Julianna Margulies, <EM>Snakes on a Plane</EM> Julianna Margulies, Snakes on a Plane

By now, we all know how the esteemed Samuel L. Jackson ultimately came face-to-face with those sinister (and box-office, title-worthy) Snakes on a Plane. But what is ER alumna Julianna Margulies doing flying the same deadly skies, as a flight attendant who, thankfully, proves handy with a fire axe?

Again, it all ties back to her esteemed costar. "I got sent this script called Pacific Air 121 aka Snakes on a Plane, with a cover letter that said Samuel L. Jackson is attached," Margulies relates to TVGuide.com. "I was laughing, to be honest, because I could not believe this was an actual movie that was going to happen. But seeing that Sam was doing it elevated it. Samuel L. Jackson to me is one of our finest, so, after meeting the director, I was like, 'OK, you guys are great. This is going to be a fun way to spend three months. And whatever happens, I can die happy saying I worked with Samuel L. Jackson.'"

Going with that gut instinct paid off, as Jackson was everything his admirer hoped for, if not more. "I was so impressed by his work ethics," she says. "He's a real consummate professional, but he also knows how to hang with the crew, how to tell a dirty joke.... He's not stuffy or prissy or divalike. He's about the work, the way I am and the way people I like to work with are. So it was a really fun ride. We had a ball."

With parents to support, mortgages to pay and nieces to help send to college, Margulies admits that Snakes was also a payday, and that her expectations were low. "When we left [the shoot], I was like, 'OK, that's going straight to DVD,'" she recalls with a chuckle. "I was grateful for the work, and I went on to do Broadway [costarring in Festen]... but then Snakes on a Plane became this huge thing."

Huge like ER was back in the day, when Margulies' Carol Hathaway, in a memorable May 2000 send-off, rode off into the sunset by walking onto a pier in Seattle, where she was reunited with longtime love Doug Ross (played in an unbilled cameo by George Clooney). It was the actress' final appearance on the medical drama she had called home since its premiere, despite the lure of a $27 million offer to do two more years, and repeated invites back since. Standing by her decision to exit ER, she says, "I felt like I had a great character and I did as much as I could do with her, but I was feeling bored. I wasn't excited about the work and I certainly didn't want to go out with a bomb, but as an inspiration." In retrospect, she notes, to have stayed on would have meant passing up "six years of unbelievable experiences," The Mists of Avalon and 2002's unsung Evelyn included.

"I left on very good terms with [ER exec producer] John Wells, and every year they ask me back and I love that they do," she shares. "This past year they offered me four episodes in Hawaii [for what would be the Noah Wylie/Darfur story line], and they threw a lot of money in my face, and I came so close.... But every time I thought about it, I was like, 'I've spent six years trying to get people to think of me a different way.' So at the last minute I went, 'John, thank you and keep asking, because you never know  but no.'"

Two days later, Margulies was offered a short and deliciously edgy arc on The Sopranos, as a drug-addicted love interest for Tony and Christopher. "I'm not a very religious person, but I do believe there's something up there that guides you," she says of the fortuitous decision. "When I went to the Tonys [this past June], that was the first red carpet in my professional life where everyone was talking about The Sopranos, with not one mention of ER. Finally, I got out of the box."

Next on the small-screen, Margulies costars opposite Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) in The Lost Room, a limited series for Sci Fi Channel. "I'm very excited about it," she says, likening the project to "The Twilight Zone meets The Fugitive." "It's a page-turner."

Of course, if ER fans are destined never to get another Carol/Doug scene, we must ask: When might Clooney show his former scene partner some love and cast Margulies in one of his Ocean's 11 movies? "I think he is showing me love by not putting me in his Ocean's movies," Clooney's longtime friend (and sharer of dirty jokes) quips back. "Besides, that's his whole little boys' club thing, and I don't want to be in those movies. I want to be in a movie that George is directing."

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