WHY SHE'S ON OUR RADAR: The 31-year-old seasoned thesp plays a newlywed whose interracial marriage inflames her nutty neighbor (Samuel L. Jackson) in the suburban thriller Lakeview Terrace.

HER SHTICK: Regal, self-possessed, and straight-A-smart, she makes concertos of second-fiddle roles opposite Oscar-winning costars like Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland and Jamie Foxx in Ray.

GIRL JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN: Washington says those who know her best characterize her as "driven, compassionate--and playful."

DADDY'S GIRL: She inherited her sense of humor from her pops. "He looks for the joy in life. He's very gregarious. My dad has never met a stranger."

QUEEN MUM: "Mom's the opposite," says Washington. "She's the epitome of grace--as a person, and as a woman of color. She's very cerebral. She taught me about walking with dignity in the world."

ALPHA DOG: Having split from fiancé David Moscow last year, Washington bunks in L.A. with her shih tzu--Yorkie mix. "She knows I'm talking about her," she says, as "Josephine Baker" crawls into her lap.

BRONX BABY: Washington attended tony Manhattan prep school Spence, yet remains faithful to her home 'hood: "Any musicologist will tell you hip-hop was born in the '70s in the Bronx. So was I. I appreciate having grown up there in the age of hip-hop as much as I appreciate having graduated from George Washington University with honors."

GRRRL POWER: "I sit on the board of V-Day, an organization that wants to end violence against women and girls. Our mission is to put ourselves out of business! Women are our most precious resource. We all come from a woman."

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