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Victoria Justice grows up and leaps to the big screen

By Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service –

ORLANDO, Fla. — “I’m a big girl, now,” Eva Marie Saint famously purred to Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

“Yaaaas,” Grant drawled back. “And in all the right PLAY-sez.”

So it is with Victoria Justice, former child star, now a stunning young brunette trying to make her way in the big girl world.

“I’m 19,” she says. “So no curfews. I can do what I want!”

She laughs. What she wants, right now, is to do movies, to star in a hit. Justice, late of TV’s “Victorious,” is the latest in a legion of Disney/ Nickelodeon/ ABC Family teens to try to make the leap from the small screen to the big one.

She’s doing it by starring in two PG-13 teen romantic comedies in theaters at the same time. “Fun Size,” opening Friday, has her playing straight-woman and concerned sister to an escape-prone little brother who gets away from her babysitting eyes on Halloween, of all nights. And the indie comedy “The First Time” is about teens in pursuit of that elusive first sexual encounter. But first, the leads have to get over their infatuation for Mr. and Ms. Wrong. Justice plays the girl the guy SHOULDN’T get in that one.

For Justice, “PG-13 is like turning it up a notch, a step in the right direction for me. I’m just letting it happen naturally. But I know I have to be smart about the projects I get into. I was seeing a lot of scripts that were young and fluffy and super girlie and not the least bit cool. That’s not what I wanted to try. I wanted to find something edgier, that would appeal to guys and girls equally. These seem to do exactly that.”

A Hollywood, Fla., native, Justice and her family moved to Los Angeles to pursue that Hilary Duff/ Miley Cyrus model — a pop-singing, acting career that begins on kids’ TV. She co-starred in “Zoey 101,” headlined the recently canceled “Victorious,” and spent enough time on those sets to see Hollywood as a career.

“I think my audience, my fans, will be able to come with me as I make this journey,” she says. “I see ‘Fun Size’ as sort of ‘Adventures in Babysitting’-meets-‘Superbad.’ Both these movies are rated PG-13, and ‘Fun Size,’ in particular, is enough like ‘Victorious’ that those fans will really be able to enjoy it … And ‘The First Time’ is just as relatable, and super funny and very real. Characters take journeys in these movies, and grow up a little bit.”

Justice sees Natalie Portman, “who started really young, too, and then made great choices,” as a role model. But only the box office take will decide if she gets to live that part of her dream, with reviews of “The First Time” coming in mixed and Justice earning the label “emotionally synthetic” in Time Out/ New York’s review.

But Justice still has her second role model, Justin Timberlake. And her Plan B — a record deal at Sony.

“I’m going back into the studio at the end of the year and hopefully my single will be ready for release early next year,” she says. “As soon as we get the album done, I’ll be touring. I’m super passionate about the creative process in music. It’s really gratifying to make something cool out of nothing, from the ground up.”

She’s not ruled college out, but “You have to strike while the iron’s hot. My parents taught me ‘Knowledge is power.’ But I haven’t taken the traditional education route. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. You have to read, watch documentaries, get information that way.

“I might one day take college courses. I’m interested in psychology. But I’m super-busy right now, and I can’t see taking a break to just focus on school. Not right now. It’s just not realistic.”

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