Indie 'It' Girl Camilla Belle Drawn To Troubled Roles

Latest projects include borderline incest, deaf mute orphan.

There must have been something magical in the water on the set of 1998's "Practical Magic."

The mystical drama may not have done much for Nicole Kidman or Sandra Bullock's careers, but it launched Evan Rachel Wood, who went on to star in "Once and Again," "Thirteen" and "The Upside of Anger." And now one of the movie's other child actresses, Camilla Belle, is suddenly chasing Wood's status as indie "it" girl.

Belle, who took three years off from acting for schooling, is poised to make an impressive return in 2005, with three edgy indie movies hitting theaters.

"I'm really open to anything, I just happened to be working on three independent films," Belle said recently at the Sundance Film Festival, where two of her movies screened. "The most important thing is the story and the character, if she's gonna be challenging or not, and if it's not, I don't think it's worth it."

Certainly challenging was the role of Rose in "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," now playing in select cities.

"Daniel Day-Lewis plays my father and it's basically about the relationship between the father and the daughter, my character's coming of age and the very delicate situation that they live in," explained Belle, who made her mainstream movie debut as the girl who discovers a dinosaur at the beginning of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." "They live in an abandoned commune, no one's around. And he brings in his girlfriend and her two sons and all hell breaks loose, basically, 'cause my character has never really communicated with the outside world and this woman is taking her place, and many things happen."

"The Ballad of Jack and Rose" was written and directed by Rebecca Miller, Day-Lewis's wife and the woman behind 2002's "Personal Velocity," another Sundance favorite. Catherine Keener and Jena Malone also co-star, but it's the odd, borderline incestuous relationship between Belle and Day-Lewis's characters that stands at the center of the film. Clearly not easy material for a young actress.

"I just had to see it from Rose's point of view," Belle said. "She doesn't know right from wrong. She doesn't know you can't be that close physically or emotionally with your father. The trouble is he does and that's his whole emotional battle and confusion, is that he's feeling these feelings, but he knows because he's been in the mainland before what society's rules are, so to speak."

Belle was 16 when she shot the movie two years ago, the same age as the character. But while she was able to relate to the self-discovery Rose was going through, there were few other similarities between the two.

"She's just really a free spirit," Belle said. "She doesn't know what the society rules are, what you're supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do. And I thought that would be really challenging [compared to] growing up in L.A., where you obviously are thinking about what society's thinking of you and what you're supposed to do. You don't want to, but you never really feel the total freedom that she does."

In "The Chumscrubber," Belle's other Sundance drama, due later this year, the actress plays another troubled teen coming of age, although this time smack in the middle of suburbia.

"She's like the popular girl at school and she hangs out with the popular guy, who's kind of a bully, and they're all drug dealing," Belle said. "And then she ends up meeting Jamie's character, who's kind of going through the same thing but dealing with it in different ways."

Jamie would be Jamie Bell of "Billy Elliott" fame, who is the focus of the dark satire, which also stars Carrie-Ann Moss, Glenn Close, Allison Janney, Lauren Holly, Rita Wilson, Ralph Fiennes and Rory Culkin. "It's really different from other movies about super-perfect suburbia," Belle said. "It deals evenly with the adults and the teenagers, and there's some really weird things I don't think any of us got throughout the whole time filming."

Moss plays Belle's character's mother, a materialistic and self-absorbed woman "who wears lots of pink and is really flashy and loves men," Belle said. "My character tries to steer as far away as possible from being like her mother."

While her family in "The Chumscrubber" has problems, it's nothing compared to be her character's surroundings in "The Quiet," formerly titled "Dot" and due at the end of the year.

In the drama, Belle plays Dot, a deaf and mute orphan who moves in with her godparents, played by Edie Falco and Martin Donovan (Pastor Skip in "Saved!").

"They have a daughter, played by Elisha Cuthbert [of TV's '24'], and there is a whole really strange flaw to our relationship going on that she didn't even know about," Belle explained. "Everyone has these really dark, dark secrets and that's what kind of makes them bond in a way, but no one knows each other's secrets."

Belle learned sign language for the role, as well as classical piano. "It was a lonely time 'cause she is a very lonely, depressing character," Belle recalled. "But it was a challenge, and that's why I wanted to try it out."

Check out everything we've got on "The Ballad of Jack and Rose."

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