MINNEAPOLIS - Alexis Bledel says she's always looking for something different to do, and her three current roles couldn't be more different: college student, hooker, shy virgin.
Bledel, on summer break from playing Yale student Rory Gilmore on the buzzy TV show Gilmore Girls, is getting ready to take trips with friends and shoot a movie she won't say much about ("The last independent film I made never came out, so I'm not talking about this one until it's in the can"). Meanwhile, she's also on screen as a duplicitous tramp in Sin City and as a shy high school student who travels to Greece in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Sin City and Sisterhood were shot simultaneously last summer, with Bledel flying between the sets in Texas and Vancouver. Being a world-weary hooker one minute and a bright-eyed teen the next sounds like a head rush. But Bledel - who came to Minneapolis with co-star America Ferrera to promote Sisterhood - says it was no biggie.
"You just have to learn to switch gears," she says. "To tell you the truth, if the roles were more similar, I think it would have been harder. Really, the costumes helped a lot, since in one movie, I'm wearing these big boots, shiny leather pants and a huge bra, and in the other, I have these demure outfits."
Bledel says it was a no-brainer signing on for the stylish, violent Sin City, but she had some concerns about Traveling Pants, which is about four friends who find a pair of "magical" jeans that help them break out of their shells. For starters, there's the title.
"I think we were all like, 'This could be cheesy,'" says Ferrera, who plays one of the other three girls in Pants. "All of us were skeptical about the jeans, but the script was so perceptive and honest that we realized it wasn't a problem."
"Yeah, it's really not about the pants," says Bledel. "They're just a metaphor."
In the film, the pants appear to be magical because they fit each of four friends, even though they wear different sizes. But what the pants are really about is giving the girls the confidence to explore things they've been afraid of. Bledel's shy character, for instance, falls in love with a hunky sailor, with whom it's implied she goes well past first base.
"I liked how honest the movie was about that," says Bledel. "Because most teenagers are somewhere in the middle when it comes to sexuality. They are curious about it, but they are also a little afraid."
The film is unusually attuned to shifts of mood in its characters, something Bledel says comes from the director, a middle-aged man, Ken Kwapis. And not only a man but also a veteran director of Sesame Street.
"It does seem strange, since he's a man directing a story about the emotional experiences of teenage girls, but when you met with him, you could tell he cared a lot about the material," says Bledel. "He was very sensitive to what we thought. On this movie, he gave me so much more input than I've ever had on a set, letting us work with the words so they felt more natural and honest to us."
Whenever the actresses thought a situation or bit of dialogue felt unnatural, Kwapis would stop everything and help them figure it out. "He'd say, 'What do you think a teenage girl would do here? What would she say?'" says Bledel, who's 23.
"Yeah," agrees Ferrera, 21. "Like, in the scene where we had a sleep-over, the props people had all this food and stuff laid out, and Ken said to us, 'What would teenagers really eat?' And we all said, 'Pizza!'"
So they got pizza. And an experience both actresses say felt like a vacation.