BURBANK, Calif. — The real-life love between Brittany Murphy and her "Just Married" co-star Ashton Kutcher began with a squabble.
The clash evolved into a crush between Murphy, who played Eminem's girlfriend in "8 Mile," and Kutcher, best known as blockheaded Kelso on the Fox sitcom "That '70s Show."
"We got into an argument during the first rehearsal and I've never argued with anyone in rehearsal before in my whole life," Murphy gushed during an interview at NBC studios after an appearance on "The Tonight Show."
Wearing jeans, stiletto heels, and a black blazer over a white tank-top, Murphy laughs loud and easily, dismissing the long-ago disagreement as "just a bicker. I don't even remember why, it was that silly."
Kutcher, interviewed later, tells it like this: "We had this big blowout fight. She hated me. I hated her. It was a straight-up argument. But we both apologized to each other later."
Murphy said sharing most of the movie as a honeymooning couple who can't stop arguing helped them become "buddies" — but nothing more, at first.
"I had a broken heart when we first met and he was in a very serious relationship with a lovely young woman, but we just clicked and had a great time filming," the 25-year-old actress said. "Then I went away to do a film, he went away to do a film and it was about (two months ago) when we looked at each other and thought, 'OK, this is something …"'
Since then, the couple has appeared together in a tangolike dance sequence last month at VH1's "Big in 2002 Awards" and recently co-hosted MTV's New Year's Eve "Pajama Party" from Times Square.
Murphy said she isn't worried about the public attention affecting their romance.
"Just because people are paying more attention, I don't think you should change your behavior because THAT perhaps could put a larger strain on the relationship," she said.
The petite blond actress, known for her pouty lips, squeaky-scratchy voice and wide eyes sometimes ringed by dark circles, has seen her popularity soar since the blockbuster debut of "8 Mile."
"That changed a lot," she said. "That was the difference between people knowing my first and last name as opposed to not."
Murphy has completed work on two other films, playing a drug-addicted stripper in "Spun" and a kindly nanny in "Molly Gunn," and hopes her budding popularity will help jump-start a few personal projects, such as a Janis Joplin biopic she was hired to star in before the project fell apart over music rights.
Meanwhile, she plans to take time off from film work to develop a singing career — although she won't say what kind of music. "It'll be a surprise," she said.
Despite rumors she and Eminem dated while filming "8 Mile," she has described him as a close friend whose privacy she tries to respect. "During our first day of hair and makeup for a screen test in Detroit, there was a book about him on the counter and I opened it up and then closed it and decided not to read it," she said. "I realized, 'OK, if there is anything in his life he wants to tell me, he'll tell me as I get to know him."'
"Just Married" gives Murphy a chance to play a lighter role, akin to her breakthrough performance as the makeover project in "Clueless" and her vocal work as quavery-voiced cousin Luanne Platter in the Fox cartoon sitcom "King of the Hill."
In recent years, she has co-starred as a suicidal woman obsessed with cooked chicken in "Girl, Interrupted," and played a wannabe model eager to escape the streets of Detroit in "8 Mile," while the thriller "Don't Say a Word" featured her as a secretive, near-catatonic abuse victim.
"I was never trained in acting, never trained in singing, only dance," she said, adding that most of her performances are instinctive. "The characters basically take over me and use my emotions where they need to, if that makes any sense."
Born in Atlanta, Murphy was raised there for two years by her single mother before they moved to Edison, N.J., to live closer to family. Sharon Murphy worked as a saleswoman to support her daughter and encouraged her fascination with performing.
As a youngster, Murphy said she fantasized about making movies with her dolls or being a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." After appearing in school and local theater productions, she began to audition for commercials.
Ads for candy, pizza restaurants and board games led her to move to Los Angeles, where she played small roles on short-lived sitcoms before her breakthrough in 1995's "Clueless."
Murphy credits her mother's support for her career success.
"When I asked my mom to move to California, she sold everything and moved out here for me," Murphy said. "I was really grateful to have grown up in an environment that was conducive to creating and didn't stifle any of that. She always believed in me."
— Arizona Daily Sun