This year's breakthrough, Q'Orianka Kilcher, on red-carpet excess and the simple joys of swimming in glacial pools

A clear-eyed mass of moxie with the face of a goddess, Q’Orianka Kilcher is anything but an average 15-year-old. She doesn’t gush over meeting superstars or getting a statuette of her own. Instead, she talks of making the Oscars more eco-friendly.

“If it were up to me,” says the star of Terrence Malick’s epic “The New World,” “I’d have (the ceremony) run on hydrogen fuel.”

She’d also like to see her fellow attendees pull up to the red carpet in hydrogen-powered cars, like the Daimler-Chrysler she brought to the premiere of “The New World” in December.

“I’m trying to get the car seen in as many places as I can so that people can see it’s a reality, that it exists and that it’s going to be available soon,” says Kilcher. “It’s my generation that’s going to bring these changes about.”

In another actress, such romanticism might seem rehearsed. But Kilcher’s idealism was born from a childhood spent hopscotching the globe, from Germany to Alaska, Hawaii to South America. She’s the daughter of a German-Swiss mother and a Peruvian father of Quechua decent — her first name means “golden eagle” in the Incan language of Quechua. Along the way, she developed an acute appreciation of nature, adventure and, above all, personal creativity. Forget the mall: In her spare time, the worldly teen is more likely to be found sword-fighting, swimming in glacial pools or camping at 3 a.m.

“That’s the kind of stuff we used to do all the time,” says Kilcher of outings with her mom and two younger brothers. “People would look at us like we were insane. But you know, the feeling that you get from that — there’s nothing else that can touch it!”

That would include walking down the red carpet.

While she confesses she’d be thrilled beyond her wildest dreams to be attending the Oscars this year (she’s not — but she’ll be at the Vanity Fair and Elton John after-parties), the pomp and circumstance tends to leave her cold.

“I could never walk down a red carpet in a $10,000 dress,” she says. “Or be covered in $10,000 in jewelry … and be proud of that, when that same money could be used in so many more beneficial ways.”

Like helping the indigenous people in Peru, she says, which would be her first order of business if given the opportunity. “That’s what I’d really like to do: start more schools and then maybe do something about lead poisoning and recycling.”

Yet her biggest challenge may fall closer to home. Kilcher’s greatest fear about living and working in Hollywood is that she might lose sight of herself. “That’s the hardest thing. Just trying to stay true to who you are,” she says. “A career should be secondary.”

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