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Posted at 4:52 a.m. EST Wednesday, January 26, 2000

MOVIE ROLE IS IMAGE TWIST FOR ACTRESS

NICKELODEON'S MELISSA JOAN HART IS ANYTHING BUT SWEET IN 'TWISTED DESIRE,' THE NBC FILM AIRING TONIGHT DATE: Monday, May 13, 1996

BY BRIDGET BYRNE

Melissa Joan Hart, who portrays a sweet girl in Nickelodeon's live-action sitcom Clarissa Explains It All, will play a seductive manipulator with homicidal intentions in Twisted Desire, an NBC movie that will air tonight at 9.

In Twisted Desire, Hart plays Jennifer Stanton who, displeased by her overly controlling parents, seduces and induces a boy into murdering them.

Hart, who never met the guilty girl, said she found it difficult to capture the central truth of the girl's motivation for her behavior.

`I think we often use the easy way by blaming adults or upbringing, but it's really a fine line as to where this sort of behavior starts. It was a tough thing to try to understand, and in the time frame of the movie we don't really get to see much justification.

`She's rich and in some way she has everything she wants and so she can't deal with being denied her own way.`

Stanton is popular with her school friends, both boys and girls, and seems able to con anyone into believing her. Her blue eyes and porcelain-like skin suggest innocence and straightforwardness, but she is willful and dangerous.

Hart, 19, is well aware that it can be difficult to make the transition from child actor to adult actor. `It can be a sticky time, but I want to keep the ball rolling,` she says.

She also is concerned with keeping her school work going. She has been taking arts and business courses at `the school without walls` program at New York University.

The show business offers keep flowing. Hart and her mother, Paula, have formed a company, Hartbreak Films, to develop other projects.

Hartbreak Films, in association with Viacom, will expand Sabrina, The Teenage Witch -- based on the Archie Comics series and which aired as a Showtime movie in April -- into a sitcom. ABC has placed a 13-series order, with filming scheduled to begin in July.

Hart describes her title role in Sabrina as `a coming of age thing,` in which a cute 17-year-old girl, living with her aunts in New York, discovers she has magical powers. Whether that's a plus or a minus in the maturing process of a teen-ager will, she hopes, evoke laughs and good ratings.

The eldest of six acting siblings, Hart says her interest in show business began with a desire to be on the preschool series Romper Room, and to see her name in its Magic Mirror. That didn't happen.

But she successfully auditioned for her first commercial, probably winning the part `because I was outgoing and cheery.`

She remembers those early years as `fun,` though she wasn't immune to feeling `mortified because I had to be topless in front of the whole crew, in a commercial playing with a bathtub doll!`

Later, she tried the stage.

Her first Broadway role was in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, starring Martin Sheen. Next, she appeared opposite William Hurt in the Circle Repertory production of Beside Himself. Peter Hedges' Imagining Brad brought her the best reviews of her stage career.

`It's good to have done theater, but theater is theater and television and movies are very different. Theater tends to be loud. For television, I've had to learn to bring it back down` she says, crediting a recent role as a runaway teen on the CBS series Touched By An Angel as being a real help in adjusting to TV drama.

Her model -- as an actress and in real life -- is Audrey Hepburn. Hart says she always has been inspired by Hepburn's life and career, admiring the late star's appeal in Roman Holiday, Breakfast At Tiffany's and My Fair Lady.

Hart also admires Hepburn's charity work to aid children. Hart's charitable activities include participation in Audrey Hepburn's Hollywood for Children Fund.

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