Lacey Chabert: Steve Granitz/
Liane Bonin
April 30, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel room, Lacey Chabert bears only a passing resemblance to Claudia Salinger, the sweet, squeaky-voiced orphan she played on the Fox drama ”Party of Five” from 1994 to 2000. The voice is still little-girlish, but the rest of Chabert, 21, is all grown up, from her perfectly pink lips to her flippy short skirt and ultrachic high heels.

That she’s no longer the innocent waif is clear in Chabert’s latest movie, ”Mean Girls” (in theaters), in which she plays Gretchen Weiners, a member of the popular clique that sets itself against the new girl, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan). One of the reasons she took the role, she says, was ”so people would get to know me as a comedic actress.”

She’s going out of her way to get the new image across. She next stars as an ultra-studious high school student with Milo Ventimiglia (”Gilmore Girls”) in the comedy ”Dirty Deeds” and as the Mormon daughter of Bill Paxton’s polygamist character in an upcoming HBO pilot called ”Big Love.”

And don’t forget her first big-screen funny-girl role (no, we’re not counting 1998’s comically bad ”Lost in Space”). She parodied her ”Party” costar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, in 2001’s ”Not Another Teen Movie.” When asked if Hewitt saw the joke in her portrayal as the movie’s ”perfect girl,” Chabert demurs, her tiny voice deepening slightly: ”She’s a friend. I heard through people she thought it was funny, but we never even talked about it that much. Really, I thought it was a compliment to her.”

While Chabert may want to distance herself from her image as ”Party”’s little girl, she’s quick to point out she’s still tight with the cast. She, Scott Wolf, and Matthew Fox recently reunited to record commentary for the show’s first-season DVD. ”It’s so weird. It’s like watching home movies or a yearbook or something, because I was only 11 when it started. It was like, ‘Oh my god, look at my hair! Look how short I am!’ No one really wants to look at themselves when they were awkward and gawky and had big teeth and long arms.” Hmm… do we detect the makings of her next comedy role?

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