& & by Ed Symkus & & & &

Don't let Elizabeth Hurley's facade fool you. Just because she flits around, easily passing for an excitable schoolgirl, or just because she talks so fast and hard, many of her words come out italicized, or just because she likes to bat those big blue-gray eyes while having a little self-deprecating fun in answering questions about herself. Don't let any of that fool you. She's one sharp lady.

In the new film Bedazzled, -- a remake and updating of the 1967 British film -- she plays the devil (the role Peter Cook had in the original), a woman looking to fill up the ranks of souls in hell by latching onto and granting seven wishes to Brendan Fraser (a part first done by Dudley Moore), in return for said soul.

Asked what, given the same chance, she would wish for, she says, "I'd be too scared to ask for something big, because I don't want to do the payback. So I think it would have to be shallow things, like be able to consume 10,000 calories a day and stay blade thin, drink like a fish every night and have no hangover, stay up till six in the morning and get up at seven and look fabulous, rested, gorgeous. Just general things that, sadly, one finds one can't do as one gets older."

She certainly looks blade thin, rested and gorgeous in the film. And due in part to the fact that she's always aware of her appearance -- being a spokeswoman for Estee Lauder will do that to you -- she was given total control of what her character would look like, in all of its many variations.

"A hundred percent dictatorship," she says of her power over wardrobe and makeup. "But you know, it's very rare that one gets free reign in a movie. I think this is my 14th or 15th movie, and obviously tons of TV in the bag. But there's never been a chance really where someone can't say, 'You know what, I really don't think your character would wear that or do that.' No one can say, 'The devil wouldn't wear those shoes.' It was a ludicrous free reign. So for once, one felt one could go berserk and do anything you wanted. So I was hysterical doing this."

The ideas that Hurley has the gig representing Estee Lauder, and that some people think of her as a model before an actress, boggles her. She's been acting in films since the late-1980s; she picked up the Estee Lauder contract just seven years ago. But her confusion goes deeper.

"You have to remember that as a child, growing up, I was always the midget of my year," she says. "I was still under five foot when I was 15 years old. I'd never kissed anyone. Of course, I didn't wear a bra. I was really immature. And the idea of being a model was like me running the Bank of England. It was completely ludicrous. It wasn't going to happen. So the awful truth is, I'm secretly overexcited when I'm referred to as a model -- still. And sometimes people even say supermodel, which is like a joke to me. I've never been on a runway in my life. I'd rather kill myself. I actually have the worst walk in the world. And in every film, you see this like truck driver walk across the street. So I'd never do a catwalk. Never! I'd be way too embarrassed."

She's certainly not embarrassed about her acting career, which ranges from Passenger 57 to Edtv to both Austin Powers films. She always knew she wanted to be in some area of show business, first choosing dancing. After some dance training, she started attending a theater school that was half dance and half drama. But her acting chops go further back still.

"Before that, I was one of those obnoxious children that was always producing plays, which all the mums and dads had to nicely come and see. We would act out every story from the Bible, and they were probably absolutely atrocious. They always starred E. Hurley, produced by E. Hurley, directed by E. Hurley, costumes by E. Hurley. Oh, I'm sure they were dire."

And although she's grownup-sized, she candidly admits to not yet feeling much like an adult.

"That's the sad truth," she says. "I think that is sort of the show biz person's plight in life, in that you remain relatively immature at almost every level."

Hurley and former beau Hugh Grant started up their own production company, Simian Films, a few years ago. And despite all the tabloid stories about their breakup, they still work together.

"We just renegotiated our deal with Castle Rock and Warner Bros.," she says. "And we just agreed to do two mores years of producing for them. So we're forging ahead with that.

"I want to still produce with Hugh," she adds. "I think it's nice to have someone watching out for you who has no bias, who's not on a percentage of your income. We're still very good friends. We phone each other 10 times a day."

Santa Express

Nov. 23-Dec. 20
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