AS a pastime between movies she used to sashay the catwalks for Armani and fly from California into Milan and Paris to check the fashions, but for the past couple of years Kim Basinger has been found in Mothercare.

She's still in that stage where her baby daughter isn't going to eat meat or play with anything but environmental friendly toys, but Big Macs and polyester Mickey Mouses loom beyond kindergarten. And even the woman who supposedly used to wash all that gossip and fuss out of her hair in Evian water admits that there are tolls to be paid on the parental turnpike: ''I went through these things when I wanted to wear short skirts up to my you-know-what. Children need to grow up and make their own decisions - how they want to pierce their bodies or do whatever they need to.''

On such parameters, Basinger, 43, has been childlike in her career. You last heard about her three years ago when she was starring in a not very good remake of the classic Steve McQueen/Sam Peckinpah partnership The Getaway. McQueen worked with wife Ali MacGraw. Basinger shot her way in and out of trouble with husband Alec Baldwin.

They married four years ago and their daughter Ireland Eliesse Baldwin - she quickly became the more rockaby Addie - was born in October 1995. They've been a couple since The Marrying Man seven years ago when they were also called lots of other things on the infamous production. They are the pair who wondered if the author of the movie, the legendary Neil Odd Couple Simon understood comedy. That, at least, got a laugh.

Baldwin, 39, and Basinger were badmouthed from Malibu to Manhattan but she is quick to point out that the waters have broken since then. And bridges have been built for it to run under. And she is back at work. In the genre of the moment.

Film Noir has returned with a string of projects which recall the movie 1940s of John Garfield and Lana Turner, a trench-coated Alan Ladd or Mitchum chasing Veronica Lake or Jane Russell, Bogart and Bacall, and stories revolving around scruples and irredeemable characters who haven't got any.

L A Confidential, based on the novel by tough-guy author James Ellroy, is one of the big two box-office expectations; the other is This World, Then The Fireworks based on a Jim Thompson short story and co-starring the under-rated Billy Zane and Showgirls graduate Gina Gershon.

Basinger is only beginning to understand the antecedents. She is a millennium moll.

''After Addie was born I wanted something like Jane Eyre. I'm my own worst enemy sometimes when I pick projects. I read L A Confidential against advice. But it's a wonderful part for me because until now dramatic, serious pieces have eluded me. But the director Curtis Hanson had in his mind who he wanted as the Veronica Lake character.

''It had to be a special project for me to come back to work. My priorities had been changing before I had Addie but after she was born they changed completely. My daughter sort of owns me. I feel very spoiled having done this film for these sort of roles are thin on the ground.''

She's the 1950s Hollywood mysterious good time girl mixed up with all shades of characters; in the land of dreams she's a platinum shadow. Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey, and tomorrow stars like Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce make up the ensemble: ''It's an amazing cast and I think the movie is going to get a lot of interest.''

The reception for L A Confidential at the Cannes Film Festival this year and the film noir revival support her. Today the star who graduated from model to sex spots on Charlie's Angels to Sean Connery Bond girl in Never Say Never before bursting onto and then out of the stapled pages of Playboy as a movie superstar plays down the glamour.

There's a dash of lipstick but the grey-black shift dress and hurried manner are of a working mother. Her daughter and home are over the freeway in Woodland Hills in the suburban San Fernando Valley which, although it doesn't sound it, is a world away from Beverly Hills.

Her hair is styled short - easy for a quick exit from the shower. But with much of Kim Basinger there is a back story. ''Today you put highlights in your hair but women in the 1940s used to dye their hair solid. Veronica Lake, Grace Kelly, had really beautiful blonde silk angel-looking hair but what they had to do to get that! I've never dyed my hair - just put highlights in it.

''But for L A Confidential I volunteered to let it be dyed. My hair rebelled. I was there in the sink with this wet hair and my head was burning. I asked if that was normal and they said yes, it's supposed to tingle. So I lay there for another four minutes and then asked them to rinse it out because it was burning badly. It continued to burn.

''By the next morning I had blisters on my head and down my neck. I had to have wigs because my hair started falling off. Not out, off. There was no damage to the roots. My hair was just dropping off in big pieces. In the last two scenes of the movie we cut my hair short. And at the end of the movie I told the hair stylist to just cut my hair all off. I was kind of happy with the idea of just getting rid of that hair for a while. And did I get my wish - I was almost bald.''

It says much for the mellowing effect of marriage and motherhood on Kim Basinger the way she tells this tale. She certainly appears more adjusted following her legal hassles with Hollywood and becoming a parent: ''I'm stronger, clearer and happier because of it. I let go of a lot of faults and ambitions.

''It was all about my will, my agenda - and I learned to take my hands off that control panel.

''I consider everything I've been though just a gift, I really do. I wouldn't trade anything no matter how good or bad or difficult. I'm the luckiest girl in the world as far as I'm concerned.

Her attitude resounds with California-positive speak but it spools on the tape machine. ''I've conquered major fears this past year through things I care about.''

The major one is her family, which includes nine dogs and seven cats. Her daughter goes everywhere with her and her husband, who has spent the past months in the Canadian outback with Sir Anthony Hopkins making Bookworm - the actors play aeroplane crash survivors stranded in Alaska - is her cheerleader in chief. His message is that his wife has been misunderstood:

''Kim is very reclusive, very private - people don't know her really. She doesn't do a lot of self-promotion. When she does people fall madly in love with her for she's very adorable. I think one of the reasons we've had some unusually tough