By Jennifer Wulff
July 23, 2001 12:00 PM

Last July, when the horror spoof Scary Movie opened, a Seattle multiplex manager called its star, hometown girl Anna Faris, out of her seat to introduce the movie to an opening-night audience. “I’m like, ‘Hey, you guys are probably wondering what I’m doing here,'” says Faris, whose brother had tipped off the manager that she was there. “And people are saying, ‘Yeah, who the hell are you?’ It was just horrible.” An embarrassed Faris wasn’t vindicated until the final credits rolled, when “people were like, ‘Oh my God!’ and wanted me to autograph jujubes boxes,” she says. “It was really hilarious.”

So was the movie, a surprise hit that made more than $270 million worldwide and earned Faris, 24, an encore role in this summer’s sequel, Scary Movie 2. Fans hoping for more of the same shouldn’t be disappointed: This time around Faris lampoons Michelle Pfeiffer’s role from 1999’s What Lies Beneath, is attacked by a possessed cat and endures a sex scene so repulsive she ought to have been issued humiliation insurance. “There are only a few people who could pull it off,” says director Keenen Ivory Wayans of Faris’s innocent take on such raunch. “Drew Barrymore is one, and Cameron Diaz is another. Anna, in her own time, will be in that league.”

High praise for a self-described drama club “dork” who used to wear a Christmas-tree skirt in high school and didn’t date until senior year. (“I liked guys, but no one really liked me,” she explains.) But that turned out to be just the sort of resume that helped Faris—who had only two independent movie roles to her credit at the time—beat out hundreds of other actresses when she auditioned for Scary Movie in July 1999, just a month after she arrived in Los Angeles. “There was a great freshness about her, because Anna had nothing to lose,” says Wayans, whose brothers Shawn and Marlon star in both films. “She didn’t think in a million years she was going to get the part.”

But doing just that has been Faris’s knack since age 6, when her parents, Karen, now 54, a retired special-education instructor, and Jack, 54, a vice president of internal communications for the University of Washington, enrolled her in a community drama class for kids. By age 9, Faris—who says she was raised with her brother Robert, 28, a graduate student, in a “very conservative atmosphere”—was performing onstage with a Seattle repertory company, in nationally broadcast radio plays—and in her own bedroom. “I had a retainer,” she says, “and I used to imagine that it would talk to me. It wasn’t even that I’d talk to it or it would talk to me. It was more that I’d go on talk shows to talk about my talking retainer!”

Tin grin behind her, Faris headed to the University of Washington and majored in English literature. “I never really thought I wanted to become a movie star,” says Faris, who hopes one day to publish a novel. “I always thought it would be cool, but I never thought it would be easy.” But she continued to act “just to make some extra money,” and it was while at a rehearsal in Seattle in April 1999 for an independent film, Lovers Lane, that she met boyfriend Ben Indra, 22. “She was really cool, and I just didn’t want to miss the chance to get to know her as much as possible,” says Indra, an actor who lives near Faris in L.A. “I was just completely hypnotized.”

Can Faris cast that spell beyond the grossness of the Scary series? “She’s a rare commodity—a beautiful, funny girl,” says Scary producer Lisa Blum. “You can’t be dumb and play dumb.” But Faris, who lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment near the beach and recently splurged on a new BMW, doesn’t feel a need to stay in the fast lane. “The important thing for me is to be happy where I am and with what I’m doing,” she says. As for the future? “I guess I see myself on a huge sailboat in the Mediterranean or maybe growing tomatoes in Northern California. Right now I’m just on an adventure.”

Jennifer Wulff

Julie Jordan in Los Angeles