And yet with her 18th birthday fast approaching in September, Duff—who stars in the new romantic comedy The Perfect Man—has come a long way from her Lizzie McGuire days. She's no longer a Disney girl, since she and her mom, Susan Duff, 52, had a much publicized rift with the studio in '03. Although she plans to continue living with her parents in LA, she has quietly been dating Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden, 26, for nearly a year. The rocker accompanied her to DC., and when asked about her perfect man, she looks over at him and smiles. "I like someone that's kind of like an undercover dork," says the homeschooled star (she earned her high school diploma last year). "I'm like an undercover dork. Someone who thinks the lifestyle we lead is funny."
Not so funny, says Duff, is the "competitive" climate among her peers. "It just seems like everyone's fighting over who can get their picture taken with who," she says. "Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, me—everyone has their own thing going on. There's no need for jealousy."
Besides, who has time for catty infighting when there are movies to be made, albums to record and birthday plans to arrange? Duff is at work on her next film, Material Girls, which she is producing and costarring in with sis Haylie, 20. This summer she will tour before traveling to India for the charity Kids with a Cause. "She's deciding the things she wants to do," says Haylie.
That includes enlisting Madden and his twin brother and bandmate Benji to help record the follow-up to '04's Hilary Duff. "She's a workhorse," says Benji. "I was like, 'Can we take a break? We've been singing for nine hours, girl!' " Adds Joel of the album: "It's a little bit more rock. She's an amazing singer." As for that big birthday, Duff is keenly aware that growing up gracefully can be tricky business. "I'm getting older, and I really want to make smart decisions," she says. "You have to give people what they want. You have to try and please everybody."
Michelle Tauber. Jessica Voelker in Washington and Kimberly Lansing, Dana Meltzer and Ruth Andrew Ellenson in Los Angeles
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