Tina Majorino listens,

responds softly and giggles.

Life is fun for the actress riding her fame from “Napoleon Dynamite.” She speaks openly about her decision to leave acting for five years and what prompted her to return. A popular child actress, Majorino wanted to grow up away from show business.

She needed to find out who she was.

When Majorino came back five years later, she did so as a confident, mature adult. Whether or not Majorino ever acted again, she knew she could be happy.

“I definitely was comfortable enough with myself that it wasn’t going to be the end all, be all if I tried and couldn’t make it back,” she said.

Now 21, Majorino joined the cast of “Veronica Mars” full-time in the show’s third season. The previous two seasons Majorino made guest appearances as Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie, a computer savvy friend of the main character Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell).

Mars is a teenage private eye in the seaside town of Neptune, where the people in control try to keep their dirty secrets hidden from the public eye. Mars’ father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), is the

former Neptune sheriff and now operates a private detective agency with his daughter’s help.

The new season premiered Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the new CW network.

Majorino tries to play characters different from herself but nonetheless finds several similarities between her and Mac.

“We’re both really into technology,” Majorino said, laughing. “I’m kind of geeky like that. I like computers and all of the gadgets and that kind of stuff.”

Majorino met series creator Rob Thomas when she was just 13. She had read his novels and needed to speak to him for a book report. He worked in his hometown of Austin, Texas and put his e-mail address on his first couple books.

They exchanged e-mails and eventually met for lunch when she was 14. They promised to work together someday. Following “Napoleon Dynamite,” Thomas wrote Majorino into “Veronica Mars” as Mac.

Majorino is balancing her time between “Veronica Mars” and a second show on HBO called “Big Love.”

In its second season, “Big Love” starring Bill Paxton examines the taboo subject of polygamy. Paxton’s character, Bill Henrickson, is a modern day Utah polygamist who resides in Salt Lake City with his three wives and seven children. He owns a growing chain of home improvement stores and struggles to balance his emotional and financial responsibilities.

Majorino plays Heather and describes her as a “very goodie-two shoes Mormon girl.”

Doing both shows have left little time for Majorino to tackle new movie roles.

“I always get asked if I’ve made a conscious choice to just now do television and that’s definitely not the case,” Majorino said. “It’s just that with these roles that I’ve been able to play, they’ve just appealed to me a lot.”

When Majorino looks at new scripts, she wants roles that help her improve as an actress and are worth the time she’d need to be away from her family.

“I want to pick projects that will allow me to experience things that I would never experience if I weren’t an actor,” she said.

When Majorino was young her parents sheltered her from the sometimes harsh nature of show business. Now as an adult, she finds herself understanding the industry better. Movie roles come and go and that’s OK, she said.

“I always used to tell myself when I was a kid – there is something better,” Majorino said. “If you don’t get it, it’s not meant to be. There’s enough work for everybody. I don’t really think that I believed it as much as I do now, though.”

In her latest movie role, the musically inclined Majorino delved into “What We Do is Secret,” a biopic about Darby Crash, a member of the punk band, The Germs. Crash had a five year plan to become a legend, but after signing he committed suicide.

Majorino has portrayed real life characters in the past, but this time she’s playing Michelle Baer, who was a regular on the set. Now known as Michelle Baer Ghaffari, she is producer and co-writer of the script. The close contact between the two allowed Majorino to observe Ghaffari’s mannerisms and learn the little movements necessary to play her accurately.

The movie is listed as being “post-production” on the movie database Web site, IMDb.com.

Acting from a young age Majorino experienced success early, starting with an appearance on the television series “Camp Wilder.” The show parlayed Majorino into starring roles in “Corrina, Corrina,” “Andre” and “Waterworld.” She did three television movies, notably playing “Alice” in a star studded 1999 remake of “Alice in Wonderland.”

By then, Majorino was 13 and already experiencing the difficulties of middle school. Classmates teased her. They made fun of her. They beat her up. She was miserable.

“People never believe that either,” said Majorino, who has since done home school and distance education courses. “They’re like, well you were an actress, so people must have been way into that, and it’s the exact opposite. When you are that young and you have a good sense of self and have an idea of what you want to be doing at that young, they are not into it and will not have it at their school.”

Majorino’s parents instilled in her the idea that fame is fleeting and one should treasure the experiences and people they meet along the way. This strong moral base helped her leave acting and go through the sometimes awkward transition from childhood to adulthood away from the spotlight.

