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Hurley all business these days

At face value, Elizabeth Hurley’s story would seem like every Hollywood starlet’s ultimate aspiration. A model moves to Los Angeles with her award-winning, actor boyfriend and has all of the city at her fingertips. But scratch the surface, and you tap into a deeper side of Hurley that the tabloids and gossip columnists have yet to reveal.

“Its a bizarre position to be in,” says the NATO/Showest Supporting Actress of the Year, who incidentally wasn’t in any theatrical movies in 1996. “After years of acting, to be most famous for a makeup contract.”

In March 1995, a lucrative deal with Estee Lauder products set the modeling world abuzz because, well, although she was replacing supermodel Paulina Porizkova, Hurley wasn’t a model, and never intended to become one.

Now reviews in every major magazine will inevitably place the word “model” before her name, even when she’s mentioned as part of a film, and tend to avoid her growing list of production credits.

Hurley started her career as an actress after studying dance and drama at the London Studios Center. Upon graduation, she worked in London theater before making her bigscreen debut in the 1987 film “Aria.” .

What followed was a string of television parts in local shows before landing a role opposite Hugh Grant in the Spanish feature film “Remando al Viento (1988).” The two clicked and struck international fame after Grant hit gold in 1994’s surprise smash “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

Since then, the Grant-Hurley combo has drawn a LOT of attention, and Hurley has suddenly been offered parts in every movie genre. Although she received glowing reviews for her role as a terrorist in “Passenger 57” (1992) with Wesley Snipes, it wasn’t until Grant’s rise that she received a post-“Weddings” high.

“After Hugh had his success with ‘Weddings,’ a lot of companies wanted to get together and make a deal,” she says. Shortly thereafter, the pair established and ran Simian Films, named because Hurley felt that Grant “had always looked like a chimpanzee.”

Cut to 1996, Hurley’s credits are piling up, and Castle Rock Entertainment releases “Extreme Measures” with Grant, Gene Hackman and Sarah Jessica Parker. The project was the first under the Simian banner and gave Hur-ley the chance to turn producer.

Producing “was extremely difficult. I realized that I had been judging some of the crew rather harshly in the past,” she says. “I discovered that I had to stay on top of everything.”

Despite the pressure and inexperience, she pulled through the job with flying colors, according to “Extreme Meas-ures” helmer Michael Apted.

“I really wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Apted, who has also directed “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Nell.” “But I found out quickly that they had done their homework, and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.”

For Hurley, it was an unusual experience to be running the show. “I’ve been a hired hand all my life. It was nice to have more say in the production aspects of the film. I prefer suffering from my own mistakes rather than someone else’s.” While admitting to learning on the job, Hurley says she hopes to resume producing in upcoming pics.

“I liked that even though this was her first film (as producer). She never tried to B.S. anybody about what she does and doesn’t know. If she was uncertain about something, she would ask,” says Apted. “I see a long future for this company in the film industry.”

Currently, that production company is developing a “variety of projects,” which she says generally are geared for Grant’s roles rather than for her acting talents. Even so, her slate has remained booked for more than two years.

Besides producing “Extreme,” Hurley’s highlights of last year included starring in “Samson and Delilah” for TNT. In ’97, “Dangerous Ground” was released with Ving Rhames and rapper Ice Cube, while “Austin Powers: Interna-tional Man of Mystery” with Mike Myers is set to bow in May.

“I had been offered a lot of projects in South Africa for years but I never accepted because of their apartheid be-liefs,” she says. “But when I received the ‘Dangerous Ground’ script I found it exciting. I am a big fan of Cube and I wanted to try an all-black film.”

Although ‘Ground’ failed to pick up a lot of steam at the box office, the business side of Hurley noted that a changing political system in South Africa was opening up a strong entertainment base within the country.

“It is cheap to work there and put together films,” she says. “With continued understanding and communication between the sides, it may well grow into a strong market.”

Upcoming spy spoof “Austin Powers” offered her the chance to play her first broad comedy on the bigscreen. In fact, Myers wrote the part for her.

“She’s awesome in this movie, very funny,” he says. When asked why he hand-picked Hurley for the role, he re-plied, “She’s the embodiment of English womanhood.”

Produced by Myers and Demi Moore, “Austin Powers” takes a poke at the spy and girl pics from the late ’60s, with Myers playing both the superspy and the villain. “I watched all of those spy movies when I was growing up,” says Hurley, who was quick to point out, “but this is absolutely not a spoof of the James Bond films.”

Hurley was quick to take the role, citing both the opportunity to play a comedic part and Myers’ popularity across the Atlantic. ” ‘Wayne’s World’ was extremely popular in England; he’s a hilarious person to watch,” she says.

Already New Line is gearing up for a major marketing push both in the U.S. and across international waters and is betting on bigger foreign B.O. because of its international nature. Although Hurley foresees a strong reaction from most of these audiences, the well-traveled actress admits that “different things tickle fancies across the world. Cer-tain films never seem to be able to cross over.”

Although Hurley has stated her preferences to watch sad, emotional movies in more than one interview (noting in particular heavier films such as “Blue”), she says she is hoping for a strong romantic comedy to carry her next role.

“Oh, I would love to grab a role similar to ‘Four Weddings.’ However, that’s very difficult to pull off,” she says. “But it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.”

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