Tricia Johnson
April 21, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Amy Smart was a Bicentennial baby — and it shows. On this hot spring afternoon in Studio City, Calif., the star of NBC’s The ’70s (the follow-up to last year’s The ’60s premieres April 30) is dressed in an outfit that could have been lifted from her character’s closet: faded, low-slung jeans, pink tank top (worn sans bra, Me Decade-style), and beach-casual flip-flops. ”[I’ve] always been kind of a natural hippie girl,” says the 24-year-old actress, who grew up in Topanga Canyon, a bohemian burb of Los Angeles. ”Vinessa [Shaw, ’70s costar and best friend since childhood] and I were pretty low-maintenance chicks.”

The same isn’t true of her ’70s alter ego. Smart (who’s currently on the small screen as Noel’s pregnant ex, Ruby, on Felicity) becomes a major handful as Christie, a Kent State survivor who trades the Studio 54 druggie lifestyle for the deceptive comfort of a Jonestown-esque cult. ”As many times as she falls,” says Smart, ”she gets back up and dusts herself off.” The actress landed the lead role after ’70s exec producer Denise Di Novi saw her 1999 film Outside Providence. ”Amy has a realness about her,” says Di Novi. ”To me she’s kind of a young Goldie Hawn.”

The former model’s appearance in Outside Providence also got her noticed by the producers of Felicity, who hired her only hours after she read for the part of Noel’s love interest. ”I literally knew nothing about Ruby when I [auditioned] — now I’m pregnant on the show,” says Smart, who digs the ”belly bag” and ”cute” maternity clothes Ruby now requires. ”I’ve always known I’ve wanted kids, but to actually wear this [prosthetic stomach] makes it conceivable.” (So to speak.)

Next month, she’ll return to the big screen as a college seductress in Road Trip (out May 19), which, like Providence and her 1999 hit Varsity Blues, has a guy-heavy cast. ”I’m so ready to do a girl movie,” she says. In the meantime, Smart, who took lessons to perfect her hustle moves for The ’70s, is spending time practicing a different classic: ”I have a rented piano in my house. I’ll call my mom, put the phone down, and play her Pachelbel’s Canon.” Well, if NBC ever makes The 1600s, they’ll know who to call.

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