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Stealing Beauty with Alison Lohman

By: Kristin RothAlison Lohman has never hoodwinked anyone in her entirelife–unless you count the work she’s been doing in front ofaudiences since the age of ten. “Acting is a lot likecon-artistry,” says Lohman, 23. “People have to believethat you’re the person you’re pretending to be.”

Crime could be a lucrative second career for the actress, who has already proved adept at scene-stealing: She did it in last year’s White Oleander, against a cast of formidable stars that included Michelle Pfeiffer and Renee Zellweger. And she’s poised to do it again in Ridley Scott’s breezy caper Matchstick Men, as a girl who swoops back into the life of her estranged father–a neurotic con man played by tic-ing time bomb Nicolas Cage–and manipulates him into teaching her the tricks of the family trade.

The rambunctious character is the polar opposite of the shy Lohman, whose most rebellious moment during shooting was giving a costar the finger. “I’ve always wanted to flip people off,” she says, “so I threw myself into it. I can’t throw a tantrum now, because I’m too old. Although there are adults that do that–especially in this industry.”

It took a different, quiet fortitude for her to give up life in the sheltered community of Palm Desert, California, at 17 to pursue an acting career and to endure parts in forgettable sci-fi fare (Kraa! The Sea Monster, The Thirteenth Floor) and TV series (Pasadena) before snatching the coveted Oleander spot from more than 400 other contenders. With a role in the upcoming Tim Burton period fantasy Big Fish already in the bag, Lohman should have no trouble plying her particular trade for years to come. “I’m not going to be an ‘it’ girl,” she says, “because I’m going to be doing this far too long for that label.”