"Where do you want to do it?" asks Nora Louise Kuzma without a hint of irony. "On the couch? I love the couch."

Why should there be anything ironic about this question? She is, after all, only talking about an interview. But Nora Louise Kuzma is, after all, more widely known as Traci Lords.

Lords, 25, began her show business career in the adult film world, starring in titles such as "New Wave Hookers" and "Beverly Hills Copulator." She appeared in more than 100 videos and got hooked on drugs, all before she turned 18. This did not sit well with the FBI; though Lords herself was never charged with any crime, her films were declared child pornography and pulled from the shelves.

She left the business in 1986, began taking acting lessons and cleaned up her lifestyle. Says she got happily married, thanks. The actress has carved out a hard-earned legitimate career, appearing tonight, for example, in the ABC mini-series "Stephen King's The Tommyknockers," one of the network's May Sweeps Events.

The last time Lords did nudity on-screen was in the lead role in a 1988 remake of the Roger Corman sci-fi cult film "Not of This Earth." "They asked me to take my top off -- I thought that was a step up," she laughs.

She's also had guest shots on "MacGyver," "Married ... With Children" and other TV shows, and a feature role in John Waters's 1990 musical comedy "Cry-Baby." She's recently completed a cameo take in the Baltimore director's upcoming film "Serial Mom."

But back to the couch.

Is this pretty, demure young woman with the deep green eyes and the Veronica Lake swath of blond hair, reclining in the lobby of the swank Omni Shoreham Hotel, the same person who did all those naughty things so many years ago? Not really, Lords contends. "My X-rated mess happened when I was 15, 16, 17 years old; I was a teenager," she says. "Now I'm pretty much a grown woman, and I've really started to figure out who I am and what I want. You change a lot."

Lords talks with considerable ease and candor about her past, but there is never the quavering-voice confession of the rich, wounded star, never the obnoxious manner of the self-helped celebrity who has seen the light of righteousness and demands that you see it too.

As John Waters says, "Her past is always gonna be there, people are always going to bring it up, but so what? It's a good story."

That story begins in Steubenville, Ohio -- the town that gave the world Dean Martin -- where Nora Louise was born in 1968. Dad was a steelworker, Mom a housewife and Nora Louise was the second of four daughters. Asked if she gets back there much, she finds the notion so hilarious she can barely get out a "no" between laughs.

Then her mood suddenly darkens: "My father's there." Does she have any relationship with him? "No," she says softly. "Steubenville to me is like a black and white picture -- that's what it represents to me. I just have really bad memories of it."

Her middle-American childhood was unhappy. "My father was an alcoholic, and my parents split up when I was very young, and my mother moved us to California when I was 12 years old. It was a tremendous shock for me. I remember thinking, 'Oh, it's my fault my parents split up, and my father's an alcoholic because of me.' "

(Her mother could not be reached for comment, and the only Kuzma in the Steubenville phone listings said he was not Nora's father.)

One other important thing happened to Lords before the move west: puberty. "I was the first girl in my fourth grade class to have breasts," she says. "And we're talking breasts. Overnight." And with such attributes comes male attention, like it or not.

"The boys all thought I was a whore because I was very well endowed" -- she's talking faster now, chopping the ends of her words, with a touch of anger -- "I didn't understand what I had done wrong. I was 10 years old walking around with a ponytail being checked out by 17-year-olds." Her response became a "bad girl" stance: "I'd walk around and snap my gum and stick my butt out," she says. "When I started doing that boys became terrified."

In California things got worse; where "the boys in Ohio were running around pulling bra straps, the boys in California were into Jack Daniels and cocaine."

With a rarely seen mother -- "she was working and going to school to get her college degree" -- no child support from Dad, insecurities about her looks and a need for peer acceptance, Lords, then 14, turned to drugs. "It started with me walking down the corridors of Redondo Union High {in Redondo Beach}, me and my girlfriends. Pot, coke, whatever, you could get it all," she says. "It was a cool thing and I very much wanted to be in."

What she got into was pornography. Lords bought a fake ID, answered a "models wanted" ad in the Los Angeles Times, ran away from home. And Nora Louise Kuzma was history. Modeling meant money and money meant drugs; at 15 she bared all in Penthouse magazine, then plunged into the X-rated film world.

