Margarita Levieva didn’t follow the typical path of a Hollywood actress, but now that she’s become one, she has a wealth of life experience to draw from.

Not only was the Russian-born actress once one of the top rhythmic gymnasts in New York, but she also majored in economics at NYU, while supporting herself (and her studies) with a job as a fashion buyer.

This story first appeared in the April 2, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Starting Friday, she appears in “Adventureland,” a comedy from “Superbad” director Greg Mottola. Oh, and she’s currently making her Broadway debut alongside Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons in “Impressionism.”

Here, Levieva, 29, explains how it all happened.

DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION: Levieva took up rhythmic gymnastics — that oft-parodied dance-gymnastics hybrid involving ribbons, hoops and various other props — at age 3 while living in Communist Russia. “My mother walked me into the [gymnastics] school and the [teachers] did some little tests,” she recalls. “They were touching my cheeks and stomach and they said, ‘She’s got a tendency for chubbiness.’” Despite this, Levieva was accepted, and over the years became increasingly devoted to the sport. “[The government] paid for you to practice, so basically they owned you,” she says. “By the time I was 9 years old I was practicing seven days a week, all year round.”

AN AMERICAN TALE: When Levieva was 10 years old, her parents divorced; the following year, her mother moved Margarita and her twin brother from St. Petersburg, Russia to Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood. “I was always the serious kid,” Levieva says of her teens. “I’m Russian Jewish. And I had to grow up really quickly.” Though she was accepted into New York’s famed Laguardia High School to study dance, she attended public high school in Secaucus, N.J., instead. “My mom wouldn’t let me go [to Laguardia]. It became a big talk about, ‘We’re immigrants and we have to do something real with our lives.’”

BUYING TIME: Levieva paid her way through NYU by working full-time as a buyer for Assets London, the now-defunct chain of high fashion boutiques, which once had three New York locations. “I would schedule showroom appointments at times when I didn’t have class,” says Levieva, who at 17 was a regular in the sales offices of Dolce & Gabbana and Barbara Bui. “The first thing [the sales teams] would say was, ‘Is your dad coming? Or your boss?’ I would tell them, ‘No, it’s just me,’ and then they’d say, “Oh, do you want a glass of Champagne?’”

SUPER BAD GIRL: Set in the world of corn dogs and Tilt-A-Whirls, “Adventureland” tells the story of young love between nebbish James (Jesse Eisenberg) and brooding but irresistible Em (Kristen Stewart), both summer employees at an amusement park circa the Reagan era. Levieva plays Lisa P, the gum-smacking, Lycra- and leopard print-loving staff hottie. It’s a role for which Levieva says she almost didn’t audition. “I’m not an insecure person, per se, but I just never saw myself as the girl who walks into a place and everybody goes, ‘Wow.’” And while director Greg Mottola initially saw “absolutely nothing” of Lisa P in Levieva, he says, “I just sensed that Margarita had the talent and humor to completely transform herself…And she brought so much more to it than I ever could’ve imagined.”

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