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Drop dead garrulous 

Brittany Murphy gushes about Barrymore, Burns and playing the basket case

So much for that ever-important local angle. Sure enough, up-and-coming 24-year-old actress Brittany Murphy was born in Atlanta -- but dammit if she didn't actually grow up in New Jersey before moving to California to embark on her acting career.

"Literally, we just happened to be passing through town when my mother had me," Murphy offers with a faintly apologetic smile during a recent interview, as though she genuinely wished she could give a writer something more to go on. "Georgia Baptist Hospital," she adds nervously, as if waiting for that spattering of applause people get when they mention a city on "The Tonight Show."

"Yeah," she says, applying another few dabs of handy Dr. Pepper-brand chapstick, "I've always wanted to go back to Atlanta."

Can she gush! Just listen to Murphy yak about Drew Barrymore, with whom she co-stars in director Penny Marshall's bittersweet coming-of-feminism movie Riding in Cars With Boys (opening Oct. 19):

"It's easy to play the loyal and trust- worthy best friend when it's Drew you're working with."

"Drew's a light. She's love."

"My sole purpose was to be there for Drew, to be her Touchstone."

"We met and our energies collided and exploded and complemented each other and hugged."

"I'm just so grateful for having met Drew in my lifetime."

"I have such a wealth of respect for her in so many different ways, there isn't enough time to mention it."

After cutting her teeth on TV, Murphy started landing increasingly prominent big-screen parts in sundry chick flicks like Clueless (as a peripheral member of Alicia Silverstone's clique), Drop Dead Gorgeous (as one of Kirsten Dunst's beauty-pageant competitors) and Girl, Interrupted (truly coming into her own as the Daddy's girl driven to suicide by Angelina Jolie).

Last month, she played the pivotal role of Michael Douglas' mental patient in the thriller Don't Say a Word. This month, it's Riding in Cars With Boys. Next month, she co-stars in the ensemble of writer/director Edward Burns' romantic comedy Sidewalks of New York.

You might be surprised to hear Murphy confess it "wasn't that hard" playing the basket case in Don't Say a Word.

"In an odd sense, a role like that is a lot more freeing for me and comes more easily to me, because it's a character without any boundaries, so you can sort of do whatever you want. It's a constant emotional outlet, and I'm a really emotional person," she says.

Otherwise, after listening to her carry on so about Barrymore, it's anything but surprising what a "pure delight" she had working with "Eddie" (Burns), or what a "genius" she thinks Boys director Marshall is. Is this rather old-fashioned "woman's story" somehow better served by a woman director?

"I don't know about any of that," Murphy replies dismissively. "All I know is that Penny's an extraordinary director, period, for a whole lot of reasons that aren't gender-specific. I could go on and on about her."

No doubt, but try to get Murphy to open up a little about herself, about how she's coping with her growing celebrity, and she turns all modest. Tell her this seems like her "time" -- what with so many movies hitting the screens at once -- and she giggles awkwardly. "Oh, I don't know if it's mine. I wouldn't say that, but all of this is lovely and it's definitely something to celebrate," she says. "You know, a friend of mine just had a baby. Another friend just had a birthday. I just want to celebrate every possible thing there is to celebrate on this planet, you know?"

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