"Let's see," she says, reciting just a few of the names that continue to appear under her picture. "'Kooky, quirky, bad girl...' In print, they always lose your humor." She exhales. "I could give a shit about my quote-unquote troublesome past. Who are these subhuman robots who go through so much trouble making things up? It's a conspiracy."

But the conspiracy theorists may just be warming up: Despite her unaffected, Doris Day trappings, Lewis now includes "Scientologist" on her résumé. She'd come to the church's Narconon rehabilitation program in 1996, where she turned to vitamins and counseling to battle what she calls a "short burnout." (She says she has been clean ever since.) "I don't like to say what drug I was doing because it only sensationalizes it," she adds.

It certainly seems to have worked. "Scientology changed her life," says Lewis's father, Geoffrey, a character actor best known as the sunburned sidekick to Clint Eastwood in a half-dozen pictures, and a longtime Scientologist himself. "But she always goes to the places where no one has been. Which is a good metaphor, I suppose, for her acting." Giovanni Ribisi, a longtime friend who played a mentally challenged man opposite a mentally challenged Lewis in The Other Sister, adds, "It's given her so much strength, and I don't see any other actress her age who has her acumen and her prowess." Ribisi, it should be mentioned, is also a Scientologist.

Lewis is well aware that her church is a source of concern to some. She says she wants to "dispel, debunk, and demystify" any prejudice toward the celebrity-friendly institution. "All the work I've done in Scientology has made me more of an individual," she says. "God, it's revitalized everything good in me! All these weird judgments you hear come from people who know nothing at all about it." She gives me two of founder L. Ron Hubbard's monographs: Freedom Fighter: Articles and Essays and Rehabilitating a Drugged Society. "That one is awesome!" she exclaims.

Concerned that the press may now begin characterizing her as a missionary, Lewis is happy to shift gears and engage in a bit of California cattiness. She concedes that L.A.'s boob-job fixation unsettles her. "I like to change the shape of my body sometimes using different bras and stuff," she says, "but I would never get a boob job. Those big-titted girls by the hotel poolsides? You just want to spit-shine them."

The mention of bodily fluids seems to steer our conversation back to Lewis's famous thumb scene, a much-covered subject she'd prefer to see gloved. In the interest of moving on, I tell her that my editor asked me to see if she would, à la Cape Fear, let me stick my finger in her mouth.

After thinking for a moment, she responds: "Tell him I want to put my finger in his mouth!"