NEW YORK – 'I'm not going to play a cheerleader again," says actress Mena Suvari (search).
Suvari is most famous, of course, for playing the cheerleading teenage temptress in "American Beauty." (search)
Still, with her all-American good looks - she's like the hottest girl in your high school, only prettier - Suvari recognizes that it's sometimes difficult to leave the schoolyard.
"I look like I'm 15," she admits. "I try to work on that. I always joke that I should take up drinking and smoking so I'll look older."
She is at least part of the way there in her latest role - Edie, the ballsy, brazen lesbian who is slowly seducing mopey art-star Claire Fisher (played by Lauren Ambrose (search)) on the HBO series "Six Feet Under." (search)
In real life, Suvari, 25, is married and (her words) "middle aged."
She laments a laid-back life of biking, shopping and relaxing with her husband, cinematographer Robert Brinkmann, who is 15 years her senior.
The two met on the set of "Sugar and Spice" - a film in which she played a cheerleader, of course - and secretly married four years ago.
Although much has been made of the couple's age difference, Suvari downplays any suggestion of life imitating art. "Emotionally, he's my age," Suvari insists. That may not be a compliment exactly - but it is a way of saying that the marriage works.
"If someone would have told me when I was a teenager that I'd be married at 21, I would have said no way," she says. "But that's the way life goes. Things always happen when you don't expect them to."
So it was in December, when she got an unexpected call from "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball (search) - the man who wrote "American Beauty," Suvari's breakthrough film.
"I was shocked and thrilled," she says. "I talked with Alan, and all he said was Edie's a performing artist who was going to have some kind of relationship with Claire."
Some relationship, indeed. Suvari admits it's a demanding role - although not for the reasons you'd expect. Having played a lesbian in the yet-to-be-released film "Standing Still," "I wasn't uncomfortable with the idea," she says. "Being a huge fan of the show, I felt really easy with it."
The real challenge of Edie, says Suvari, is playing the performing artist. It's a role that's forced her into coffeehouse settings to perform an angsty, piano-accompanied tirade against her mother, to drop some unprintable (here at any rate) poetry and to, um, fondle a guitar.
"I'd never done anything like that before - getting up on stage, going for it and holding nothing back," she says. "Performing in front of all those people - I hate it.
"Edie's so unique a challenge, playing her is almost like therapy for me."
And as she waits for more grown-up roles to come her way, she's considering going to college.
"I've been sitting around waiting, so I thought, OK, I'll go to school," she says. "It makes me feel good about myself, it takes my mind off the business. I know I'll have to choose one thing or another, but I've always wanted to have my cake and eat it, too.
"The things I'm known for are five years old. I've made a point of not wanting to do that anymore."