If some movie stars embody the era they live in, others embody another age altogether. Something about Gugino—the big, round Kewpie-doll eyes and the body that seems to have been beamed into our century from a Busby Berkeley chorus line—comes across as blessedly pre-Summer of Love. It's easy to imagine a likeness of her painted on the side of a B-17 that's gearing up for a bombing raid over Berlin. Andy Fickman, the director of Witch Mountain, says her screen presence is reminiscent of a Vargas model. "Carla is a pinup girl," he says. "She should be painted."

Granted, Gugino is not yet a legend in the period of time she happens to occupy. She can't deny that she's had her share of career disappointments, and, as inspiration, she likes to refer to Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address at Stanford. "One of the things he said was that the dots always connect but you don't know how the dots are connected until later," Gugino says. "Living enough life, you realize that it's really true. Pretty much everything that has been a disappointment at the moment, I have seen why it's happened."

She remembers an audition years ago where everything clicked but she never got a callback. Kate Beckinsale got the role. The project was Pearl Harbor, Michael Bay's big, flaming, expensive mess of a war movie. You could argue that Gugino's vintage beauty would have made perfect sense in a re-created 1941. Then again, you could counterargue that, in losing that particular plum, she dodged not merely a bullet but a kamikaze pilot spinning toward the flight deck. "Well," says Gugino, with a faint trace of a conspiratorial smile as she dips her spoon into a little bowl of chocolate pudding, "I think it was meant to be." When people finally remember your name, after all, you want it to be for the right reasons.