Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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She's more of a 'Brick'-out hit

Nora Zehetner

Zehetner, 25, faced fans' wrath when her character stirred things up on WB's 'Everwood.' But she and the fans got over it.

Photo by Mark Mainz, Getty Images

By Sharon Knolle, Special for USA TODAY

WEST HOLLYWOOD -- Who's hot: Nora Zehetner

Why now:

She plays a high school femme fatale in the Sundance hit Brick, now in theaters.

The buzz:

This stylish low-budget movie pays homage to classic film noir like The Big Sleep.

Nora Zehetner is getting some great reviews for Brick, but the 25-year-old's toughest critic might be her own mother.

"She really liked it, but she said she needs to see it again. She was so nervous for the first half of it because she was afraid I wasn't going to be good," Zehetner says.

Not that the young actress hasn't already dealt with tough critics. When Zehetner joined WB's Everwood (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET/PT) as a new love interest for Gregory Smith's Ephram, fan response on the Internet was vicious. "I was breaking up the Ephram/Amy thing. And people were so mean," she says. "They said, 'She's ugly. She's fat.' Somebody said, 'She has a horrible accent, and she's Canadian.' I was like, 'I'm from Texas.' "

But by the third episode, fans had come around. "I kept trying to stop reading, but it's like finding your boyfriend's diary. You're not supposed to look, but once you've started, you can't stop."

In Brick, Zehetner plays Laura, a rich girl who helps high school gumshoe Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) find his ex-girlfriend's killer. The character is straight out of classic film noir, but writer/director Rian Johnson didn't want the cast studying the films he was paying homage to. "I knew the idea of it and I knew the character, but I can't remember ever watching The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep or any of those," Zehetner says.

Her own high school years weren't nearly as dramatic. Because she changed schools frequently while her mother pursued nursing school and changed jobs, she says, "I wasn't popular, and I wasn't unpopular." At 16, tired of the public high school scene, she transferred to the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science in Denton. "I only finished one year. It was a great program if you want to be an engineer or a doctor, but it kind of pushed me in the opposite direction. I like art and English."

She got the equivalency of a high school diploma but says she has nightmares that she has to go back.

She left the Texas Academy at 18 to go to Los Angeles to try acting, though she had no experience. She eventually landed small roles in TV's Gilmore Girls and films such as 2001's Tart and American Pie 2.

"It's strange that Brick is finally out now. We did it so long ago," she says. The movie screened at Sundance in January 2005.

And now, Zehetner is starting to get recognized. "I just came out of the shower at the gym, and a woman came up to me and said, 'I loved your film.' "

The actress, who lives in Laurel Canyon with her boyfriend, Mark Haddawy, co-owner of the vintage store Resurrection (Los Angeles and New York), can be seen next in Conversations with Other Women, due this year. She plays a younger version of Helena Bonham Carter's character.

Posted 4/17/2006 9:23 PM ET