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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ryan Phillippe gained Hollywood fame and won fans with his piercing blue eyes and good looks in the 1990s, but the actor says he has never been interested in being just another pretty face in the movies.
So in recent years Phillippe, 33, has focused on gritty roles in films whose stories are rooted in real-life, such as Iraq war tale "Stop-Loss" which lands in theaters on Friday.
"Stop-Loss," written and directed by Kimberly Peirce, stars Phillippe as a soldier returning from war overseas and follows his recent dramatic turns in Clint Eastwood's World War II tale "Flags of Our Fathers" and best film Oscar winner "Crash," about race relations.
As he looks to the future, Phillippe said he wants to explore more quirky and offbeat roles.
"I'm looking now to go into a more character-based direction that is maybe not as straightforward as some of the stuff I've done recently," the actor told Reuters. "Right now I'm more interested in getting a little wild."
Peirce's first film, "Boys Don't Cry," about a transgendered character, was a box office and critical hit for a low-budget film and garnered Hilary Swank a best actress Oscar.
In "Stop-Loss," Phillippe portrays Brandon King, an army sergeant who comes home to a welcoming parade only to find himself stop-lossed -- ordered to return to duty even after his volunteer contract ended.
His dilemma raises numerous conflicts for Phillippe's character and his fellow soldiers, played by Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as the women they come home to.
Phillippe said he does not see the movie as about the war so much as about how the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have impacted U.S. men and women at home.
Last year several war movies such as "In the Valley of Elah" flopped at box offices, and while he acknowledged the failures of those films to attract audiences, Phillippe said "Stop-Loss" has an edgy and youthful energy.
"We're different in as much it's about the soldier and the soldier's perspective," Phillippe said. "Ours doesn't get into political territory. Ours doesn't preach."
Moreover, "Stop-Loss" has a female's perspective coming from the mind and eye of writer-director Peirce, and Phillippe said Hollywood needs to nurture more women storytellers.
"I know how difficult it can be for women, sometimes, in this industry," he said.
Indeed Phillippe's ex-wife Reese Witherspoon has risen to the top of Hollywood's A-list but only recently was able to produce her own film, "Penelope," about a young woman who is outcast from society due to her disfigured nose.
Though his and Witherspoon's divorce falls under "gossipy, personal stuff" that Phillippe won't discuss, he will talk about the paparazzi who track his, Witherspoon's and their two children's daily moves, snapping pictures in private moments.
"You're a sitting duck and a target they can rely on at any point in time because you're in a car and you're easily followed," Phillippe said. "Every day of my life, as I leave my neighborhood, someone is following me."
A reported off-screen romance between he and "Stop-Loss" co-star Abbie Cornish has fueled speculation about his love life, but Phillippe disregards all the stories.
"I try to not to spend too much time worrying about what people think about me or I'd end up in a cave," he said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman