LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes two of a kind beats a "Full House."
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen proved that by topping their childhood stint on that saccharine sitcom by starting a billion-dollar enterprise of direct-to-video movies, a little girl fashion line, and assorted books, dolls, trinkets and doodads.
Nearing their 18th birthdays, the two starlets are about to see whether their legions of fans are outgrowing them, or plan to follow them into adulthood.
"New York Minute" is the first feature film from the duo since 1995's "It Takes Two," when they were 9.
If it's a big hit, "New York Minute" could show Hollywood that the Olsen twins are ticket-selling powerhouses like fellow teen stars Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff - but a catastrophic flop could also relegate them to the uncool, forgotten-in-the-toybox status of Barney the purple dinosaur or the Teletubbies.
The girls, who have been famous since they were 9 months old, have an almost blase attitude about their fame, their future, their fortune and their wholesome image. They say they don't calculate how to appeal to fans.
"We wouldn't be successful if our fans didn't like what we were doing," said Ashley, who along with her sister is worth an estimated $150 million each.
"I think this movie, and also with what we've done in the past, like just doing videos or books - it was never going toward a goal or anything like that. It was just one more thing," said Mary-Kate, who sets herself apart from her blond sister with long, curly hair dyed dark.
Ashley, who's quieter and more classically refined than the Bohemian-lite, jangly jewelry-wearing Mary-Kate, credits their success to making movies that they'd like to watch, since their age was always the target demographic anyway.
"We've just kind of done what was comfortable for us in that time of our lives," she said. "It was those preteen problems, and girls could relate to that."
They recognized that "New York Minute" was a pivotal project for them - which is why they frontloaded the movie with comedians aimed at the young-adult crowd: Eugene Levy, Andy Richter and Darrell Hammond.
"('New York Minute') does get our face out there and shows us to other people, older audiences who probably don't go buy our videos or what we've done for the past couple years," Mary-Kate said.
For all their success, the Olsen twins still have a stigma to overcome. Although some lecherous male fans have made sport of counting down the days until they turn 18 (on June 13) Mary-Kate and Ashley are still regarded by many as the realm of goofy little kids.
Consider Angelina Gaspar, a 20-year-old from Visalia, Calif., who traveled two hours to Los Angeles on April 29 to see Mary-Kate and Ashley get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
"I get made fun of, but you know what - that's fine. Laugh all you want. At work, I'm the laughingstock of the store right now because I'm here. But you know what, when I come back I'm going to have pictures, I'm going to have an autograph, hopefully," said Gaspar, who wore a T-shirt featuring the Olsen sisters from about age 10.
"I've been a fan of them for as long as I can remember," added Gaspar, who prefers Mary-Kate because she's "more tomboyish." "A lot of people ask me why, but even though they are younger than me, I look up to them. They have achieved so much, and the possibilities are endless. They can do anything that they want to, and that has inspired me."
Gaspar said she plans to see "New York Minute" about 10 times in the theater.
Robert Thorne, the entertainment lawyer who founded the Olsen's Dualstar Entertainment company and helped create the "Mary-Kate and Ashley" brand of products, dismissed the notion that they have something left to prove.
"Whatever naysayers are out there exist for any celebrity," he said.
The publicity push for "New York Minute" has given them a sample of the gossip treatment that they have been relatively immune to for years because of their under-the-radar direct-to-video careers.
In Touch Weekly recently questioned whether the ultrapetite twins had eating disorders, and tabloids routinely feature them with their respective boyfriends (Ashley is dating 20-year-old Columbia University football star Matt Kaplan, while Mary-Kate is romantically linked to 21-year-old David Katzenberg, son of DreamWorks studio co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.)
Will the twins someday attempt to court new guy fans like other young actresses, posing in skimpy outfits in Maxim or similar magazines?
"I doubt it," Thorne said. "I mean, the answer to that is no."
But both girls bristle when asked about trying to preserve their wholesome image when they both go to New York University next fall.
"Everyone else kind of labeled us as that," Ashley said. "We don't consider ourselves perfect or wholesome - because no one is."
"Or role models," Mary-Kate added, wrinkling her face. "We like to think of ourselves more as ..."
" ... Human beings?" Ashley suggests.
Mary-Kate shakes her head. "No, for our fans at least, (we're like) friends, another teenage girl who's gone through the same problems."
Ashley nods in agreement.
Even if "New York Minute" is a hit, the girls will be forced to confront another question: How long do they continue to work as a pair? Will they be making twin movies for rest of their careers?
"They're not Siamese twins from a career perspective," Thorne said, opening the possibility that the duo could pursue different projects in the future.
The twins leave it similarly open-ended.
"We have an idea of what we want to do and whether it's acting separately or producing together or one directing and one acting," Mary-Kate said. "I think in some way we'll always be connected, we're sisters, a team, regardless of work or not."
Then there is the question of their name: some news reports have said the girls issued an edict that they not be referred to as "The Olsen Twins."
It's not true, they said, although they prefer their first names.
"It's nice when somebody calls me by my name and doesn't say, 'Hey, you're an Olsen twin," Ashley said. "It's better when they say, 'Hey, are you Mary-Kate or Ashley?"'
"It would be nice to be respected in that way," Mary-Kate added. "Instead of (calling us) 'powerful' or 'rich' or all these other titles, how about you start with 'two different people."'
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