05/29/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
ALISON ELLIOTT IS NOT YOUR BMW-driving, purebred-puppy-toting kind of promising young actress. Her dog, Baby, is a 3-year-old part-spaniel stray that she found wandering the streets of Los Angeles. "She always had her tail down," says Elliott, 25. "It was broken." Elliott's car—a 1958 chrome-laden Olds-mobile Super 88—also requires tender loving care. "It all comes down to the fact that I'm cheap," Elliott concedes. Still, thriftiness has its thrills. "When my water pump blew in the middle of the desert," she says, recounting a recent mishap, "a family living in a trailer park happened to have a son-in-law who could fix it for 100 bucks. You can't buy an experience like that."
Nor can you buy the raves Elliott has been winning as femme fatale Rachel in director Steven (sex, lies and videotape) Soderbergh's new thriller The Underneath. "Elliott is pitch perfect," wrote Caryn James of The New York Times, while David Goodman of the Associated Press predicted that "newcomer Elliott, perfect as the movie's temptress, is likely to go far." Not bad, considering Soderbergh's parting words to Elliot when the movie wrapped in April 1994, after an eight-week shoot in Austin, Texas. "Don't worry," he said playfully. "I can always cut around you." Explains Soderbergh: "I tend to tease people I like. And I like her a lot."
Elliott's chief concern right now is handling the pressures that may come with fame. "I'm actually afraid of this new step," she says, sitting amid flea-market finds in her rented duplex apartment in Hollywood. "Drawing attention to myself has never been a goal." Still, it's hard to go unrecognized when you're an actress as busy as Elliott. This month she can be seen in the HBO movie Indictment: The McMartin Trial, about the 1984 child-abuse scandal at a California preschool, and later this year she'll be in the Masterpiece Theatre production of Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers. She is currently in Vermont filming the drama Care of the Spitfire Grill with Ellen Burstyn.
If Elliott is wary of too much attention, it may be because she has often attracted more than she wanted. The second of three daughters, Elliott was born in San Francisco, but her father Bob's work as a computer executive (her mother, Barbara, teaches nursing) took the family to Tokyo when Alison was 4. Feeling conspicuous there as a blue-eyed American, she came home at age 8 to find she was the only kid who had never heard of Saturday Night Fever. "I was like this childhood freak," she says.
By tradition, of course, swans usually are. When she was 14 and attending San Francisco's alternative Urban School, where students design their own curriculums, Elliott began modeling locally and went on to spend the next four summers doing fashion shoots in Tokyo and Paris. At 19, she made her acting debut, alongside Halle Berry
, in a shortlived sitcom called Living Dolls. Cast in 1993 as the wife of Morgan Earp in Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp, she thought she had found a hit. She hadn't; the movie flopped colossally.
So, you might say, has Elliott's love life—if she didn't seem so content about her current state of no affairs. "No romance, no romance, no romance for me," she sings, quoting an '80s pop song by the group Cameo. Happy enjoying good food and wine with her friends, she says, "I think I'm just too damn picky to have a relationship now and too absorbed in my work." She does have her dog, who's something of a canine mood ring. Elliott calls her Baby when they're both feeling good, Beast when their spirits are low. "For the moment," Elliott says, "she's my soulmate."
LOIS ARMSTRONG in Hollywood