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Meet Hollywood's new blond-but-not-bland trio of ingenues who've taken the town by surprise with their unexpected choices and uncommon roles. And the average age of this trio? 19

Evan Rachel Wood | BEYOND 'THIRTEEN' Sixteen-year-old Wood gravitates toward dark roles and shuns the limelight
Image credit: Evan Rachel Wood Photograph by Roberto DEste
BEYOND 'THIRTEEN' Sixteen-year-old Wood gravitates toward dark roles and shuns the limelight

EVAN RACHEL WOOD

Evan Rachel Wood has seen the shameless ways one can become a starlet. And judging by the way she's shivering in her coffeehouse chair, they make her skin crawl. ''I hate the weird celebrity thing -- people wearing clothes they never wear, talking like they never talk,'' says Wood, 16, who's dressed in a simple white shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. ''I don't want to be the perfectly made-up person who makes headline news when I eat at Baja Fresh.''

Instead, Wood prefers attaining notoriety the old-fashioned way: earning it. And she has, beginning with her complex portrayal of an anorexic teen in ABC's now-canceled ''Once and Again,'' not to mention this summer's ''Thirteen,'' where she brought an electrifying mix of naturalism and intensity to the role of a downward-spiraling adolescent. She's set to impress again this month in Ron Howard's dark Western ''The Missing,'' in which she plays the kidnapped daughter of Cate Blanchett.

Exhibiting wisdom beyond her years -- but little of the usual cynicism -- Wood is already the definition of serious. ''I've always wanted to be an actor. I was born into it,'' says Wood, whose father, Ira David Wood III, runs a theater in her native North Carolina, where her mother, Sara Elins, often performed. By age 6, she was playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in Dad's production of ''A Christmas Carol.'' More theater and parts in TV movies followed. When she was 9, her parents split, and she and her mother moved to Los Angeles to better nurture Wood's budding promise. Her break came with ''Once and Again.'' ''Ever since,'' she says, ''I just want to do things that people can relate to.''

Ron Howard -- who knows a thing or two about navigating the waters of child stardom -- cast Wood in ''The Missing'' based on the series, and calls her journey ''impressive. She's picked up all the right habits.'' The director was struck by the way she studied Blanchett on the set, and startled by her fearless approach to ''The Missing'''s sinister beats. ''Every time I [asked] Evan 'Is everything okay?' the reaction was just short of an eye roll,'' says Howard. ''Then I saw 'Thirteen' and realized why.''

''I hope I won't be stereotyped as the Girl That Plays All the Dark Roles,'' laughs Wood. ''I'm not all miserable.'' She also frets that her aversion to celebrity might hinder her career. But Wood is heartened by the resumes of her recent costars, like Blanchett, ''Thirteen'''s Holly Hunter, and Joan Allen, with whom she just shot the black comedy ''The Upside of Anger.'' ''I'm just stepping into fame,'' she says. ''It's bizarre and scary. There's a lot of pressure. I just want to do things that are real. Something that will stay with people for more than five minutes. Something that will be remembered.'' -- Jeff Jensen

SCARLETT JOHANSSON

Though Scarlett Johansson is 18, she is not to be mistaken for a ''teen actress,'' a veteran of slasher flicks and little-league sex farces like so many of her contemporaries. ''I luckily never got pushed into that genre,'' she says. Lucky for us, too.

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