USA TODAY - There were moments while filming Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters that Leven Rambin felt kind of bad verbally beating up on her co-star Logan Lerman, who plays the film's demigod title character.
But Rambin's character, Clarisse, is a demigod in her own right and the daughter of the Greek god of war, Ares. So she can be, well, a little aggressive.
"I was really degrading Percy to his face in one scene, telling him he's completely incompetent," she says. "Finally I stopped and said, 'Sorry, Logan, that I am being so mean.' And he was like, 'No, man, it's great. Punch me in the face if you want to. Whatever it takes.' So I didn't hold back."
The unbarred Rambin put some serious mean into the Percy Jackson franchise, whose second film installment from the hit book series opens Wednesday. It's an in-your-face screen personality the 23-year-old actress is starting to perfect after playing the role of the beautiful but nasty District One Tribute Glimmer in The Hunger Games.
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Director Thor Freudenthal, who admired Rambin's work in The Hunger Games, became an even bigger fan when he saw the "verbal ass-kicking" the actress did in her Percy Jackson audition.
"It was like, this girl can work. It was a very quick decision," he says. "She has to play a bully. But at the same time, she has to be likable. Plenty of people can be mean, but what makes Leven special is she entertains you."
Rambin is loving the aggressive roles she is taking, even if being cast in The Hunger Games came as a surprise to her.
"Nobody had ever asked me to be strong, mean, intimidating, powerful and a killer," she says. "Until you push yourself to that, you just never know you can do it. And more importantly, people believed me. It unearthed something in me."
Rambin learned a new hand-to-hand fighting technique and insists she didn't have "a single carb for three months" as she trained for the physically demanding Glimmer role. She lost 15 pounds, became a fighting machine and died an inglorious screen death, attacked by killer, genetically modified wasps while sleeping. ("Such a stupid way to die. I'd like to ask Glimmer what she was thinking being so vulnerable.")
Her role in Percy Jackson was less physical and far more emotionally tough. But Rambin, who laughs over lunch that she's wearing a Gentle Fawn brand dress (which " is so not me"), concedes that she loved letting go.
In truth, there was always something of a personality struggle going on-screen, ever since Rambin started professional acting at 13, when she moved with her mother from Houston to take a job on All My Children. She played look-alike half sisters on the soap - one nice, one not so nice.
"Oh, my God, that's scary. It's like this is the theme of my career," she says. "But that character (Ava) was right on the money. She was very sarcastic with no morals, no loyalty. She was so ruthless. She and I had the same get-out-of-my-way-or-I'll-steamroll-you attitude."
Even playing a recurring and seemingly bipolar angel on Disney's The Wizards of Waverly Place, she enjoyed her walks on the dark side.
"The good angel was really hard for me. The bad angel was far more up my alley," she says. "That might say something about me. I guess I'm kind of a bitch, but I'm a nice one. I'll tell it to you straight. I'm not one of those girls who is all soft-spoken."
Which is fine, since there's plenty of work in the tough-woman department. Leven's Clarisse character continues in the Percy book series, should there be another film installment down the road ("I'd jump on that," she says). And she has a full docket of upcoming projects, including the drama Seven Minutes, in which she plays a pregnant woman who has to fight her way out of a kidnapping situation.
"I totally kick some ass as a pregnant lady. It combines all of my specialties into one awesome character," Rambin says. "There's no way I'm going to be one of those pregnant ladies that's a victim."
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