Nikki Reed

updated 09/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

AGE: 15
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles
MOVIE BREAKTHROUGH: Thirteen—based on her own script

•Story behind the story: Reed cowrote the dark drama—based on her own descent from a student to self-destructive bad girl at age 13—with director Catherine Hardwicke, a family friend who urged the angry teen to pour her emotions into a screenplay.

•Fact vs. fiction: Thirteen's heroine (played by Evan Rachel Wood; Reed plays her corrupting friend) does drugs, steals, has sex and mutilates herself. Reed—whose parents, Seth Reed, 48, a film art director, and Cheryl Houston, 49, a beautician, are divorced—was never that bad. Her grades plunged. She shoplifted. "I wasn't dealing drugs," she says, "but the girls I was hanging out with dealt crystal meth."

•Now: Finding herself now taking ninth-grade classes on the Net, Reed—who "has incredible intelligence," says costar Holly Hunter—has new focus: "I really love acting." With auditions on tap, "the tongue piercing is coming out," she says. "It affects my speech."

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