10/01/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT
Soon you'll be sitting on top of the world," read Carolyn Farina's fortune cookie last fall. Smart cookie! Now she's the critics' darling for her role in the film sleeper Metropolitan. In 1988 the New Yorker had taken a break from her $200-a-week secretarial job to answer an open audition call for the movie-she and "a billion others," she recalls. Farina, 26, had only a semester at Queens College, no agent and no professional acting experience. But her unaffected sweetness and natural ability won her the major role of Audrey, a sympathetic New York City debutante. "She is completely convincing and believable," says Whit Stillman, Metropolitan's writer-director. Since the film's release, Farina has basked in notices describing her performance as "sensitive and perceptive."
Socially speaking, there's more than two bridges and a tunnel separating Farina's home turf, Forest Hills, Queens, from Manhattan's Upper East Side, Metropolitan's milieu. Farina, who's single and "not going steady," lives in a studio apartment with her divorced mother, Harriet, and works as a salesclerk at Macy's in Manhattan. Carolyn took up acting to get over her shyness, and it worked. "You should see me at Macy's—'Get outta here, lady!' " she barks. While seeking her next part, she minds the counter. "I have to pay the rent," she says. "I don't have another job—yet."