Carla Gugino Carla Gugino

If someone is going to save the world from alien infestation, then why the hell shouldn't she be a fabulous femme? As the star of CBS' Threshold (Fridays at 9 pm/ET), Carla Gugino plays Molly Ann Caffrey, a government contingency analyst whose expertise proves indispensable when the aforementioned worst-case scenario threatens our planet. Of course, she gets a weekly assist from ragtag Red Teammates Charles S. Dutton, Brent Spiner, Peter Dinklage, Rob Benedict and Brian Van Holt.

How did Threshold, so often cited by critics as being the best of the bunch, break away from this season's supernatural pack? Speaking with during a rare break in her schedule, Gugino admitted she hasn't been able to read any reviews or sample either Invasion or Surface. Instead she offers, "When I read this pilot as opposed to other shows I have read, I felt it was incredibly ambitious and it had the potential to be very unique.

"Usually when you read a pilot, you have a sense of, 'OK, every week this is going to happen,'" she continues. "For good or bad, you see what the structure of each week is going to be. This show, I thought, establishes an entirely new world, and that was really exciting to me. Every week I read the script and go, 'Oh, my god. How is the Red Team going to handle this one?'"

Speaking of the Threshold scribes, how much of the overall mythology have they shared with their star? "It's so hard to know what I can and can't say," she says, measuring her words. "But what is obvious is that there's only so long that this [alien agenda] is going to remain something we can keep from the general public. [In tonight's episode] something really bad happens, and I have to make a big decision, and that decision is sort of a springboard for a bunch of other circumstances, which will then affect some other things."

This week's big twist involves not glass-forest denizens, but a human of a sordid kind. "We have a mole at Threshold, someone very intimately involved, and information has leaked out that very few of us knew."

A recurring element of Threshold is the eerie dreams that haunt those investigating the infestation. "That element is something I like," says Gugino. "We all have nightmares, and I think that's such a primal fear. In a show where oftentimes a character like Molly would have to maintain her composure at all times and be the leader, you can see the other side that's really going on with her nightmares, which I think is really cool."

Threshold's Molly is a rare bird, a take-charge female lead who is, for better or worse, rather fearless. How does Gugino's Italian-Irish-English heritage play into her portrayal? "When I think of Italy and Italians, I think of a certain sensuality and a grounded nature and a passion for life," she says. "Also with the Irish — they're very fiery, passionate people.

"One thing that was really important to me with Molly is that a lot of times when women play strong, professional women, it's an easy trap to fall into, the idea of taking on the worst characteristics of a man and becoming sort of cold and detached. I wanted Molly to be completely a woman — sexy, insightful, empathetic — but without being the cliches of a woman in terms of being sentimental. In life, no matter how successful anyone is, there's still a person underneath figuring out how to be loved and navigating through the human experience."

And what a human (if not a non-human) experience Molly is navigating! "Sometimes we all feel we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but Molly really does have the world on her shoulders," Gugino laughs. "But I never want anything to feel pat, like, 'Oh, another alien.'"

Unlike E.T., Threshold's otherworld entities aren't exactly kind. Thus far, the Red Team has lived with that, but in this week's outing, one person tied to the team won't, as the series unspools its first "good guy" death. Without naming names, Gugino says, "It definitely has a huge impact on Molly, because she has to make a decision that is almost impossible but totally necessary — and it also brings a replacement of that person into our world, I will just say that. And he and I have some differences of opinion."

Gugino is optimistic that Threshold's full-season pickup is imminent, "but in terms of anything official, I don't know." Yet one could not fault her for being a bit guarded, if only because her previous prime-time foray, headlining ABC's Karen Sisco, got cut short.

"I've been doing this for 18 years now, so what I have is less than a gun-shy attitude," she explains. "I do [a project] because I feel like I have to do it, because I believe in it, and the ultimate result in terms of its success or not is something I have little control over. I was very hesitant and not looking to do another television show at all, but I thought that [with Threshold] I had to sit down with the guys and talk to them, at least, because it's a great group of people. And when I did that, all my concerns were addressed. Everything happens for a reason."