When The Blair Witch Project became the monster hit of 1999, Heather Donahue naturally thought she'd be able to write her own ticket in Hollywood. Alas, for a while there, the only ticket she got offered was one straight outta town!

"I was sort of counted out before I even had the chance to show up," she tells TV Guide Online. "All my life, I wanted to be an actor, and then all of a sudden, it wasn't entirely clear that anyone was going to let me be an actor... [because the movie's marketing execs] kept telling people that [the thriller's unhappy campers] weren't actors but were really in this [scary] situation. That wound up being very damaging to the cast."

Ever since, the University of the Arts (Philadelphia) grad has worked double time to prove that she was more than a contestant in an especially creepy installment of Fear Factor. (She even slummed it in the Freddie Prinze Jr. clunker Boys & Girls — how's that for suffering for her art!) However, tonight's episode of Steven Spielberg's Taken (airing at 9 ET on the Sci Fi Channel) brings her right back to the realm of the fantastical — kicking and screaming all the way.

Copping to a "paralyzing fear of the genre ghetto," Donahue says with a laugh that her fondest wish is to land a part someday that will do more for her than "solidify my position at the next 10 Comicons." For now, though, "there are those pesky bills to pay. And if you're going to stick with the old genre standby, the fact that it's 'Steven Spielberg Presents... ' makes it a much easier almond-eyed pill to swallow."

Plus, the 27-year-old knew instinctively how to play conniving alien kidnapper Mary Crawford; she's had a lot of practice with that "type," after all. Off duty, she brings to mind the fast-talking funny ladies of Tinseltown's Golden Age, yet prickly femmes fatales "have become something of a specialty of mine," she acknowledges. "I've even gone ahead and dyed my hair dark since clearly I only play diabolical, evil bitches — or at least really grating bitches. No matter what, the bitch through line kind of sticks.

"Close friends always tell me, 'You're so nice in real life — why do you ever get cast as all those horrible girls?'" she adds, tongue in cheek. "What can I say? It's a talent, darling!"