- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

Amanda Peet, with her blue-green eyes and wickedly dreamy smile, is one woman seemingly put on Earth to rattle the male of the species.

Her filmography does not run impressively deep. With a list that includes the likes of "Southie," "Simply Irresistible" and "Body Shots," you'll find no screen classics. But this Manhattan-born actress has an effortless way of commanding attention that marks her for future stardom.

Not for nothing was she added to People magazine's list of the most beautiful people of 2000.

Her latest film is "Whipped," a comedy by neophyte director Peter Cohen. (The film opens tomorrow at Washington-area theaters)

She plays a woman with the same blase moral code as guys on the make. "Whipped" finally puts Miss Peet squarely at the center of the screen. Until now, her feature film resume has been filled with secondary characters and girlfriend parts.

A breakthrough role arrived with the recent Bruce Willis mob comedy, "The Whole Nine Yards," where she proved to be an adept comedienne. In "Whipped," she tears through three old pals who succumb to her obvious charms.

"I made this film over two and a half years ago," she notes. "And my life has changed quite a bit since then. I live in L.A. now. I drive now. I did not know how to drive when I did 'Whipped.' And hopefully, I'm a better actress now."

Miss Peet's path to becoming that better actress began in high school.

"It was a hobby," she recalls. "I took teen-age acting classes in New York, doing improv for three hours every Sunday. And I was good, really good."

Stunning and talented, Miss Peet got off to a relatively early start, but the parts offered were less than compelling. Now that she is starring in the WB Network television series "Jack and Jill," things are looking up. She is also excited about her upcoming film comedy, "Saving Silverman," but her dues seem to be paid up in full. And "Whipped" is finally paying her back.

" 'Whipped' was like the 14th independent movie I made for like $75 a day," she explains. "Much to the chagrin of my agent, we were getting poorer by the movie. I was getting tired of that, but I read the script and thought it had vision and an edge that was lacking in other indie movies I had done. I was getting these movies with everyone talking, sitting around with acoustic guitars. Attempts to be like Whit Stillman. And I was sick of it."

Still, she respects the tough indie route.

"Not to be corny, but there is something special about independent films. Everyone's working for no money, hoping this film will go somewhere. People are putting their money into making a film they can't afford, so you can't do that many takes. We put in heinous hours, and there's nowhere to sit or go to the bathroom. And you get it all done in 20 days."

For different reasons, she did not find the climate of big budget sets much more comfortable.

"On 'The Whole Nine Yards,' I was so scared … I felt like I was under a lot of pressure. I can't lie to you and say that I wasn't nervous doing a scene with Bruce Willis. He's Bruce Willis, and I was so afraid of him."

Although her star is clearly on the rise, Miss Peet remains strangely ambivalent about her choice of careers. Acting doesn't come easily to her.

"I had terrible stage fright in the beginning," Miss Peet recalls. "It's been a long process of recovery for me. I still suffer. People tell me that being nervous is a good thing. But it's debilitating. It's getting more and more fun.

"I saw Kim Basinger on 'Letterman' not long ago, and she was trembling. I really had such love for her right then because I get it: She's scared, but she has to do it. It's so easy when you're in acting class, seeing a Winona Ryder movie and thinking you could do that. But then, when you get there, you have to do 20 takes, moving the bottle around for product placement. And your hair has to be in place. It's very hard to be good, and it's easy to be terrible."

Miss Peet finally tamed her jitters on the set of her weekly series, "Jack and Jill." The daily grind of doing the romantic drama created an oddly comforting familiarity for the honey-blonde actress.

"My trajectory is now making sense for me," she concludes. "There are reasons why things have happened the way they've happened. If I had gotten some huge movie with Robert DeNiro right off the bat, I probably would have fainted."

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