“I think … the best decision I ever made for myself was taking that time off to get to know myself so that if I ever did decide to come back, I could be strong enough and grounded enough to know what’s really important and what’s not,” Majorino said.

The five years off taught Majorino that she could be happy without acting. When she did return in “Napoleon Dynamite,” the then 18-year-old Majorino did so for a love of acting.

She also didn’t want to go too far from her family; her parents and brother live only five minutes away.

Her father, Bob, is a broker and owns several Prudential Realty offices in Ventura County in California. Majorino’s mother, Sarah, is a former professional skater.

Throughout Majorino’s acting career, Majorino has chosen movie roles with important life lessons. “When a Man Loves a Woman” allows viewers to witness the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. “Corrina, Corrina” shows Majorino as Molly Singer, a young girl growing up in a single parent household. Corrina Washington (Whoopi Goldberg) is a sassy housekeeper who helps Molly find happiness during a difficult time in her life. Molly’s father, Manny Singer (Ray Liotta), is an

atheist and Washington helps Molly cope through religion.

Molly captured an important scene when she walks in on Washington making the bed. Molly points to the left side of the bed and speaks the first words since her mother died when she tells Washington, “Corrina, this is where my mom sleeps.”

Washington smiles reassuringly, saying “You’re right, your mommy used to sleep here.”

“When’s she coming back?” Molly asks.

“You know Molly, she’s not coming home ’cause when you die the angels take you up

to heaven,”

“Well then I want to die too,” Molly says softly as she climbs into bed.

“Oh no, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to die. It’s too soon,” Washington assures her.

The ability to positively affect others contributed to her decision to return to acting.

“You have a lot of power,” Majorino said. “So therefore you use that power to do good, and I felt like I didn’t want to give up on that, and I really missed the craft. I missed acting. I missed the research – all of that.”

“Napoleon Dynamite” was one of the first scripts she read when she returned. The

understated sense of humor appealed to Majorino, whose character Deb is the eventual love interest of main character Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder).

The small production blossomed on the big scree

n and became a cult classic.

“Everyone thought it wasn’t going to go anywhere, and this is exactly the kind of turnout that you want for a film, especially when everybody was so passionate about it,” Majorino said. “I’m definitely one of those people that when you tell me I can’t do something I want to show you that I can.”

Following “Napoleon Dynamite,” Majorino received multiple offers to do more Deb type roles. She declined. There was a tendency, she says, to be typecast in that role.

“When I was younger and I was doing a lot of film, people used to say ‘I don’t even want to see Tina on this comedy because there’s no possible way that she can be funny,’ because I was doing a lot of drama,” Majorino said.

Outside interests Majorino, an English major in college, is trying to publish her first children’s book.

Majorino’s interest in reading and writing started early – she began creating scripts

at age 7. She read the Hardy Boys and

later read authors such as John Grisham

and John Sanford.

When writing, she draws from her own personal experiences growing up as a child actress and on other personal ties.

The Majorino family had a close friend

who passed away and left behind five young grandchildren. Before she died, she told

Majorino that she hoped her grandchildren

would remember who she was and worried they’d forget.

Her imagination sparked, Majorino created a book with life lessons the grandmother would have wanted them to know, but using animals and other subjects kids could relate to. Now, Majorino must find a publisher.

“It’s a really hard process and I was not aware of that and so, we’re still working on it. Eventually, hopefully somebody will pick it up,” she said.

Majorino penned the lyrics for the alternative band, “The AM Project.” Majorino is the lead singer and her brother Kevin plays the drums. When Majorino was younger, the pair went through the traditional sibling rivalry.

“When he was going through his whole teenage thing, he just like wanted nothing to do with me,” Majorino said, laughing. “But as we got older and the age gap became less and less of an issue then it was really fun for us to be in the band together. Spending that kind of time was really nice because we had something to talk about; we had something in

common, which always makes things easier.”

As time passed, Majorino spent more time at her brother’s house and one day he offered to let her lay down some tracks in his own studio. The band sprang from there and has recorded an EP, but is on hiatus as the bassist tends to a new baby and Majorino tackles her busy acting schedule.

Whatever Majorino chooses to do, whether it’s acting, surfing or teaching hip hop, she does it because it makes her happy.

“My parents have always told my brother and me both that regardless of what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to sweep the streets or be an actor or be a musician or work at a clothing store,” she said. “Whatever it was if it made us happy that’s what’s going to make them happy.”

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