Talking with Elijah Wood -- The star of ''Huckleberry Finn'' on pretending to smoke and why he's not like Huck

Precocious, adaptable Huckleberry Finn would probably describe himself in the same words as Elijah Wood, Hollywood’s latest Huck: ”I’m a regular boy.”

Hardly — like Huck, this 12-year-old has found himself in some pretty adult business at an early age. The wide-eyed native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has made seven films in four years, with the likes of Barry Levinson (he played a younger version of the director in the semiautobiographical Avalon), Richard Donner (last year’s Radio Flyer), Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (1991’s Paradise), and Mel Gibson (Forever Young).

Though acting the part of an energetic and independent-minded Midwestern boy came naturally to Wood, playing the part of Huck did require some preparation: He read Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But that wasn’t quite enough to ready him for one scene, in which Wood had to pretend to smoke a pipe. ”It was some kind of herb. They didn’t let me inhale,” he explains. ”I just put it in my mouth and kind of blew out the smoke. It was fun, but kind of gross.”

Wood, who currently lives in Los Angeles with his parents, his 18-year-old brother, Zack, his 9-year-old sister, Hannah, and three bearded collies, admires his character’s self-reliance: ”Huck had a lot of heart; he tried to do the right thing. He was a real good thinker, too, because when he had conclusions, he thought them out himself.” But, says Wood, ”I don’t think I’m like him. I don’t lie to get out of trouble. I don’t do that kind of stuff. He didn’t really have a father. His father was, like, an alcoholic and beat him a lot. And his mother died, too, so he was kind of on his own.”

Currently filming the thriller The Good Son, in which he plays an orphan who goes to live with relatives (including a menacing cousin, played by Macaulay Culkin), Wood will next move on to star in Rob Reiner’s upcoming comedy North, about a child genius who goes on a well-publicized hunt for some new parents.

”I’m kind of a monkey,” he jokes. ”I like to jump around. I can’t sit down. I have to keep moving. I like moving and running around and having fun.” Just like a certain young literary character we know.