05/09/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
If Tyra Banks
follows her plan to script a movie from her journals, it might be too much of a stretch even for Hollywood to green-light. Spotted by a French modeling scout a few weeks before she was to head for L.A.'s Loyola Marymount University in 1001, the 5'11" teen was whisked to Paris, where her sensual lope and sleek, space-age frame gave her instant catwalk charisma. "She reminds me of an antelope," marvels designer Todd Oldham. "She was just born with grace." With a flounce and a bounce, Banks also quickly scored three deals, the kind usually reserved for established supermodels: a lucrative Cover Girl contract, exposure in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's swimsuit issue and a slot in Ralph Lauren's ad campaign. The girl can act too. Last fall she landed a role on TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
and nailed a part in director-boyfriend John (Boyz N the Hood
) Singleton's next flick: Higher Learning
Unbelievable? Well, it did take some work. In addition to watching style shows on CNN, the 20-year-old says, "I practiced by putting on my mother's robes and high heels and walking up and down the living room before I went to Paris." Her emergence, however, hasn't been entirely without effort. Last year a jealous Naomi Campbell
reportedly had Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld ban her look-alike rival from his runway. And the American couture world hasn't been color-blind. "I have 20 magazine covers in Europe and only a few in America—Essence
for one," says Banks. "But I think there's more understanding of the beauty of ethnicity now."
Living in L.A. with her mother (and manager) Carolyn London-Johnson and her stepfather, Banks—who tends not to comb her hair or wear makeup on off days—says in real life she's "just real goofy," not at all like the sexy model who slithers along the runways. "I try, at least on my answering machine," she says. "I try lowering my voice and talking sexy, but it just doesn't work."