April 24, 1995 12:00 PM

WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING movie roles, “I don’t like playing it safe,” says Canadian actress Mia Kirshner, 19. Believe her. In 1993, at 17, the 5’3″, 100-lb. Kirshner played a dominatrix in Love and Human Remains. Now, in Exotica, another Canadian film, which opened in the U.S. last month to critical acclaim, she plays a stripper named Christina, who arrives onstage dressed as a demure schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt.

Shooting Exotica’s bumps and grinds last summer in a sweaty Toronto club, “I left my inhibitions at the door,” says Kirshner. She briefly picked them back up again last September, when she screened the film with her father, Sheldon, 48, a Toronto newspaperman, and her mother, Etti, 47, an English teacher. “Watching my dad watching me strip was nerve-racking,” she says. Her mother says she is grateful, at least, that Mia never goes completely topless. “Her performance was great,” Etti says “Mia always had a flair for drama.”

A high school acting teacher, Glenda Romano, agrees. Romano remembers when Mia, then 18, was directing a play and wanted to include slides of full frontal male nudity and Jesus on the cross. “I actually crawled through the audience,” says Romano, “and whispered to her, ‘Please, Mia, at least get rid of the slides.’ ”

At the moment, shock is out, books are in. Now studying English lit in her first year at Montreal’s McGill University, Kirshner plans to juggle school-work with a Hollywood career. (She recently completed work on The Grass Harp, with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.) Last month she attended the Oscars with Lemonheads lead singer Evan Dando. They’re just acquaintances though. “I’d love to have a boyfriend,” says Kirshner “if I wasn’t so shy…”

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