Company of One

updated 02/17/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

SOME ASPIRING ACTORS MIGHT sell their souls for a shot at success, but Caroline Ilana only offered 10 percent. Not the sort of deal that would interest the devil, perhaps, but a handful of investors are taking their chances. "Any investment is a gamble," cautions the fledgling British actress, now a one-woman corporation. "I can only say I'll do my best to be successful."

Ilana, 24, has yet to prove herself in the theater, but there's no debating her financial shrewdness. In 1995 the Hull University graduate from Leeds, England, was accepted at London's Mountview Theatre School but lacked the $16,000 tuition for the yearlong program. A mailing to celebrities listed in Who's Who yielded encouragement but little tangible return. Then she hit on a bolder plan: to create a corporation with herself as the sole asset. Shareholders would be paid dividends—10 percent of her earnings.

In October 1995, with the help of Ilana's father, a solicitor, Caroline Ilana Ltd. launched a public offering of 10 percent of the company: 100 shares at $160 each. The offering, this time mailed to celebs and business figures, sold out within a year—with such British eminences as Emma Thompson, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bob Hoskins getting in on the ground floor. "She obviously has what it takes to survive in a very tough business," says Hayley Mills, who also bought a share.

A lifelong theater buff who started acting classes when she was 6, Ilana landed her first professional role two weeks after finishing the Mountview program in October. Meanwhile, Caroline Ilana Ltd. has already held its first annual meeting, and although investors have yet to receive their first dividend checks, most seemed satisfied to call it a preview of coming attractions. "Any other stock," notes shareholder Vernon Wright, a businessman, "is just a boring piece of paper."

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