But it was "never about sex," she claims. "Or an obsession with sex or a need for sex or anything. It was about drug addiction. For me, all porn ever was was drugs. I had no inhibitions or morality or sense of anything. All I cared about was getting high. It was always about drug addiction."

With a surname taken from "Hawaii Five-0's" Jack Lord -- "I thought he was the hottest thing I'd ever seen. I loved his hair" -- and a cocaine monkey on her back, Lords freebased her way through three years of sexual abandon. Yet she insists that her teenage years were not that unusual.

Come on, Traci. "I think the only thing that's different from me and just about any other kid growing up is that mine was filmed," says Lords. "Most of the people I know have tried this and that, smoked some pot, certainly had sex. It's the way it happened to me that interests people."

After the FBI swooped in and ended her illicit career (Lords did make one legal-age film, "Traci, I Love You," shot in France just after she turned 18), she decide to opt for the straight life and joined Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. Which didn't really work. "Meetings just made me that much more needy," she says. Though she readily admits that those organizations "can work for others, they had nothing to do with recovery for me. It was such a clique {in Hollywood}. They smoked too many cigarettes, they drank too much coffee and all the guys hit on me."

It's a story she's told a thousand times, and this certainly won't be the last. And you better believe there's a moral: "You have to watch what you do and take responsibility for your life," she says.

As corny as that sounds, if she doesn't really mean it, then she's one hell of an actress. "They tell you when you're young you're supposed to get your ya-yas out, but they don't tell you the hasty mistakes you make can come back and haunt you."

So Traci Lords has quit porn and drugs, says she doesn't even drink or eat meat, and weakens only for one cigarette a week. She's been married for three years to Brook Yeaton, 25, a prop master she met on the "Cry-Baby" set -- "we do normal things, go to flea markets a lot" -- and says she has a strong relationship with her mother and three sisters. She's even been baptized by John Waters. ("I have the power through the Universal Church," reveals Reverend Waters. "Traci's the only baptism I've ever done, but I'm available. It's $6.")

But can she act?

"I would have never cast her in 'Cry-Baby' if she didn't have talent," offers Waters. "Nobody looks like her, she can make fun of herself, and I've never minded a woman with a past. Especially a past she's overcome."

"She's not intimidated by things that ordinarily inhibit people," says Frank Konigsberg, executive producer of "The Tommyknockers," who cast Lords as a vampish, small-town postmistress. "She's kind of fearless."

Lords may have overcome her past drug abuse, but her image as an "ex-porn queen" (words she refuses to utter) continues to follow her like a mangy dog. "I think she has lost roles in other films {because of her image}," says Konigsberg. And the actress readily concurs: "I've lost so many roles that had nothing to do with talent, it had to do with a producer. Or a producer's wife. I'm seen as a threat."

Waters has seen the fear. "I've been on planes with her and people are scared of her," he chortles. "I find that amusing."

The boys were afraid of her in high school. Not much has changed in 11 years.

Though many of her roles have been scaled-down versions of the steamier scenes from her past, Lords knows you don't go from porn princess to playing Helen Keller overnight. "I don't think there's anything wrong with sexpots, and it's not all I do," she says. "God knows Farrah Fawcett had to get into a burning bed and get beaten by a man before anyone said she could act."

In the first two hours of "Tommyknockers," she says, "I'm the sexpot, and in the second half I'm the hideous monster." But her "burning bed" may be the upcoming film "Skinner." She portrays the beautiful victim of a serial killer's carving knife who becomes, well, un-beautiful. "It was the most challenging role I've ever played," says Lords, who wore considerable makeup to look properly grotesque. "I got to play something completely not me."

What doesn't destroy you will make you stronger; this seems to be the case with Lords. She leans back on the couch, sips from a glass of soda water. The woman is content with life, serious about her career; she's tamed her wild streak: "It controlled me, now I control it." For five years she has worked with Children of the Night, a Los Angeles-based organization that helps runaways.

Lords wants kids, "before I'm 30," though she's "very afraid of being a bad mother." Perhaps that is understandable. She also says, "This world can be a terrible place to bring children into." As well she knows.