A Souped-Up Hot Radha

Most people don't know Radha Mitchell yet. After taking the independent film scene by storm seven years ago, she's just now starting her rapid ascent up the ladder in Hollywood. But because she doesn't end up in the gossip pages like her countryman Russell Crowe, even those who have taken notice of the very private 32-year-old Australian don't know much about her except for two little details she has let escape: She's a vegetarian and she like yoga.

She's not a vegetarian of note, or particularly into yoga. Those are simply the two things that she has been willing to talk about so far. "I just don't feel comfortable selling my personal life," Mitchell says in a thick Australian accent during a day of interviews for her latest film, Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda, in which she plays both title characters.

But it's hard to avoid these conversations when you're on the verge of stardom. Moving between interview rooms, she passes costar Chloe Sevigny in the hall, who asks how it's going. "They all want to know what I have against meat," Mitchell says with a grimace and a shrug of her shoulders, while toting along a beet-red beverage like an advertisement for Vegetarian Times.

Perhaps she's ready to add a few things to that list, just to have something else to talk about? "She rides bikes. She drives a Bug, but she wants to drive a Prius. She cares about foster children," Mitchell says, writing her own profile. She slides back on the couch in a hotel suite in Manhattan and props up her orange-booted feet on the coffee table.

Maybe it's better that she's not so well known yet. After all, her relative anonymity got her the prized lead in a Woody Allen film, a feat that most actresses still dream about. "It was sheer accident," says Allen. "I had never heard of her." His casting agent showed him a clip of Mitchell playing Colin Farrell's wife in Phone Booth, and he saw some additional footage of her in Rodrigo Garcia's black-and-white montage Ten Tiny Love Stories, which had not yet been released, and he was sold. "I thought, My God, why not?"

It was Mitchell who had to think about it for a minute, because playing two roles in one movie is a risky endeavor. Allen split his narrative in half for Melinda and Melinda under the premise that you can set up any bundle of circumstances as either a tragedy or a comedy. Mitchell plays Melinda in both sequences; on the tragedy side she's surrounded by Sevigny, Jonny Lee Miller and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and on the comedy side by Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet and Josh Brolin.

"It surprises me I thought about it as long as I did," she says. "Woody Allen writes really great characters, and the casts are always so interesting. It's a good package."

But is it too much pressure? Mitchell says that she hasn't minded the smaller roles in big-budget presentations '- like playing Johnny Depp's wife in Finding Neverland and the wife protected by Denzel Washington in Man on Fire '- even though she can score leading roles in independent films like High Art and Everything Put Together, the first film by Neverland director Marc Forster. She has even carried a movie all by herself '- with no other characters except ghosts '- in the Australian thriller Visitors.

"There's something kind of interesting about playing the wife and being part of a big project but not being responsible for it... that's like being the wife," Mitchell says, laughing and insisting, "No, no, take that out."

She'll get a taste of both kinds of responsibility in her next film, Mozart and the Whale, in which she plays an autistic woman falling in love with an autistic man played by Josh Hartnett. "I got to act with a monkey," Mitchell says, referring not to her leading man but to an actual monkey who figures into the plot. That, of course, means now she's hit the big time in Hollywood movies. It's doubtful that she'll be able to avoid publicity about her life for much longer.

It's not something she wants to plan on, though. "I think it's dangerous to your value system if you constantly think about your path as an actress," she says. "To think about strategy is smart, but not much fun."

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