Stana Katic Stana Katic

If you think Stana Katic is right on target playing Det. Kate Beckett, you should see her off duty. "I love, love, love archery," the actress enthuses over her lunch break on the set of ABC's Castle one October afternoon. "I took to it really quickly. There's just something fantastic about the moment of release when the arrow leaves the bow."

Turns out, archery's one of her tamer pursuits. In recent months, the self-described "wild card" has also leapt off a steep cliff into the Mediterranean Sea and taken up riding a motorcycle. Perhaps not surprisingly, such adventures tend to rattle Castle creator Andrew Marlowe. "I totally get what's behind his concern," Katic says. "He has to make sure his actor is safe and that the show is up and running. But I have a little bit of the Zorba the Greek complex, where you just want to live life as fully as possible."

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So what's a producer to do? In this case, embrace Katic's daring ways and begin to infuse them into her buttoned-down character, who revealed in a recent episode that she has a fondness for wearing black leather and — yep — riding motorbikes. Katic couldn't be more thrilled to see Beckett loosen up. "I'm so grateful because I believe any woman in some position of authority probably has an entirely different side to them [away from the workplace]," says the 32-year-old actress. "It's bringing about a more well-rounded character, somebody I can invest in as both an actor and a viewer."

Katic's always been something of a risk-taker. The oldest child of six, she says she realized even before she started elementary school that she wanted to act — much to the dismay of her conservative parents, who worked in real estate and owned a furniture shop. "My parents are immigrants [from the former Yugoslavia] and they worked really hard to reach a level of security," explains Katic, who was born in Canada but spent much of her childhood in the suburbs of Chicago. "The concept of your child saying they want to be an actor isn't something that makes sense when you're thinking along pragmatic lines. They were always sort of saying things like, 'You want to be a doctor or a dentist, right?'"

The 'rents needn't have worried. After studying drama in the Windy City, Katic quickly found work guest starring on such hit series as ER, Alias and 24, where she had a multiepisode arc as a woman in cahoots with terrorists — and busted by Jack Bauer — during the Fox drama's fifth season. "The first time I was on a set, I didn't know anything," she says with a laugh. "I didn't know how to hit a mark or what 'rolling' meant." But, in typical Katic fashion, she dove right in. "It was like, you better figure this out quickly! It's sink or swim."

Along the way, she also nabbed small but pivotal parts on the big screen, playing rookie cop Morgenstern in the comic-book film The Spirit and a Bond girl opposite Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace. More often than not, Katic was cast as smart, sexy femmes, which she claims is no accident. "I don't believe in weak women," says the actress, who will appear opposite Richard Gere in the thriller The Double next year. "I believe women in general are pretty powerful beings. I don't know anything else."

While Castle creator Marlowe was impressed by Katic's innate strength and intelligence, he actually hired the actress to costar with leading man Nathan Fillion because of another quality. "We read close to 125 actresses," Marlowe says, "and when Stana came in, she and Nathan just had this spark."

The chemistry between the two actors has been paramount to the show's success over the past three seasons and, like many fans, Katic is rooting for Beckett and the crime-solving novelist to hook up. But she's not as forthcoming when it comes to the status of her own love life, quipping, "I love kissing, but I don't tell!"

While a Beckett-Castle kiss may not be in the immediate future, fans can expect things to heat up in tonight's episode (10/9c, ABC) when Beckett drags Castle to his first strip club. "Unfortunately for Castle," teases Marlowe, "it turns out to be a male strip club." During November sweeps, the duo will also attempt to crack an X-Files-ish case that takes them into the world of UFO abductees and mysterious Men in Black (one of whom is played by guest star Lyle Lovett). "It's really fun," says Katic, "and different from anything we've done before."

Starring on her first series is proving to be perhaps Katic's greatest adventure yet: "It's an incredible learning experience, and I'm open to all of it." Does that really come as any surprise?

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