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A gorgeous young woman with long dark hair and sizzling almond eyes sits in the window of a Hastings Street coffee shop. Several businessmen walking by turn and stare.

There is, however, a distinct difference between a stolen glance of admiration and the double take of a star gazer. And this afternoon in Vancouver, nobody appears to have recognized 19-year-old Kristin Kreuk -- one of the fastest rising It girls on TV. Mind you, that's likely because most of the teenagers who watch Smallville, WB's critically acclaimed young Superman series in which Kreuk plays Lana Lang, the object of Clark Kent's unrequited affections, are still in school.

"I wouldn't say it happens a lot, but I do get recognized," says the Vancouver-born Kreuk. "People don't usually come up and talk to me, but I sometimes hear whispers. My friend's car got towed the other day. The guys at the lot recognized me and I signed some autographs. That was kind of strange. But I don't think it will ever be a major issue. I mean, I'll never be like Julia Roberts."

Never say never. Two years ago, Kreuk was a regular teenager, plucked from her Grade 12 drama class to audition for the CBC series Edgemont, which was later picked up by Fox. This time last year, she was named by Entertainment Weekly as One to Watch. Over the next few months, her freshly scrubbed face will be everywhere.

The barrage begins with tomorrow's cover of Rolling Stone magazine, on which Kreuk will appear with her co-stars from Smallville, followed by an upcoming article in People magazine. On March 17, she appears in the lead role of the Hallmark Entertainment TV movie Snow White. In May, she will be profiled in Seventeen magazine. The next month, Teen People touts her as one of the 25 hottest stars under 25. By then, the ad campaign launching Kreuk as the new face of Neutrogena soap will be plastered all across the glossy pages of fashion magazines. She also has her very own DC Comics action figure coming soon.

Kreuk's ambivalence toward her newfound fame is modestly endearing and startlingly mature, but the tale of her meteoric rise will surely make struggling actors want to cry.

"I would never want to be considered 'a teen queen,' as you put it," Kreuk says, rolling her eyes in mock indignation. "That almost sounds awful to my ears. An actor is something I'd love to be, but I don't think I'm quite there yet. It's not my dream, necessarily. I don't think I'm good enough to be an actor. I'm just a person who's trying this out for a while."

Two years ago, Kreuk was a senior student at Vancouver's Eric Hamber Secondary School who dreamt of a university degree in marine biology and environmental sciences. Then a casting agent for Edgemont, confounded by a cross-country search that had failed to find the right person to fill the leading role of Laurel Yeung (an exotically attractive teenage urbanite who watches Fellini films and quotes Schopenhauer), began calling drama teachers at Vancouver high schools.

The casting director didn't just give Kreuk the Edgemont role. He also asked her to try out for the title role in Snow White, which stars Miranda Richardson as the evil stepmother.

After the first season of Edgemont had wrapped, Kreuk returned to high school and graduated. She hadn't even bothered to find herself an agent, but continued to audition for locally filmed productions, including Smallville. The producers were so entranced, they juggled the shooting schedule to accommodate her second season on Edgemont.

Kreuk says money is the big difference between working on a CBC series and a series on a large U.S. network. She won't elaborate on the differential, but Smallville has obviously been profitable enough to allow her to move out of her family's homestead in Shaughnessy and buy a new two-bedroom condominium in Kitsilano.

There are, on the other hand, aspects about the U.S. networks that Kreuk ostensibly finds troubling. "They tend to emphasize people's appearances. Especially on the WB. It's all about what you look like. On a CBC series -- or any Canadian series, I'd like to think -- there's more diversity."

In the multicultural mosaic of Edgemont High, Kreuk was cast to type as a girl who is half-Chinese (Kreuk's other half is Dutch). But her good looks were enigmatic enough to land her the part of a Midwest cheerleader on Smallville.

"Lana is completely all-American and doesn't have a drop of Asian blood in her," says Kreuk. "I don't even know if they knew I was half-Chinese when they cast me."

Kreuk isn't so attached to her Chinese heritage that she resents having to subsume it. "It's kind of hard for me when people say I'm representing the Asian population. It's great to see a half-Chinese girl on TV. But the fact is, I'm not representing anybody. I'm reading a book now about a Chinese woman," glancing down at her copy of Anchee Min's Becoming Madame Mao. "But I haven't looked into my past very much. My mom was born in Indonesia. She doesn't speak a word of Chinese. I see myself as a Canadian."

Apparently, the Neutrogena ad does not conflict with her desire to be seen as more than just a pretty face. "The thing about Neutrogena is that it promotes a fresh look," says Kreuk, who is wearing her hair tied back, only a hint of pink lip gloss and no jewellery. "The company and its products are not really makeup oriented. It's about being clean and beautiful in your most natural form. It's not about covering up your flaws, it's just about putting yourself out there."

As a self-professed introvert with an exceptionally pretty face, Kreuk did not have an easy time at her own high school. In real life, she says she is much more like the snobby but misunderstood Laurel than the ultra popular Lana.

"I haven't kept in touch with anybody from high school, except three of my friends. I chose not to. I said, 'Once I leave this place, I am not going to deal with any of these people any more.' "

Kreuk, who boycotted her own prom, says she never fit in with most of her materialistic classmates or the cliquey members of the "cultish" Hamber Christian Fellowship Club.

"It stressed me out to be there amongst people I thought were too close-minded or too set in their parents' ways to allow themselves to think beyond whatever box they lived in. And it frustrated me that people could be so frivolous, like high school is. But I met a few people who thought the same way I did and I stuck with them."

Snobbish appearances aside, Kreuk insists she is just as nerdy and sweet as the gang from Smallville. "Really, I'm a good girl," she says, laughing out loud. "I don't do drugs, I don't drink and I read a lot. There's no dark side. People always try to get dirt from me and the honest truth is, I don't have any." (She does confess to being nervous about the Rolling Stone article and the needling reporter who caught her on a bad day.)

The proverbial outsider, Kreuk lights up when she talks about Snow White. "I loved the character so much," explaining how this interpretation gives the formerly saccharine heroine a healthy dose of teenage resentment.

And, no, she would never call her own life a fairy tale. "I've just been really lucky, but I'm not completely content and I don't know what will make me completely content. The more I do this, the more I want to get better at it. I want to challenge myself, but I don't feel like it's all perfect. And fairy tales are always perfect, in some way."

Kreuk is thinking about going to university to study political science, though she's not obsessed with getting a degree. She'd also like to travel, perhaps go to Africa and better the world in some way.

"I'd just like to do something on a grander scale. I don't feel Lana has really helped anybody."

But like a heroine worthy of Superman's affections, Kreuk has resisted the temptation to take the money and run. "Every day, every week, I kind of go, well, after this show is done, why not just stop and do something else. And I still might do that. But that would be giving up.

"I really believe you get thrown curve balls in life that you have to catch and learn from. Acting, I never planned it. It just happened. I figure that must mean there's something I have to learn from what I am doing. I don't think I've learned it yet."