Like her character in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Kate Bosworth is just a small-town girl who’s found her prize in Hollywood. But her real-life reward is a thousand times better: She’s an It girl dating an It boy (Lord of the Rings’ Orlando Bloom), and she’s become a breakout big-screen star, thanks to her wave-riding turn in 2002’s Blue Crush. The 21-year-old actress recently talked about romancing a heartthrob and staying “normal.” (Yes, she still buys her own groceries.)

You’ve been dating Orlando Bloom for nearly a year. Mandy Moore recently told us that girls shove her out of the way to get to her famous boyfriend, Andy Roddick. Any similarities?
That is definitely true. I totally understand what she’s saying. I get it. Orlando’s a good one, so …

Has that ever happened to you?
Well, we don’t really do the big event thing. We have made this choice to keep the relationship private. We do our own things, and it’s been great that way. We keep everything really priceless.

With both of you having such high profiles, how can you keep doing that – not going out together?
We take it all in stride. We haven’t invited the pressure in yet. Maybe it will come, and maybe it won’t. We are just living our lives normally, which has been great. We’ll see.

What’s the last normal thing you did?
God, I don’t know. I grocery shop. It would be so strange not to do something like that.

You’ve enjoyed It girl status, though. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
It’s funny because I get asked that all the time. It’s a no-brainer. When you enter this business, you are a certain person, and success only magnifies who you are. Everything gets intense, and you’re under a microscope, but if you’re a pretty normal person, and you have your values, you just keep going.

You play a normal, small-town girl in Tad Hamilton. What was it about the role that excited you?
I actually had just finished Blue Crush. I was on the plane back from Hawaii and I had a stack of scripts in front of me. My agent had asked me what I wanted to do next, and I said, “I want to do something dark and edgy, completely different from Blue Crush.” And I actually read (the 2003 porn-star drama) Wonderland on the plane ride and loved it. The very next screenplay I picked up was Tad Hamilton. I read them literally back to back. By some blessing, I wound up getting both of them.

You and Tad Hamilton costar Topher Grace both grew up in Darien, Conn. So did you meet Topher back in Darien or in L.A.?
When I moved out to Hollywood when I was 18, we saw each other at a party. He came up to me and said, “Are you Kate? Did you once live in Darien?” It’s such a small town. … I was cast first in this movie and then the word came down that they wanted to cast Topher Grace as my hometown buddy, Pete. It was fated, almost. It’s one of those weird coincidences that makes you think, like, there’s some kind of master plan.

Now you’re shooting the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea with Kevin Spacey. How is it playing teen idol Sandra Dee, the original surfer-girl movie star?
It’s so neat. I get to wear a full-on platinum blonde wig and black eyeliner and have bright red lips. I have the most amazing costumes. Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I don’t even recognize myself.

Is the movie a love story?
It kind of is. Bobby Darin married Sandra Dee when she was 16.

Do you sing in the film?
No, but Kevin does, and he’s eerily identical to Bobby’s voice. It’s going to shock everyone.

Is there any truth to the story that you gave director/actor Robert Redford a Christmas card picture of yourself rather than a headshot, and you still got your first part in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer?
Yeah, that’s totally true. It was a little 4-by-6 photo. When they said to bring in a picture of myself, I didn’t understand that you were supposed to have headshots. So I just brought our family Christmas card. It was my first audition.

Was that a fun movie to do, being an avid rider?
I was 13 and just a kid who was into horses – I wasn’t into boys yet. My mother was shaking with excitement about Robert Redford. It was such a flukey way to fall into it. Fate can be very strange sometimes.

Did it feel like fate that you’d be an actress?
I thought it would just be a really fun experience. I thought, This will be great. I’ll ride horses all day and get out of school and maybe have a great experience. Through my love of horses, I wound up falling in love with acting – accidentally. It was cool. It all worked out.