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— Corey Moss

FRENCH SETTLEMENT, Louisiana — Jessica Simpson is trying to shoot pool balls across the room by dropping them into a fan. (Seriously, check it out.)

It seems like this could be the next "Is it chicken or is it tuna?" moment, except that the cameras documenting it are not with "Newlyweds," as is obvious when someone shouts, "Cut!"

 Photos: On The Set

Upon closer inspection, the fan is actually built to shoot balls — like the machines tennis players practice with — and the pool balls are actually props made of rubber. Regardless, it isn't working. The balls are shooting out in all directions and a few have narrowly missed Simpson's perfect face.

"I guess we'll CGI the balls in post," an assistant director decides, adding thousands of dollars to the special-effects budget.

"Well," Jessica replies, "I tried."

Simpson is on her first movie set and she's doing everything possible to impress director Jay Chandrasekhar and the producers. This is her dream role, and she's willing to take a few rubber pool balls in the face to prove it.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" debuted on television a year before Jessica was born and ended when she was 5, but thanks in part to syndication, her fascination with Daisy Duke has lasted throughout her lifetime.

"Being from the South, it's just a big deal," Simpson, who grew up in Dallas, says later. "We'd always play 'Dukes of Hazzard.' My cousins were Bo and Luke, and I was Daisy."

Last year, while she was aggressively vying for the role, Jessica got a dog from her husband and named her Daisy.

"She's just an all-American good Southern girl," Simpson says, explaining her passion for the part. "And, for my fans, it wasn't steering too far away for my first movie. My music is pop, fun and young, and this movie really just kind of coincides with it. And I wanted to step into the acting stuff with two feet on the ground, kind of knowing what I was doing a little bit, before I became some dark, drugged-out [character in a movie]."

Chandrasekhar, best known for directing, co-writing and starring in 2001's stoner favorite "Super Troopers," appreciated Simpson's enthusiasm but had his doubts.

"The big question was, can she act?" Chandrasekhar, casual in a Cheerios T-shirt, recalls during a break from shooting. "We did a screen test, and the first time she did it she said, 'I'm so nervous, I can't.' And I said, 'Just chill out, we can shoot this thing nine, 10 times. You just gotta really go for it.' And we did the next take and she nailed it, and I said, 'OK, this is gonna be a good movie.' "

Simpson, who showed comedic promise in a guest role on "That '70s Show" and in hosting "Saturday Night Live," has since grown so comfortable playing Daisy she says the biggest challenge isn't acting, but looking good in the character's signature shorts. She's been hitting the gym for months now and it shows. Her waist is so slim and her legs so toned that the jaws of both men and women on the set drop when she strolls out of her trailer in the Daisy Dukes. (Definitely check this out.)

"I heard a story from the film lab — and these guys are all overweight and middle-age dudes who live in the dark — that when the first dailies were shown of her in her Daisy Dukes, apparently the theater was packed," Chandrasekhar says. "Usually it's like one guy watching the timing, adjusting the color. And there were 20 guys in there going, 'Put the next reel on! Put the next reel on!' "

Johnny Knoxville, who's playing Luke Duke in the movie, insists Jessica's shorts are even shorter than those worn by the original Daisy, Catherine Bach. "And Seann's are even shorter than Jessica's," he jokes, referring to co-star Seann William Scott, who's playing his cousin Bo.

"Just wait," Scott teases.

They joke, but Knoxville and Scott are well aware of how important Simpson — and her shorts — are to the movie.

"She kinda is this movie," Scott says.

"We're riding her coattails," Knoxville adds. "If she's nervous at all, she doesn't show it. She's doing really good and she looks, obviously, very lovely."

Simpson and the almost entirely male cast are shooting at a tavern in middle of nowhere, Louisiana, 30 miles from Baton Rouge. "Make sure you mention French Settlement," one of the locals requests, giving the exact location of the set.

Outside, men and women in mud boots and beer shirts are lined up behind a barricade about 50 feet from the set, hoping some of the cast will meander over and sign autographs. Some have gifts — cooking spices, old "Dukes" memorabilia — and most have cameras. According to those who have followed around the production, Knoxville is the friendliest, sometimes spending hours signing and chatting. Simpson mostly avoids them.

On most days, the bar is packed with locals, who write messages to each other on dollar bills and pin them on the walls. Today, though, it's been rechristened the Boar's Nest and it's packed with lights and extras. Many are there for fun, but some are budding actors or filmmakers.

Louisiana, looking to boost its economy by bringing movie productions to the state, passed an incentive act in 2002 that offers a 15 percent tax credit, and has become somewhat of a movie-making hotbed since. Some of the "Dukes" crew and extras worked on "Ray" and just finished "Glory Road" with Josh Lucas there. "All the King's Men," with Jude Law, Sean Penn and James Gandolfini, is also shooting in the area.

One person happy to boost Louisiana's economy is Jessica, a shopaholic who has hit the local malls more than a few times.

"We close down the mall now when we need to go because it gets a little hectic," she explains. "Like, once one person sees you and they call their friends, Baton Rouge is not big, so then they're all there. We've had some mob scenes at the mall, and Wal-Mart — although we don't close down Wal-Mart. We just go buy our sweats and leave."




NEXT: So get this: Stifler, a 'Jackass' and a hottie walk into a bar ...
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