Sunday, January 19

UCLA student, actress Nikki SooHoo shines in ‘The Lovely Bones’

Nikki SooHoo, a fourth-year world arts and cultures student, has starred in a number of feature films, including "Bring It On: Fight to the Finish." SooHoo's latest role is in Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," which premieres in Los Angeles tonight. Mantas Zvinakevicius

Nikki SooHoo loves Yogurtland. She loves it so much that during her freshman year at UCLA, she would go to Fullerton on the weekends to work there.

But the job came with more than a 50 percent discount and unlimited sample cups. Since she costarred in the gymnastics movie “Stick It,” released in 2006, working at this hot spot for kids meant being recognized as Wei Wei every day.

This Southern California native is now a fourth-year world arts and cultures student and approaches acting the same way she does part-time jobs.

“I’m not really a fan of the rich and the famous part of (acting),” SooHoo said. “I don’t really care. … I just do the work and have fun.”

On Dec. 11, she can be seen having fun in the highly anticipated film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel, “The Lovely Bones,” directed by Peter Jackson.

SooHoo brings the comic relief to this dark tale of child murder ““ already forecast to be an Oscar contender ““ with her character of Holly, the cheery soul of a 14-year-old girl in heaven where she befriends Susie, played by Saoirse Ronan of “Atonement.”

SooHoo took about 10 weeks off during her sophomore year to film in New Zealand trading in her first-class plane ticket so her parents and boyfriend could come too. While there, it appears she made an impression.

“She was fantastic. … She was full of fun,” Jackson said about working with SooHoo. “Having those sorts of people around (made) the film set really great because they’re always making jokes. … She’s a great spirit to have around.”

Bear Allen-Blaine, a fourth-year English student, met that spirit in the seventh grade and remembers some of SooHoo’s earliest acting.

“When we were little, we used to always make movies together and dance on film together, and just be really dumb and loud and obnoxious, but it was OK,” Allen-Blaine said. “I guess we gave each other the environment where it was OK to just be silly and creative and out of the box.”

SooHoo credits Allen-Blaine with helping her find the actress within.

“She basically uninhibited me,” SooHoo said. “She made me feel comfortable all the time with myself, and I think that made a big difference.”

SooHoo booked her first acting job at age 14 when she stumbled upon an audition for a variety show. Two years later, she landed “Stick It,” and has seen a recurrent theme throughout her filmography.

“I’m basically cast as myself,” SooHoo said. “Between “˜Stick It,’ “˜Bring It On (Fight to the Finish)’ and “˜Lovely Bones,’ there’s a similar quality in all of them. It’s basically a lighthearted, loving feeling, but with a little bit of a quirkiness to it. That’s pretty much me.”

Wei Wei had a rewrite so SooHoo could showcase her extensive dance background on the balance beam instead of originally specializing in bars. She was asked to make the character of Christina in “Bring It On” more like herself, and she helped the casting crew of “The Lovely Bones” define Holly, as she was their first stop on the worldwide search.

Her manager of seven years, Addison Witt, sees this latest addition as essential to crossing over from child actress.

“(“˜The Lovely Bones’) gives her tremendous exposure and could realistically introduce Nikki to a much broader and wider audience base,” Witt said. “And that’s very important for any actor’s career.”

SooHoo is thinking of her future, too. She’s currently going on auditions as pilot season takes off, and she’s also getting ready for finals week and tonight’s L.A. premiere of “The Lovely Bones” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Looking further ahead, SooHoo said she will graduate on time this June, thanks to averaging five classes a quarter to make up for her time off. Then she plans to take a year off and study abroad, maybe in Spain. She said she wants to learn a language, something acting never left time for while at UCLA, and afterward hopes to study nutrition psychology. SooHoo said she hasn’t been able to actually find such a program, but there are people out there who believe nothing will stand in the way of her success.

“(She) never let anything hold her back,” Allen-Blaine said. “She’s definitely always done and followed what she wants to do, which is really cool.”

This appears to be true whether it’s finding a nonexistent graduate program or serving up frozen goodness.

“A lot of people would always say, “˜Why are you working here? You’re a movie star,'” SooHoo said. “Because I like Yogurtland. That’s why.”

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