Lindsay Soll
September 22, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s the new American dream: Reality-show stint leads to respectable acting career. Unsurprisingly, there are few success stories, but Jacinda Barrett has bucked the trend. ”When I did [THE REAL WORLD in 1995], there were no reality shows, so people [didn’t] think you go on them and get famous,” says the now-in-demand Aussie, 34, who followed MTV with some time studying drama at Oxford. It took a while to get Hollywood’s attention; 2003’s THE HUMAN STAIN was her first sizable role. But now she’s leading-lady-bound, having survived POSEIDON and her most emotional role yet, as unfaithful Zach Braff’s girlfriend in THE LAST KISS. ”I have never in my life been as angry as I was in those scenes,” says Barrett. ”They were situations my friends and I found ourselves in.” Comic relief came while playing Jon Heder’s crush in SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (Sept. 29), and next year, she’ll be seen in THE NAMESAKE, based on the best-seller about Indian Americans. ”Everyone in the cast spoke Bengali. I felt like an outsider.” Not for long.

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