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Leslie Bibb heats up big and small screens

Leslie Bibb heats up big and small screens–We talk to the star of ”Popular” and ”The Skulls”

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Teenage drama watchers Rule No. 1: All cheekbone-blessed, Chiclet-toothed cheerleadery types are to be hated. Exception to Rule No. 1: Leslie Bibb, 26, who, despite embodying all the above attributes as Brooke McQueen on The WB’s Popular, somehow still inspires a fan base. ”The other day, I was walking my dog, and I hear these girls screaming ‘Brooke McQueen‘ from their car,” says Bibb. ”People always say they don’t want to like her, but they do.”

Bibb has proven irresistible since her TV debut at age 16, when she won an Oprah Winfrey Show model-search contest. At 18, she took a swipe at the University of Virginia, but left after a semester for New York City drama classes. A series of guest spots (Home Improvement, Just Shoot Me) led to Popular, her first regular TV gig, which happens to be The WB’s top-rated new show among teen girls.

But such success hasn’t fazed Bibb. ”You find a lot of people who are egomaniacs,” she says of the biz. ”It’s crap, it’s all crap. And if you don’t step away from it, it’ll start to swallow you up. You’re not in this business to have people blow smoke up your a–, you’re in it to act.” Or help others act: Part of Bibb’s bid for levelheadedness includes a stint with The Unusual Suspects, an L.A.-based charity group that helps juvenile offenders write and perform their own plays. ”You have to do that,” she says of her volunteerism. ”Otherwise, you’re like me me me, and it’s like boring boring boring.”

Bibb also fended off tedium by starring opposite fellow WB-er Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek) in the March 31 release The Skulls. It’s a thriller about an Ivy League secret society that crew champ Jackson joins, then tries to leave when he uncovers its disturbing dues. Bibb — who gets to kick evil-privileged-white-guy butt as Jackson’s pal — suffered through some rowing lessons with her costar. ”Nothing will bond you faster than sweating, screaming, and blistering your hands in the scorching hot sun of Toronto,” says Jackson. Confirms Bibb: ”We clicked, which is apparent in the movie. We get each other.”

Good thing, because it looks like they’ll both be back at The WB next year. Until then, Bibb continues to focus on combating ennui: ”I just went skydiving this past Sunday,” she says. ”I thought, This is what my life is like. You’ve just got to have balls, you’ve got to jump. It’s been an awesome, incredible time.” Sounds like it’s good to be McQueen.