And yet the woman, who seems both like her own worst enemy and a victim of miserable luck, just will not quit. A single mother of two boys under the age of 13 (she divorced their father, actor Robert Lujan, in 2002), Young says that without a college education or any employable skills, she knows of no other way to make a living. (Though she is, she'll say, a whiz of a tap dancer, which made it all the more cruel when she was passed up for last season's cast of has-beens on Dancing With the Stars.) Watch enough TV and you'll eventually catch a glimpse of her. Since last year, she's popped up in fine guest turns on episodes of CSI, ER, One Tree Hill, and in a cute supporting role alongside Tom Selleck in the CBS movie-of-the-week Jesse Stone: Sea Change. But even as she plugs away, she still clings to one sad, desperately held belief.
''I'm not Julia Roberts,'' she says, certain of her thwarted destiny. ''And I could have been.''
A middle-aged woman in a large sun hat approaches the table. ''Sean? I'm sorry about interrupting but, Sean, I think you're a great actor. I'm a big fan. And just listening to you talk, I can tell you're very intelligent.'' ''Well, thank you very much,'' says Young, preening for a moment before warmly sending the woman on her way with a waggle of her fingers. ''No, I didn't pay her to do that,'' she says, chortling. ''But that's not unusual for me, you know. I have a lot of supporters.''
One of them is Carl Reiner, who directed her in the 1993 spoof film Fatal Instinct. ''I'll take 100 Sean Youngs,'' he says. ''I was apprehensive when I first met her and I put it right to her: 'You're perfect for the role, but are you going to drive me crazy?' And then I found out it was all a fairy tale.... She's a very gifted comedienne and actress.'' When asked how she might win more supporters like Reiner, Young says, ''I just need to get on The List. I don't have an opportunity to even go in and meet people at the top level. So I look at movies now and go, 'Well, too bad they didn't get me. I would have been perfect for that.' That's my joke now. 'Ha! She has my part.' Like the Diane Lane part in Hollywoodland? I said, 'I don't know why this bitch has my part!' No, I love Diane Lane, I love Diane Lane. But it's always another actress besides me. I mean, everybody always gets my part.''
When Young first arrived on the scene, a gregarious teenager who had alienated many in her suburban-Cleveland high school with her need for attention, she was quickly snatched up as the hot young thing. Steven Spielberg called her back for two auditions for the Karen Allen role in Raiders of the Lost Ark before she was deemed too green. At 20 she made her film debut, in the 1980 Merchant Ivory movie Jane Austen in Manhattan. Ten years later, after working with everyone from David Lynch to Ridley Scott, she was done.
She places the blame for her derailed career largely in the lap of James Woods, who she says lashed out at her when she shrugged off their on-set flirtation in 1987. (Woods denies doing anything to harm her career.) She had a boyfriend at the time, he had a girlfriend, and she says their sexual tension just wasn't worth the trouble. ''I was like, 'Jimmy, look, these are normal feelings, if we feel this way in six months, we'll revisit the concept,''' she says. ''It was a crush being turned down, that's all.... So sue me! And he did.'' Woods and his then fiancée filed a $2 million suit for harassment in 1988, alleging that, for instance, Young left a disfigured doll on his doorstep and trampled the couple's expensive flower bed. ''It is so retardedly stupid that anyone could have believed it,'' says Young. The case was settled out of court in 1989.
Some bitterness dies hard. In a 1992 EW cover story on Young, Woods sounded a note of contrition when he said that ''I love and admire Sean,'' and elsewhere he has been quoted as saying ''Maybe she'll say it's time to bury the hatchet. I can only be a gentleman and say I hope for the best.'' But when approached again for this piece, he struck back at the actress in four angry and raw e-mails sent to EW over the course of 12 hours, cc'd to his lawyer and publicist. He wrote, among other things, that the actress perpetrated a ''jihad of terror'' against him and his now ex-wife, that this all ''was certainly not about spurned advances, as they were most assuredly not spurned,'' and that ''I am sure it is fashionable to bash the guy (yawn) and pity the poor woman.'' (He also stressed that a highly publicized urban legend, wherein Young superglued his penis to his leg, was entirely false and if the magazine suggested otherwise he'd take EW to court. The actress also denies the incident.) His lawyer quickly followed up Woods' eruption with an e-mail saying the messages had been accidentally sent, and insisted EW only quote his client using the following statement: ''These incidents took place over 20 years ago, and I have moved on and would suggest Ms. Young do the same.''
Without belaboring the issue, Young does suggest that the fact that she was a woman a strong, mouthy, opinionated one also contributed to her exile. She points fingers at the suits at Warner Bros. who shook their heads in eye-rolling dismay when she showed up in her Catwoman suit.''The fact that I made them see me, that aggressiveness on my part was just not allowed for women to do. If a guy had done that if Jim Carrey had done that, if Sean Penn had done that it would have been 'Ha-ha, what balls!' But for me it totally backfired.'' She floats the possibility that someone like Dick Tracy casting director Jackie Burch trashed her around town. ''She might have called on her other casting people never to bring me in,'' says Young, ''because it's a very tight business.'' (Responds the floored Burch: ''There is absolutely no basis for this, but I wish her well.'')
NEXT PAGE: Young's dream role, opposite George Clooney