As lethal with a punch line as a broad sword, Charisma Carpenter ought to be making a killing in Hollywood. But the Angel scene stealer keeps such a low profile, she might as well be a fugitive on America's Most Wanted. Heck, she even blew off TV Guide Online three times before finally calling for this interview.

"I just don't think I'm a big, fat star," she explains. "There isn't a high demand there [for press coverage]. Like, if I go to an event and have my picture taken, nine times out of 10 it will be someone else who's a little more famous that gets [their photo] published — and that's fine. I don't go [to a premiere] unless I'm going to see something that's of interest to me. I don't do it to get pumped up.

"[Publicity] can be fun," she continues. "But the more you leave yourself open to that, the more backlash you can get."

Such a concern is paramount for the Las Vegas native. Named after an Avon perfume — rather than for the quality that eventually would make her a star — she studied classical ballet throughout her childhood. Then, in 1994, a guest appearance on Baywatch led to her big break: Impressed producer Aaron Spelling made her a regular on his short-lived prime-time soap, Malibu Shores. The rest is showbiz history.

"This acting thing has just been a beautiful privilege in the sense that I didn't spend my entire life trying to do it," the 31-year-old acknowledges, "and I don't necessarily want it more than I want a family. I don't want to sacrifice the family I don't have that doesn't exist right now."

So, for the time being, the singleton — who is happily dating a non-actor — will busy herself by evading requests for Q&#038A sessions and enjoying her posse of pals at Angel. When the WB's superior Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff returns tonight at 9 pm/ET (after a five-week hiatus that felt like five years), her ghost-busting she-demon Cordelia Chase helps blood-sucker Angel (David Boreanaz) cope with his infant son's abduction. Later on, she figures, she can worry about caring for a child of her own.

"It's not really a good time for me to even think about having a kid — I'm not even married," she notes. "So it's like putting the cart before the horse to talk about it. But I'm certainly open.

"I don't know what's in store for this little girl right here," she concludes. "It's kind of exciting."