Katie Holmes for “Abandon”

Katie Holmes is much taller than you would expect walking into the hotel room where the shy 23-year old Dawson’s Creek star is talking up her first starring role in a film. Her neatly brushed brown hair matches her tanned face, is tired after having done press to promote Abandon, a psychological thriller from first-time director Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of Traffic.

It’s not easy being a star and Holmes never set out to attain that goal. But the surprise success of Dawson’s Creek elevated her profile, and Katie became a reluctant star. Katie says that she has learned to deal with the celebrityism of her career. “I think my family probably deals with it more than I do. I don’t really pay that much attention to it. Fortunately we’ve been shooting in North Carolina which means we’re not in LA where you can hear people talking about you and you KNOW so much about what’s going on in the business. In North Carolina nobody bothers us; we’re all about concentrating on the work or our auditions that we’re trying to get a flight out for. So all that crap is not something that I’m confronted with on a daily basis.”

Though she does concede that “it’s fun to see your picture in a magazine and fun to go to the movies and see your poster up but it’s not like every day somebody comes up and takes my photo or asks for my autograph.” It is her family who keeps her grounded, says Holmes and while her private life is often the subject of teen and gossip mags, she says that she doesn’t care what people write about her nor does she read everything written about her. “I do read some stuff but my mum’s friends tend to look for everything that’s written about me and send them to her,” she adds, laughingly.

Though not officially announced, this is expected to be the final season for Dawson’s. In an earlier interview, series star James van der Beek was clearly relishing then show’s demise. Holmes thinks that “he’ll miss me more than he lets on”, and then laughs slightly. As to the actress’s own thoughts, Katie has mixed feelings. “It’ll be bittersweet when the show wraps up. I mean it’s been a wonderful experience but I think it’s exhausted itself to a degree, but people are still watching and still care about these characters. I think there are still a lot of stories that can be told at college and I certainly love the characters on our show. But it’s definitely going to be hard if it ends,” Holmes says. While van der Beek hopes the show’s ending will be perfect for its fans, Holmes laughingly says that “I want it to end MY way” but has no idea what that way will be. “It’s a big question but I’m not good at predicting that kind of stuff.”

It was inevitable, as that show’s most popular cast member, that she would land a film role more substantial than recent supporting roles in The Gift and the upcoming Phone Booth. In Abandon, Holmes plays Katie Burke, an overachieving, popular college senior who is haunted by the mysterious disappearance two years earlier of her first love, an arrogant, rich and brilliant senior (Charlie Hunnam). As she prepares to graduate, the case is reopened by a detective (Benjamin Bratt) who is haunted by a traffic fatality caused by his alcoholism.

Recovering and returning to work from a leave of absence, he finds himself drawn to Katie, who is shocked to see her missing beau suddenly back on campus. “I read this and thought, ‘I loved that world of college students,'” she said. “Being in your early 20s is an exciting, scary, wonderful, crazy time and I liked the character of Katie Burke. She’s complicated, is someone that all of the guys want to ask out and she’s smart and popular. You also see she’s human with problems and is scared and lonely and heartbroken like all of us who is an all-achiever and a Type-A personality yet she’s flawed like everyone. She doesn’t realize she is like everyone and it’s OK and she can show that. That’s exciting to play: someone who goes through so many emotions,” explains Holmes.

She also concedes that it was important for her to find a character to play who was different from Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek. “I’ve always looked for parts that were different from her, parts that would be very challenging, and this was a very challenging role to play, “she adds. Describing the scenario her character goes through, as “a complicated situation and she was a complicated character.” Despite the success of her series, Holmes “feels blessed that I’ve been able to do many different projects that were different from Dawson’s Creek.” She says the added challenge of this latest character was the idea of playing someone “who is under so much stress. You meet her and she’s at a point in her life where she has to decide what she wants to do, get that job, finish school and grow up, all in one movie, so she was going through a lot of emotional trauma, which as an actress, was challenging to portray.”

Holmes says it wasn’t difficult to identify with this young woman. “Everybody can relate to the kinds of pressure she was under in this movie. I tried very hard to understand her more than relate to her, because she’s an extreme personality who can’t really deal with things in her life, and I think at times a lot of people have difficulty dealing with certain situations, but she’s someone who is just on a whole different level. So what was challenging for me was trying to figure out where that comes from and find ways within myself that I could understand.”

Born Kate Noelle Holmes on December 18, 1978 in Ohio, Holmes grew up as part of a close-knit family in Toledo and first acted in high-school productions. She wanted to act, she recalls, “Because I just like playing different people and dressing up.” Participation in a national model and talent convention landed her a trip to Los Angeles when she was 16, and it was there that Holmes auditioned for a role in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm. The film, which was released in 1997, won critical acclaim, and Holmes’ role as the object of Tobey Maguire’s affections caught the attention of Kevin Williamson. Williamson, known for his screenplays for such movies as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, was casting roles for his new TV series, Dawson’s Creek. Holmes was asked to audition, and did so via videotape.

She won the part of Joey Potter, and the series, which premiered in January of 1998, met with a positive reception from both critics and television viewers. Soon the series’ young stars were in hot demand, with Holmes in particular receiving attention for her work in the series. As she looks back at the show, she recalls its first year and what it meant to a group of then young unknowns. “What was amazing about that first season and what people loved about it, it captured four people (stars Van Der Beek, Holmes, Michelle Williams and Joshua Jackson) and it was true, in a sense. I particularly loved the first and second seasons; there was so much possibility and we had no idea (what was going to happen) and were having the best time. (I look back) and I see four people having an exciting time and the second season was, ‘They’ve no idea what to do with their lives and got excited.’ ‘Then what?’ ;Then we all got old,’ Holmes said.

For the now grown up Holmes, there is life after Dawson’s Creek, insisting that she will continue to look for movies, and avoid another TV series for the moment. “I think I want to pursue a movie career and maybe even pursue some theatre.” But never say never is her motto. “Obviously if there’s a really great show that comes along, I’ll try out for that too and keep my options open for sure.”