Finally she acknowledged her feelings for Gregorini, and a three-year relationship with the bohemian brunette followed. While De Rossi will talk about DeGeneres freely, if not particularly specifically, she refers to Gregorini only once. On her right hand, near the knuckle of her ring finger, is a frayed pink Band-Aid that De Rossi can't stop playing with. It's covering a tattoo of her ex's initials.

"I'm having it removed..." De Rossi says, shifting in her seat. "I'm not saying it's anything I regret doing, because I don't," she adds quickly. "But it just doesn't make any sense now."

Abrupt changes of heart seem to be something of a habit for De Rossi. Her first acting gig—back in Australia—was as a topless virgin in the film Sirens, opposite Elle "the Body" MacPherson. The ex–law student immediately fell in love with acting, and in 1995, on a layover in L.A., she impulsively hopped off her flight to make a go of a Hollywood career. Soon after, she scored her first part in a short-lived TV series, followed by a quick turn in Scream 2. But it wasn't until Ally McBeal came along that she found a character she could chew on. Thrilled to be cast as a brief-filing ballbuster on the David E. Kelley hit, De Rossi, who is named after Shakespeare's lawyer-impersonating heroine from The Merchant of Venice, soon became embittered by the realities of network character development.

"When I joined the show, I was playing a character that I liked, which was a very professional, focused, kind of icy, interesting woman," says De Rossi. "Within a few episodes, I was taking my clothes off and having sex with my boss." She sighs. "I wouldn't have auditioned for that role."

There is no such remorse around her current alter ego on Arrested Development, the Fox comedy now in its third season. De Rossi loves playing the money-hungry sister of Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth on the 2004 Emmy-winning series, even if the ratings are low enough for cable. ("I hope there's still a show by the time this comes out," she jokes.) Having castmates like Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the Bluths' imprisoned paterfamilias, has kept De Rossi sharp.

"The first conversation I ever had with Jeffrey, he kept looking at me saying, 'Who are you? I mean, what is this girl doing here?'" she says. Then she told him she lived in Los Feliz, spurring Tambor to mention a bookstore there. "He said, 'You must know it.' But before I could answer, he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, you don't read.' Now I sit next to him all the time, like, 'Abuse me some more!'"

Tambor says their good chemistry has as much to do with De Rossi's quick-wittedness as his. "We just sort of melted into each other's rhythms, he says. "Acting is an intimacy, and there are people who know how to do that. Her talent allows her to go there."

Where De Rossi goes next depends on how well she can handle the scrutiny that comes with having such a tabloid-worthy personal life. Gone are the days when she could hide her issues thanks to the proximity of bigger bull's-eyes. Back on Ally McBeal, while the world was making a weekly ritual out of analyzing Calista Flockhart's ever-hollowing cheeks, De Rossi was dangerously pushing her own body to less-than-zero dress sizes, she says: "I just thought, 'Oh, okay, what does an actress look like? Well, I guess you get really thin.'"

But she says she conquered her body-image problem three years ago, after reading an article that explained that women with eating disorders are trying to disappear from society.

"They were getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and it just kind of made sense to me—I'd actually fallen for the whole thing," she says, shaking her head at so ironically un-Hollywood a notion. "I mean, who wants to be small when they can be big?"