One afternoon last summer, as a black storm unexpectedly blows in and deluges a Manhattan bistro's outdoor dining area, Katie Holmes finds herself—with a plate of calamari in hand—politely waiting to be resettled inside with the other refugees. As stemware and hairdos are restored to their upright positions, she's besieged by a thin woman whose pre-teen daughter apparently mainlines old Dawson's Creek episodes: "Can I have your autograph? I hate to disturb you. Are you going to Columbia? What are you working on?" Holmes retreats deep into non-encouraging-but-still-exceedingly-sweet mode until the assault abates.

"When I first became famous, it kind of freaked me out," says Holmes. "I was young and it didn't feel good, so my dad just told me, 'If you stop living your life and start hiding from it all, then people have power over you. So just live your life, don't worry about it, enjoy it.'"

That's the Katie Holmes we fantasize about having as our cute, tomboyish cousin. A fancy-free do-gooder who looks angelic in a floral summer dress but still has a bit of the hellcat in her: "Do you think that bread is fresh?"she asks. "Or do you think you could play kickball with it?" It's the Katie who still gets cast in slightly Dawson's-ish roles like the naïve presidential offspring—watch her fall in love! See her discover the joys of a drunken bar-top dance!—she plays in this month's First Daughter. The Katie who's so darn big-hearted she can't quite get herself to hire an assistant to do all her drudge work. "I can't imagine doing my own stuff and someone else's,"says Holmes. "I would cry. I'd be so nervous about getting yelled at."

But there's also that other Katie. The one who's growing up to be the kind of actress we have NC-17 fantasies about. The one who came off as Goth's gift in Pieces of April and who nabbed a role as sultry Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes in the upcoming caped-crusader sequel Batman Begins. Even in First Daughter there are glimpses of the other Katie. In one scene—during a state-affair ballroom dance that serves as the first daughter's coming-out party—the camera seems hypnotized by Holmes' immensely kissable neck. "It's sort of a cliché, but I don't think there are many actresses who can pull off the earthiness and the elegance," says Forrest Whitaker, the movie's director.