Listen up, Italian cinema sirens: Asia Argento has a beef. "The image that Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida gave of what a woman should be is really beautiful but harmless," says the actress. "The brain is not really important."

Hollywood's latest Italian import could never be accused of being tame. The tattooed Argento, 26—now shooting off sparks with XXX's Vin Diesel in her first major U.S. film—earned the nickname Dark Lady from the Italian press for her tough 'tude (she briefly competed as a pro boxer) and raw, often sexually graphic performances. "I didn't want the conventional Barbie doll," says XXX director Rob Cohen, 53, with whom she reportedly had a brief on-set romance. "When I saw that angel tattooed on her stomach, I knew she would be perfect. She has mystique."

Still, she'd like to shake her scary rep. In Hollywood she hopes "people will perceive me for what I am now"—the "really centered and happy" mother of Anna Lou, 1, whose father is her musician ex-beau Marco "Morgan" Castoldi. The daughter of Dario Argento, 61, a renowned director of Italian horror movies, and actress Daria Nicolodi, 52, Asia says she had a rough time after her parents split when she was 9. "My mother would kick me out, then my father would get mad and send me to my mother." She mended ties with her dad when, at 16, she starred in his film Trauma. The two-time winner of the Italian version of the Oscar is now happily sifting through action offers from her apartment in L.A. "It's much better to be the kick-ass chick than the Dark Lady," she says. "I'm sick and tired of dark."