Pompeo could be the poster woman for starry-eyed wannabes everywhere. Drifting and aimless, she was discovered by a casting agent while bartending in New York. After the requisite time spent in commercials and indie flicks, she nailed a "once in a lifetime" role in Moonlight Mile, cast as the emotionally distracted twinkle in Jake Gyllenhaal's eyes. Most people, though, know her as the simple-life sylph who makes Luke Wilson want to drop his plans of born-again loserdom in Old School.

"She's not obvious," says Moonlight writer-director Brad Silberling, using the sort of fatal adjective casting directors mutter as they toss another head shot into the reject pile. "Everything is a little unusual. It's like a building that doesn't have four equal sides."

Four walls is just about all Pompeo had growing up with five siblings in the blue-collar Boston suburb of Everett, a town she was born to skip. "It's very rooted in practicality," she says, "and doesn't really support the notion of dreams or grandiosity, which is where me and Boston didn't get along." She scrunches her nose, unleashes a raspy giggle: "The whole left side of my body is grandiose."

Which makes her new home, a garden cottage on a star-studded street in the Hollywood Hills, the kind with paparazzi in the trees, a snugger fit. She lives with her boyfriend, hip-hop producer Christopher Ivery. In other words, she's not wanting for much—a very good thing, in her book.

"The whole industry sort of supports self-obsession and selfishness, and that's what I fear," says Pompeo. "I just don't want to be self-obsessed." She looks down at the slab of cheesecake that has arrived. "Want is misery," she says.

Of course, misery is a lot more bearable when you've already got the silver Mercedes S500, a closet full of Gucci, and the eye of every man passing our table. But like she says, she's no Mama Teresa.

"I think for any actor to say they don't like attention is ridiculous. Of course we love attention. But getting attention is different than pretending the attention means something," Pompeo says. "It's fun and that's it. Kind of like a cupcake."

Besides, she adds, it's an "environmentally friendly S500."