Julie Warner steps out of a lake after skinny-dipping -- a hard-bodied version of Botticelli's Venus -- and walks right up to Michael J. Fox to introduce herself. "Since you're a doctor, I figure there's nothing here you haven't seen before," she tells the astonished Fox.
It is quite a way for an actress to make her screen debut.
"My attitude was as long as it's not exploitive I didn't mind doing it," says the 25-year-old actress of her nude scene in "Doc Hollywood," which opens in theaters today. In the film, which also stars Michael J. Fox and was directed by Michael Caton-Jones, Warner plays Lou, a small-town girl in South Carolina. Lou's not a Southern belle, but a vegetarian/earth mother/animal-rights activist -- she even urinates on bushes to scare off deer so that the hunters won't shoot them -- who rescues the Fox character from a yuppie life as a Hollywood plastic surgeon.
"She rises from the lake without any clothes because the Fox character is supposed to see her as if she's part of the earth," Warner says. "She controls the tempo of the interchange with Fox."
In person, it's the intelligence of this tiny actress -- "look, I had to be shorter than Michael J. Fox" -- that impresses more than her looks.
"We knew we were not making a great movie," she says of herself and her collaborators. "Caton-Jones kept reminding us that 'this is not great stuff,' and kept making us pick up the pace so that it would be cinematically interesting. But all of us loved the romantic comedies of the past -- the films of [Howard] Hawks, [Preston] Sturges and [Frank] Capra -- and we were trying to do something that had a little bit of the atmosphere those films had."
While Warner is not embarrassed by the nude scene, she is impatient to take on more than ingenue roles such as that in "Doc Hollywood." This ambitious native New Yorker is all too conscious that three close friends in her graduating class at the prestigious Dalton School have gone on to become, respectively, a lead dancer for the Paul Taylor Company, a producer for PBS' "The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour" and a prize-winning documentary filmmaker. And at Brown University, she was accustomed to taking demanding character roles in productions of Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare.
"In college -- where we were all young -- I could get interesting parts as older people because I was small," she says with a shrug. "Being attractive in Hollywood is a kind of double bind. You get there because you are young and attractive. But sometimes it's hard to be taken seriously because of those things."