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By AMY LONGSDORF; Times Leader Correspondent

Friday, May 28, 1999     Page:

BEVERLY HILLS- If the rest of the year is anything like the past eight months, Gretchen Mol is in for some very big times.
    Since last fall, Hollywood's newest "It Girl" has appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, partnered with Matt Damon in "Rounders" and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Celebrity," racked up heaps of movie offers and inspired at least a half-dozen Web sites.
    "I never checked any of the sites out," she says. "I'd be too tempted to go into one of the chat rooms and write, `Gretchen is really great!' I have a feeling that's exactly what my Dad does with his free time."
    To make things ever sweeter, "The Thirteenth Floor," in which Mol plays a cyberspace femme fatale, opens today. And later this year, she'll be seen in Jason Alexander's film "Just Looking" and Paul Schrader's "Forever Mine" opposite Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love").
    If that weren't enough, Mol has inspired nearly rapturous reviews from critics. One smitten reporter described her visage as "a face like a tournament rose dipped in whipped cream." Another dubbed her eyes "emerald saucers of light."
    Director Abel Ferrara, who cast Mol in "The Funeral," once noted that she was proof that "heaven exists on Earth. I saw her for the first time and was transported. A rainbow appeared ... and she was at the end of it."
    Today, in her suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Mol doesn't need a rainbow for back-lighting. Wearing a tight, black sun dress and hair that falls in perfect ringlet curls, she looks like she just stepped off the pages of a magazine.
    Mol, 25, insists she isn't always so luminous. "I remember when I was on the cover of Vanity Fair, I'd go to the supermarket and walk right by the magazine racks, and people wouldn't even recognize me. It's because I don't look (glamorous) when I'm in the supermarket. My hair is never that perfect."
    It was Mol's beauty as well as her sense of mystery which captivated the "Thirteenth Floor" filmmakers.
    "We saw many great actresses," says producer Ute Emmerich, whose brother Roland ("Independence Day") co-produced the movie. "But Gretchen brought something special to the part. She has this old-fashioned, almost 1930s-style face. We always looked for a classic Hitchcockian woman, and she has that quality."
    In the movie, Mol is a mysterious femme fatale in present-day and 1940s Los Angeles who plays mind games with our cyberspace-traveling hero (Craig Bierko), a computer genius who is being framed for the murder of his partner (Armin Mueller-Stahl).
    Before filming began, Mol rented a stack of Hitchcock movies in hopes of learning how to be a cool blond the likes of Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly. "After I watched `North By Northwest,' `Vertigo' and `To Catch a Thief,' it dawned on me that these women don't come on as the care givers. They just let the action unravel on them," Mol says.
    "They're stoic. They had grace. The presence, confidence and strength they exude is breathtaking. There's a lot of hipness going on in those old movies."
    Mol has mixed feelings when she hears herself compared to the screen queens of yore. "I've been told I remind people of Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe," she says. "It's funny to me, because those two women are completely different. It's flattering, but ultimately you are who you are."
    So who exactly is Gretchen Mol?
    She's a girl from Deep River, Conn., who grew up wanting nothing more than to be an actress. The child of a broken home, she was "always interested in performing and dancing and singing."
    After high school, Mol moved to New York City, where she worked as an usher at the Angelika Film Center and as a coat-check girl at a restaurant called Michael's, which turned out to be a favorite watering hole of theatrical agents.
    One day, Mol took a sabbatical from her job, and one of the high-powered agents missed her. "I took time off to do summer theater," she says. "And the day I got back, an agent said, `Give me your picture and your resume!' "
    In no time, Mol was cast as Girl 12 in Spike Lee's phone-sex comedy "Girl 6." She got a mere 13 seconds of screen time, but she netted somewhat meatier roles in her next half-dozen movies, including "The Funeral," "Donnie Brasco," "The Last Time I Committed Suicide," "Music From Another Room" and the unreleased "Welcome to Graceland."
    But Mol might have been just another pretty face if she hadn't spotted Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein at a "Jackie Brown" premiere. She'd already auditioned for a role in the Miramax movie "Rounders" but assumed that the mogul decided to go with his first choice, Neve Campbell.
    "I thought I wasn't going to play the part," says Mol, who approached Weinstein at the party just to say there were no hard feelings. "I wasn't salty about it. I didn't walk up to him with the intention of, `I'll get this part back.'
    "I just felt the need to discuss the subject. I assumed because this audition was a big part of my life, it was also a big part of his."
    Weinstein was so impressed by Mol's moxie that two days later he offered her the "Rounders" role. She hasn't stopped working since.
    "The hype has a small portion to do with the dream," she says about the swirl of publicity that has surrounded her success story. "It really is about getting roles and having the roles get better."
    Her mission in Hollywood is "to make the most of the opportunities I receive and to keep my eye on the ball. It's all about getting in the door.
    "From there, you still have to prove it."
    Gretchen Mol plays a cyberspace femme fatale in `The Thirteenth Floor.'
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