Selma Blair has a yippy little one-eyed dog she named Wink, which gives you an idea of her sense of humor. When strangers stop and ask how Wink lost her eye, Blair likes to make up stories just to mess with their heads. On this particular afternoon a man in a striped shirt puts the question to her outside a West Hollywood café, and Blair makes a sad face. "Actually," she tells him, "Lou Reed put it out with a cigarette." (Man, shocked: "Oh, my God, I hate him." Blair, shrugging: "I know, it was an accident, but it's still bad.") When a middle-aged woman coochie-coos Wink and asks, "Is she a puppy?" Blair answers flatly, "No, she's probably going to die soon, in fact." But she isn't a liar, really. She just likes to keep things interesting.

Blair, who's 31 and petite with a wiry gymnast's body, is kind of manic at the moment, having just polished off a meringue and a large Diet Coke. Caffeine and sugar do this to her, she says, get her pinballing from one sarcastic joke or neurotic, Ally McBeal-y riff to another, disabling whatever inhibition she may possess. Careerwise, too, she tends to ricochet in unpredictable directions, once playing an innocent virgin who gets a lesson in French kissing from Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions, then an icy battle-ax in Legally Blonde, and then an emotionally fragile student who does unspeakably nasty things with her literature professor in Todd Solondz's controversial Storytelling. A less adventurous, America's-sweetheart-type résumé might have made her a bigger star. (Even Solondz, who's a major Blair booster, calls some of her movies "regrettable.") But safe isn't what Blair is about. Safe is for Barbies.

Now comes Hellboy, a big-budget adaptation of a cult comic book about a demon turned do-gooder and the band of freaks who help him destroy evil. Blair plays the doomy heroine Liz Sherman, who has pyrotechnic powers she can't fully control. It's a welcome chance for Blair to get her freak on, which is really what she does best. "She's tragically flawed," Blair says of her character. "When she was young, she killed her family by accident—as you do when you're young. That's a lot to bear. She was fucked. It really gets me."

A guy with a shaved head appears from around the corner, gives Blair a kiss with a generous helping of tongue, tells her "I'm a huge fan of your work," and walks off. Blair smiles coyly. "See how friendly I am with my fans?" she says. The guy is her fiancé, actor Ahmet Zappa. The two plan to get married later this year, but right now she's temporarily shacked up with a friend of Zappa's while her apartment is being renovated. "I got a new bed today: a Dux," Blair says. "Ahmet has a Tempur-Pedic." She gasps in mock horror. "Look at me, going on about my private life. Why? Why? This is private!"