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Antonio Banderas' New Dancing Partner

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Actress Lauren Collins Takes a Break From 'Degrassi' to Dance With a Star

By NANCY CHANDROSS

April 7, 2006 — - She's already charmed hordes of teen audiences. Now, Lauren Collins is looking to gain a following in Hollywood.

The Canadian television star debuts on the big screen today as a shy ballroom dance student in the Antonio Banderas drama "Take the Lead."

Collins, 19, plays a wealthy kid who is uncomfortable in the posh Manhattan dance studio where she is struggling to twirl gracefully. When word gets out that her handsome teacher is donating his skills, teaching waltzes and tangos to a rowdy detention hall class at a public school, she follows him along.

As her character tried to master some fancy footwork, Collins faced her own challenge -- dancing with Banderas, a Broadway and film star.

"Of course I was totally nervous," Collins said. "But he made me feel so comfortable because he's the sweetest man alive, seriously."

She was excited to film her first movie, but said she didn't initially know she had such a famous co-star.

"When anyone would ask who's in it. … The reaction you get. … Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize how huge his fan base is," she said.

From Antonio's Arms to Her Parents' House

This weekend brings a mini media coup for Collins. She's debuting in "Take the Lead" and entering her fifth season on "Degrassi: Next Generation," which returns to cable TV tonight.

Not bad for a kid who still lives with her parents.

As her sassy character Paige enters her senior year of high school, Collins is also considering her future options. If youth culture is any indicator, she'll be a star.

Collins is constantly mobbed by teens in shopping malls who squeal at the sight of her.

They pester her for details and plotlines from "Degrassi," ask for her male co-stars' phone numbers, and beg her to autograph everything from sheets of paper to their clothes.

"I signed this girl's Coach purse once. … I was like, 'Are you sure? Are you sure you want me to sign your purse?'" she said.

Now she's setting her sights on a wider audience, hoping to challenge some of her peers in Hollywood. She enjoyed her first red-carpet premiere for "Take the Lead," with her mom as her date. "The past few weeks have been crazy, but it's good," Collins said. "I'm just hoping it can stay this way."

Image Control

As she begins to gain more notoriety, Collins is well aware of the pitfalls young stars face.

Stardom brings financial freedom, parties, and all sorts of temptations. She said she would do her best to avoid making the headlines of the gossip magazines for rowdy behavior.

"I really respect the choices of like Rachel McAdams and Natalie Portman," Collins said. "People know who they are, but they're not dancing on tables in clubs and getting a bad reputation. … Ideally, that would be the route I would like to follow."

No matter how clean she lives, there's still the chance errant photographs will land in the tabloids if she's labeled the new "It" girl.

"That is a little scary to think about -- giving up your privacy and any kind of normal life that you lead," she said. "Fans come up to me and they want to take my picture and maybe I'm not having the best day. … If I'm getting maybe a little frustrated, how much does Jennifer Aniston feel?"

Hard to say, but Collins' mom feels a bit mixed. She accompanied her daughter to her interview with ABC News, and sat quietly until the subject of the paparazzi and hordes of fans were addressed.

"I guess you get used to it," Sari Collins said. "But I'm personally not used to it."

Split Personality

Before she fully embarks on a push to Hollywood, Collins is finishing up her time with "Degrassi."

She calls the new season a "shocker" as her character, the typically boy-crazy Paige, develops a crush on a female student.

While Collins has grown accustomed to the show entering racy terrain, this plotline gave her pause. "This is someone who's been chasing after 25-year-old boys like, every season, how does this make sense?" Collins said.

Once she read through the season, she was assured that it was a romance that would be believable to the fans of the series, which airs on The-N.

After five years on the series, Collins has gone through more than her share of high school drama. Her character has gone from perky moments as the cheerleading captain, to depression after she was raped by a college student.

The current plot twist provided the most challenging scenes yet, according to Collins, but she gladly took it on and chalked it up as one more chance to prepare and study as an actress for her own life beyond high school.

"I don't really go to an acting coach," Collins said. "I don't need one with 'Degrassi' because we get to do so much."

Copyright 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

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