The last time I saw Mary-Louise Parker, she shot me in the back—repeatedly and with evident pleasure. (Times Square, a few years ago. I'd found myself dragooned into a vicious afternoon game of laser tag by a colleague who'd been challenged by Parker and a couple of her friends.) But now, at a corner table in a nearly empty West Village café, I feel safer. Parker, in a sleeveless silk chemise, sage-colored cords, and scuffed brown cowboy boots, doesn't appear to be packing.

"You lost," Parker says, relishing the memory. "Yeah, you guys lost—badly." Big smile, possibly sincere. "Sorry about that."

Maybe it's because she often plays intensely real, misfit-next-door characters—rather than glamorous, stuff-of-fantasy beauties—but the civilian Parker looks pretty much the same as the stage Parker or the screen Parker. That is, a stuff-of-fantasy misfit-next-door.

She's talking, over some decaf, about her obsession with sandwiches ("A worthy topic. Pie is so overdone") and her love of hotels. Then: "You know, I also have this thing about naked pictures."

"Yes?"
"I'm going to have a room in my house of just naked pictures."
"Of ... ?"
"Me. But also other people. My friends."

A photography buff, in the buff. She is also a serious reader, has contributed essays to several magazines, and enjoys writing speeches (but hates giving them). She mentions a friend who's been getting some travel-writing work. It's an area I happen to be involved in currently, and Parker perks up, her saucer eyes widening.

"Send me to the Maldives, baby."

Parker has been in our collective consciousness for 15 years now, the cerebral, eccentric, subtly luminous beauty at the center of this play, in the corner of that movie—her roles, whether starring or supporting, always registering with audiences and critics. She rightly considers herself more a stage actor than a screen star ("It's not like I came out of the gate in an Oliver Stone movie"), but both threads of her career began to unspool simultaneously, with Longtime Companion and Fried Green Tomatoes, in 1990 and 1991 respectively, and, notably, with her costarring Broadway debut, in 1990, in Craig Lucas' Prelude to a Kiss.