The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, September 1, 1996             TAG: 9608300075
                                            LENGTH:  106 lines


WHEN SHE WAS good, she got regular work, but when she was bad, she got an Oscar nomination.

``I may have looked like the girl next door, but you wouldn't have wanted to live next door to me,'' Elisabeth Shue said as she was asked to explain the sudden change in her fortune.

The actress, who plays the challenging role of a wife with repressed sexuality in ``The Trigger Effect,'' emerged from her nice-girl image last year when she played a prostitute opposite Nicolas Cage in ``Leaving Las Vegas.'' She won most of the season's awards, but just missed the Oscar.

``I think I had been limiting myself in a way in that I pretended to be the nice, sweet girl I knew my father would want me to be, but, at the same time, I knew I could play more serious roles,'' Shue said. ``Today, there IS some vindication to look into the eyes of some casting directors who didn't believe in me. There are a few. It may be childish, but, yes, there is some vindication in them knowing that they were wrong about me.''

Shue, 33, didn't dress up for the interview. She was wearing no makeup, a black miniskirt dress and oversized black tennis shoes with white socks.

So, what exactly did Shue do in this wild life she hinted at?

``Everything you did - only more,'' she countered.

Shue had little to do other than look pretty opposite Ralph Macchio in ``The Karate Kid,'' Michael J. Fox in the sequels to ``Back to the Future'' and Tom Cruise in ``Cocktail.''

Now, with top offers for ultra-serious roles coming in daily, she's like a performer without a net.

``The celebrity thing is bad news. It's a reality I never had to face before. My brother (Andrew Shue of TV's ``Melrose Place'') had it before me, but I wasn't prepared. I was in movies, but the press didn't come at me the way they do now. The silliest rumor they put out was that I had an affair with Tom Cruise while filming `Cocktail,' but I laughed at that. I'm not laughing as much now.''

The latest report is that her marriage to Davis Guggenheim is in trouble because she's having an affair with Val Kilmer, her co-star in the upcoming big-screen version of ``The Saint.''

``I'm happily married and I don't believe everything I read anymore,'' she said. ``I was friendly with Val, nothing else. I had heard the rumors that he was uncooperative on sets, but they didn't prove to be true. Sometimes the actors who are branded as `difficult' are the actors who really care.''

In ``The Trigger Effect,'' she plays a mother and wife who admits that she was once a ``wild child'' and is perplexed that she's given up her career (and wildness?) for marriage to a character played by Kyle MacLachlan. When there is a massive power failure, she challenges her husband to action.

David Koepp, the screenwriter for such huge hits as ``Jurassic Park'' and ``Mission: Impossible,'' is making his directorial debut with ``The Trigger Effect.'' He wanted Shue because, ``I always thought there was a darker side to her. She was cast as the pretty girl, and nothing else, for so long, but I felt she could do more.''

In researching her ``Leaving Las Vegas'' role, Shue interviewed prostitutes. ``I found that they felt themselves to be businesswomen, and nothing else. They pretended that they had great power because they felt nothing. They felt they were using men and that this was their power. In spite of that, I felt them to be very vulnerable.''

John O'Brien, who wrote the 1991 novel upon on which ``Leaving Las Vegas'' was based, killed himself before production of the film began. Despite the downbeat script, she said it was not depressing.

``There wasn't time for that. We moved so fast that I became the character. I didn't think about her, I just got into her world, and stayed there.''

She's playing a courtesan again in ``Cousin Bette,'' a film version of the Balzac novel, recently completed in France.

``It's a very different era and a very different woman. I play an actress who is given houses, clothes, everything for her favors. Quite a different thing.

``The best thing is that I worked with Jessica Lange, the actress that I've most admired through the years. I always watched her work. She was always right out there - right on the edge.''

Born in Trenton, N.J., Shue attended Harvard University before she dropped out to study acting at the Showcase Theater in New York and work in commercials. ``I was the Burger King girl for two years,'' she remembered. Making her Broadway debut to good reviews for ``Some Americans Abroad,'' she was summoned to California, but got simple roles after her debut in ``The Karate Kid.''

She's surprised that her teen comedy ``Adventures in Babysitting'' has had such a shelf life in video stores.

``Kids rent it over and over, I'm told. I'm delighted it still seems so modern to them - especially because most of my films now can't be seen by kids.''

She plans to go back to Harvard ``when I stop films to have children. My youngest brother, John, is there now, in business school, so he'd be there. It's in the plans.''

She won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award and the National Society of Film Critics Award for ``Las Vegas'' but is not bitter about the near-miss on the Oscar.

``Oh, no. I knew what the outcome would be. I wasn't surprised. I was glad for Susan (Sarandon). I felt she deserved it. My secret fun on Oscar night was that I presented the documentary award, in which my father-in-law was nominated. I didn't let the Academy know about the relation because I thought they might not let me present the award. But he didn't win, either.'' ILLUSTRATION: Photo

With her performance in ``Leaving Las Vegas,'' Shue left her old

image behind.

Color photo


Shue stars with Kyle MacLachlan in ``The Trigger Effect,'' a new