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An actress finds her groove as a producer

Elizabeth Hurley has two major movies onscreen and another completed, has just signed for a fifth year promoting Este Lauder cosmetics, is currently producing her second movie, and has recently bought a house in London.

Why is she working so hard?

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"When I was 20," Ms. Hurley explains in an interview, "my first job after college was on tour with a theater company throughout the Far East. That experience turned my head. Up until then, I was a penniless student eating toast every day. Suddenly, I was on this great tour - being flown first-class all around the world.

"We didn't get paid very much, but we performed from Dubai [United Arab Emirates] to Singapore, and were inundated with invitations. Sometimes it would be to meet some influential people, other times to go roller skating with some kids our age. For a young girl who'd never had a bean, it was the most astonishing thing.... A capitalist was born!"

It was obvious Hurley's beauty would get her modeling jobs and acting roles, but she wanted more. "I had the training," she admits, "but many other actresses have that. I wanted to get into the production end of the business. You have more control and hopefully a longer career."

Hurley, who is appearing onscreen in "My Favorite Martian," "EDtv," and the coming "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," is also producing the romantic "Mickey Blue-Eyes," starring Hugh Grant, James Caan, and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Hurley met Mr. Grant nine years ago when she was cast in her first starring role in the Spanish movie "Remando al Viento." They hit it off instantly, and discovered they shared a dream of starting their own production company. "As our careers grew, we joined forces and named our company 'Simian Films,' " she says.

Their first movie, "Extreme Measures," starred Grant and Gene Hackman. It had a modest budget but opened on schedule and grossed more than $50 million in theaters.

"It's difficult to explain how much easier it is to act than produce," Hurley says. "We'd just finished filming 'Mickey Blue-Eyes' [and] I had a window of time, so I took an acting job in 'EDtv.' It's not a huge part, but a meaty role. I wanted to work with director Ron Howard. I really admire his work. Of course, playing opposite Matthew McConaughey was another plus."

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Hurley was born in England. Her late father was in the Army. Her mother was a school teacher "and still is," she adds. "My parents gave my sister, brother, and me a good base. They were the nicest people in the world."

When she was a teenager, she studied to be a ballerina.

"I wasn't the most promising in the class," she concedes. "Then I went to a college that stressed drama and dance. I saw how much better I was in the acting classes." That's when she decided to switch to acting.

Hurley wants to continue to produce movies, but she'll also keep busy as an actress. She tried her first comedy, "Austin Powers," in 1997, and enjoyed the experience.

"In a drama, the audience knows whether the story moved them or not, and can react, 'That left me a little cold.' Or, 'I really loved that.' Whereas a comedy either makes you laugh or it doesn't....

"But comedy or drama, I appreciate acting so much more now that I've produced two films. Acting is a nice change of pace: less pressure, more pamper!"

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