Did you see Bello in that movie The Cooler a couple of years ago? That's what she's talking about. "We had to be buck naked for a week, and I was stressed about it," says her costar William H. Macy. "I'd say, 'Do we really have to do this in front of all these Teamsters?' and Maria would say, 'Relax, Bill, you're not gonna fuck a Teamster. Keep your eyes on me and take your clothes off.' Then she kept busting on me. Every time I came into a scene, she'd be behind the door with her goddamned shirt off."

The Teamsters certainly weren't complaining. In fact, on this very day Bello has four of them sleeping at her new beach pad. "Wayne, Matty, Titch, and Adam," she says. "Crew guys from my last movie. They're in from England and they needed a place to sleep, so I said, 'What the hell? Come stay with me.' I'm even making them Sunday-night-roast dinner tonight." Which is fine, except that (a) tonight is Monday and (b), as Bello puts it in her best Cockney, "Ah cunt oonderstahnd a fookin' ward those blokes ah sane."

Bello herself grew up working-class in a manufacturing town outside Philadelphia. Her dad was a contractor, her mom was a teacher and school nurse, and young Maria figured she'd serve mankind as a corporate lawyer—until an Augustinian priest at Villanova gave her a follow-your-bliss speech that would eventually lead her to flesh-baring films like Coyote Ugly and The Cooler.

It was your typical hot-actress trajectory: Arrives broke in New York City. Gets theater gigs playing whores and girlfriends until the Big Break comes—a part on E.R., which brings her to L.A. and makes her rich and inspires strangers to act weird around her.

Just now, in fact, Bello is keeping half an eye on a lanky blonde in a fringy leather vest. She and her miniature German shepherd have walked by the table one or two times too many. And now the woman goes for the brass ring.

"Are you Mary Bello?" she says. Bello goes with it: "Yes, hi, yes." "I'm such a fan of your work. Where did you get your acting training?" Bello tells her and mentions other teachers in L.A., but the woman's not really listening. "Because it's just been so great seeing where you're going with your career, and I'm an actress myself and..." Bello does that little eyebrow thing again. It's barely perceptible, but the woman—or maybe it's the dog—takes the cue: "Well, thank you. Sorry to disturb you. Have a good day, Mary."

As they leave, Bello makes a gentle crack about the woman's outfit. But she realizes she's being mean. "I am so moody," she says. "I came out that way. Some days I'm in public and I'm a fuh-king bitch. Then other days I'm in an open, giving, vulnerable mood."

The Jekyll-and-Hyde thing notwithstanding, Bello says she's never been happier. Actors are supposed to say that in interviews, but with Bello it feels genuine. She's been single for the past year and a half, but she's still "best friends" with the man she broke up with. He and Bello have a 5-year-old son together, Jackson Blue, and lately, Bello says, "we're more of a family unit than we were when we were living together." Which doesn't mean Bello is on a permanent high. "Like when I'm having a bad day, I'll look at the people in those celebrity magazines and say, 'Oh, God, they have such a great life,' and I'll just go, 'U-u-uck.'"

Outside the Venice coffee shop, the sidewalk is free of freaks, and Bello lets me know it's time to wrap it up. "Listen, I have to put the roast in. It takes four hours, and those Teamsters can get mighty hungry," she says.

Can she squeeze in one more at the table? Bello smiles, but she doesn't have to say a word. That little raised eyebrow tells you everything you need to know.