Steve Granitz
April 21, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

In ”Idle Hands,” Vivica A. Fox plays Debi, a ferocious evil-spirit tracker who makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer look like a cream puff. But her character’s ability to kick butt doesn’t allow Fox to steal the show. Even though she’s one of the better known names in the film, her role falls into the blink-and-you’ll-miss-her category. ”The movie got a little long, and some scenes just didn’t make it,” says Fox. ”My role ended up being a cameo more than anything else.”

So why did Fox take a part playing second fiddle to newcomers like Devon Sawa and Jessica Alba? ”I really loved that Debi doesn’t get killed,” explains Fox, who was more than happy to trample a long-standing horror-movie cliche. ”Back in the days when horror movies were considered B movies, black people always got killed in the first five minutes. So that was the first question I asked: ‘Do I get killed? No? Okay.”’ Though some African-American actresses have survived the cut in more recent films (such as Brandy in ”I Still Know What You Did Last Summer”), even Kevin Williamson hasn’t completely escaped the stereotype. He killed off Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett in the opening scene of ”Scream 2,” and Elise Neal meets an equally grisly fate somewhat later in the film.

Fox, on the other hand, not only got to live — but she had the chance to escape other stereotypes through her character’s sexy dalliance with Jack Noseworthy. ”That’s totally rare,” says Fox of the interracial romance. ”I don’t get interracial stories, and I liked the fact that this one had nothing to do with us being black or white. We were just attracted to each other.”

Fox, who believes the opportunities for African-Americans to play nuanced characters is growing, hopes that this film marks a transition in her own career. ”Originally this character wasn’t written ‘black,”’ says Fox. ”I’m glad that now I’ve made a crossover where, when they’re looking for a fun, exciting actress, period, they look at me. Race isn’t an issue.”

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