May 20, 2005 06:00 AM

6:20 p.m. Mischa Barton is wearing a flowing Cavalli dress on the porch of her room at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes, where she’s posing for a fashion photographer. This is before the phones begin to ring and mild panic sets about the prospect of getting her to a photo event across town to promote her new period film Decameron with costar Hayden Christensen.

The shoot is set to begin at 6:45 p.m. on a yacht in the harbor. “Panicking now,” her mother Nuala mutters, looking at her watch and calculating the logistical nightmare she faces with all the Cannes traffic ahead of them. Mischa scurries into the bathroom to change, another Cavalli outfit in her hand. “So glad we arranged everything at the same time,” she says.

6:40 p.m. Mischa finds herself being swept through the lobby of the Hotel Martinez. “I think that was a world-record time,” she says of getting ready. “I am not always that fast.” Through the windows, the sight of a large crowd and ready photographers is clearly visible. “You have your moment of calm,” says Mischa, “before entering the whirlwind.”

The whirlwind follows on the doorstep of the hotel. The actress is doing the Cannes multitask: As publicists call to find out where she is, she conducts an interview and signs autographs (“My God, he’s got a picture of me from the last time I was here,” she says as she scribbles her name on a set of photos). The car is delayed and the pressure intensifies with hundreds of fans watching. “This is crazy,” she says with a sigh.

Then British actor Colin Firth (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) nonchalantly strolls past, gives a slight smile and pushes through the revolving doors of the hotel. Through the chaos of the moment, Mischa allows herself to grin. “Yeah, that’s what’s great about Cannes. You just run into all sorts of people. It makes it so interesting,” she says. “Maybe I should go camp outside of his room.”

6:45 p.m. Mischa’s black Mercedes finally arrives. As she opens the door, she gives one more pose for a photographer, and I’m booted out of the car for the security guy who insists on riding in the front. I’m left behind with the movie publicist’s car.

7:35 p.m. I arrive in the publicist’s car at the harbor simultaneously with Hayden Christensen. His arrival brings about a swarm of photographers who push and scream at each other in every language trying to get a shot. Yet, he emerges through the chaos with a serene smile on his face.

7:45 p.m. One hour late for their shoot, Mischa and Hayden pose for photographers on board the yacht Satine. Mischa greets me like a lost relative. “I am so glad you made it,” she calls with her hands outstretched. “I think we just had our Cannes moment. We can share that.”

Mischa is slightly overwhelmed by the day’s events. “That was really intense,” she says. “We couldn’t move the car. People were banging on the windows, looking in. And the event organizers were calling and telling me that everyone was leaving the event because we were late.”

Yet having the opportunity to be at her fourth Cannes Film Festival is worth all the madness. “We are in the South of France. It’s so beautiful,” she says. “Nothing really fazes you out here.”

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