of placing me back in the same situation under different circumstances if I don’t learn from it. So I try and learn the best I possibly can from every instance in life.
CHANGING HER TUNE
I’m in the process of making an album right now. I’ve been writing music for many, many years. I grew up on a lot of jazz, and then I’m a complete hip-hop generation kid. [She recently recorded a single, ‘Faster Kill Pussycat,’ with electronic dance- music artist Paul Oak enfold.] Paul is a friend of mine and he asked me to come to the studio. Twenty minutes later my vocals were down. It’s an incredible song.
STRUTTING HER STUFF
I just walked the runway in Milan for Dsquared! For a 5’3½ “girl from New Jersey from a working-class family, that was pretty thrilling.