Mini Mayhem

Nikki Reed was only 13 when she began her career as a Hollywood bad girl, and things got pretty bad pretty fast — but in a good way.The precocious teen teamed with writer/director Catherine Hardwicke to write the script for...

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Published: Sat 22 Jul 2006, 12:47 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:40 PM

'Thirteen' (2003), a brutal, harrowingly honest tale about the trials and tribulations of a couple of young teens in southern California. The source material was, in fact, Reed's own real-life experiences growing up in southern California.

But when it came time to cast the role of Tracy, the 'Thirteen' character based on Reed, the producers went with a 'name' actress, Evan Rachel Wood. Reed herself wound up playing Tracy's out-of-control best friend, Evie, in a film that became both a magnet for controversy — for its frank depiction of crime, sex and drug use among 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds — and a surprise art-house hit.

It also gave Reed a reputation as a bad girl, and now, having recently turned 18, she's playing another reckless teen, this time the title character in 'Mini's First Time', now in limited release and opening wider throughout the summer.

How bad a girl is Mini? She's a spoiled, sociopathic rich girl who uses her sexual wiles to wreak a terrible revenge on her neglectful mother (Carrie-Anne Moss), in the process also destroying her stepfather (Alec Baldwin).

Mini decides to work as a hooker for kicks and, on her first paid assignment, she snares her philandering stepfather. Their brief liaison bizarrely turns into true love, and so the middle-aged dad and his teenage lover agree that they have to remove, by fair means or foul, the main obstacle to their happiness: her mother, an alcoholic ex-actress.

In the hands of first-time writer/director Nick Guthe, these dastardly deeds play out in a black-comedy style reminiscent of 'American Beauty' (1999). The deftly comic cast also includes Luke Wilson as a bumbling cop and Jeff Goldblum as Mini's leering next-door neighbour.

Guthe spent six years trying to persuade Hollywood to make his script, and he says in a separate interview that, the moment he met Reed, he knew that she could play his sexy, self-destructive protagonist.

"She felt like an old soul," he says. "A 30-year-old in a 16-year-old girl's body."

That 16-year-old's body came with some problems of its own. Because Reed was still underage when the movie was filmed, any nudity in the love scenes between her and Baldwin was legally required to be confined to back views only. But the 'Lolita'-like subject is still controversial, and there are those who, comedy or no comedy, may find the subject distasteful.

Reed herself is emphatically not among them. Wearing black spike heels and a black-and-white, off-the-shoulder Karen Zambos sun dress for an interview at a Los Angeles hotel, the actress instantly rushes to the defense of the overripe and oversexed Mini.

"She is not a sociopath, neither is she evil," Reed says, sipping a cola. "She's a child that has been raised without a moral compass. She's hurting. Her mother gave her no love, attention or affection, and so I think she's missing the essential vitamins that children need to become well-rounded people."

In other words, despite the havoc she wreaks, the lies she tells and the lives she destroys, Reed doesn't see Mini as a villain.

"It's no contest — in my mind she's a hero," the actress says. "If it means taking down someone for the sake of living, then that's what she's going to do. She's a survivor."

The self-composed teenager is herself the survivor type. The daughter of art designer Seth Reed, whose credits include 'Minority Report' (2002), she lived with her mother, a hairdresser named Cheryl, after her parents split when Reed was only 2. At 14 she took the money from 'Thirteen' and moved into her own Los Angeles apartment.

"I was always very mature and responsible," Reed says, "but I was also going in the wrong direction, so my mom said, 'Do you want to go?' Of course I couldn't drive myself to school, but somehow I managed."

After the success of 'Thirteen' she went back to high school in Los Angeles, she adds, but quit after one year.

"I couldn't stay there anymore," she says flatly. "It wasn't as if I was Hilary Duff in a movie where all the girls wanted to meet me. Mothers were sneaking into the school at lunchtime to confront and harass me about the film. It was unbelievable, so I left."

She continued to study at home, Reed adds, and eventually got her high-school diploma.

The actress reteamed with Hardwicke for 'Lords of Dogtown' (2005), a based-on-fact film about the origins of competitive skateboarding in Venice, Calif. She also fell in love with 'Dogtown' co-star Victor Rasuk, and the two now live together.

Earlier this year Reed appeared in several episodes of the popular television series 'The O.C.', and she's completed three new independent movies which have yet to be released. Acting has provided her with a good living, including residences in Los Angeles and New York, but Reed aspires to do more writing and less acting in days to come.

"I was kind of pushed into 'Thirteen,"' she explains. "I was reading with these 12-to-13-year-old girls but, because the material was so uncomfortable to read, they couldn't find anyone to play Evie. So they asked me to do it.

"Acting was not what I wanted to do," Reed says. "I was a shy kid, didn't go to drama camp or take acting lessons. I shied away from all that. I was a real bookworm."

That's ironic, she adds, because now she keeps getting offered roles as sexy bad girls.

"In truth I'm not anything like Mini," Reed says. "She's very intelligent, street-savvy and very manipulative. I live a very adult lifestyle, because I was forced to take control of my life and make decisions for myself. So I grew up very fast. I fell down and I picked myself back up. I put myself through school, and I now take care of my family, my mother and my older brother, Nathan."

While playing the bad girl has been good for the young actress, she admits that it's already caused her some problems as well.

"At movie meetings people keep telling me, 'I can't see you in this role ... because you're just too bad and, with your brown hair and brown eyes, you're just too sexy,"' Reed says. "But I'm not. I can be very versatile, and I wish people would give me the chance to show who I really am."

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