02/04/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
Elisha Cuthbert was 4 when she stole her first bow. "There was this group of Polish dancers," she recalls of a family trip to Vancouver's Expo '86. "I ran right up onstage and just copied them. When the music finished, I took a bow and everyone was clapping. I guess I had a big personality."
Nowadays it's on display on 24, the adrenaline-soaked spy drama in which she plays the abducted daughter of secret agent Kiefer Sutherland. Cuthbert, 19, brings a "perfect mix of innocence and sexuality" to the part, says series cocreator Robert Cochran. Adds her TV mom, Leslie Hope: "I could learn a few things from her about poise and self-possession."
Maybe determination too. The Calgary native—the oldest of three children of oil-industry executive Kevin, 44, and homemaker Patricia, 41—juggled high school classes, a role on the Nickelodeon spookfest Are You Afraid of the Dark? and a reporting gig on the Canadian news series Popular Mechanics for Kids. "She's so hardworking," says Patricia. "She never got into mischief."
But she's not all smooth self-assurance. "Bring up boys, and she will blush," says Hope. No matter, says the unattached Cuthbert, who spends most of her free time with friends, running or in-line skating at the beach near her two-bedroom L.A. apartment. "I don't have time for boys. I'm a little selfish right now. It's all about me."