Somerhalder's looks get him a big part in a lousy film

Don't hate him because he's beautiful.

Ian Somerhalder, 23, may once have been a fashion model (his mug appeared in Calvin Klein, Versace and Guess catalogs) but now he's taking on projects with a little more depth.

'I want to be involved in work that stands out for its content,' says the Los Angeles resident.

So in 2000 he turned to acting, starring in the short-lived television show 'Young Americans.' A supporting role in the Kevin Kline film 'Life as a House' followed.

Somerhalder's latest film, 'The Rules of Attraction,' opens today. The film gives the young actor his biggest screen role to date. Based on the 1987 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, 'The Rules of Attraction' satirizes New England college life in the decadent '80s. Here, at fictional Camden College, students never crack a book, turning instead to cocaine, booze and sex.

Viewed through the lens of writer-director Roger Avary Ñ who co-wrote 'Pulp Fiction' with Quentin Tarantino Ñ this coed pleasure dome is riddled with cracks. The drug deals all turn violent, and date rape is commonplace.

'I hope 'The Rules of Attraction' will be the end of the teen genre,' Somerhalder says, referring to the film's depiction of the ugly side of college life. 'And that it will raise the bar for how late-teen-to-college life is portrayed.'

Though he admires mid-'80s films like 'The Breakfast Club' and 'Pretty in Pink' for their realistic depiction of teen angst, Somerhalder believes that films like 'American Pie' cash in on shock value.

Unfortunately, 'The Rules of Attraction' falls into the same trap. Avary places more emphasis on trick photography and gratuitous violence than character development. He views his rich, spoiled characters with such hostility that it's impossible to feel empathy for anyone.

The actors are not at fault. Somerhalder and his co-stars' fine acting make it somewhat easier to stomach the film's mean tone.

Somerhalder plays Paul, a wealthy bisexual who lusts after Sean, a womanizer played with chilly arrogance by James Van Der Beek. Supporting players include Eric Stoltz as a pot-smoking philosophy professor and Faye Dunaway as Paul's alcoholic, pill-popping mother.

Somerhalder will co-star with Dunaway in an upcoming independent feature called 'Colored Eggs.' He's worked with the notoriously temperamental screen diva on two projects and says, 'I learned a whole hell of a lot from her.

'There are lots of paths and distractions in this industry,' he says. 'She's taught me that it's all about the end product, not the distractions.'

Unlike his hedonistic character in 'The Rules of Attraction,' Somerhalder is a homebody. 'I plant flowers and hang out with my two dogs,' he says. 'I also go to my beach house in Malibu. These are my ways to be normal.'

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