Up until now, Laura Elena Harring was best known for her short-lived role as policewoman Paula on NBC's defunct soap opera Sunset Beach. But this lady's luck is starting to change, thanks to director David Lynch.

The onetime Miss U.S.A. 1985 — who is of Mexican, German and Austrian descent — says her beauty queen cred and slight accent made it tough to land acting gigs until Lynch cast her in Mulholland Drive opposite Naomi Watts and Justin Theroux. "When I started in Hollywood," she admits, "I couldn't get any appointments... Nobody thought that I would be able to act because I wore this crown."

While waiting for her big break, Harring was forced to "open up and be very vulnerable and work harder at [her] craft." Her persistence — and that pesky accent — paid off when Lynch hired her for a TV pilot about a mysterious amnesia victim with an identity crisis in a stylish and corrupt contemporary L.A. "He didn't know what I was," she smiles, "which is probably why he hired me. I don't think [my accent] is going to be an issue anymore because of David, because David gave me a chance."

Although Harring was already a fan of the Twin Peaks auteur, she was surprised by Lynch's ability to make an "amazing movie" out of a rejected ABC TV-pilot, which was revived by France's Canal Plus in 2000. "I just felt, 'My God, what a genius,'" she enthuses. "There are so many levels [to] the film. Every time I see it, I get a different meaning from it. In a way, that's [the] making of a classic."