Jenni Baird

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It was no laughing matter when her pathologist father and marriage counselor mother were divorced two years ago, but the irony isn't lost on Jenni Baird - the Australian actress who joined the cast of ''The 4400'' this season as Meghan Doyle, the unconventional new boss of Homeland Security's National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC).

"I wasn't a child when my parents split up," said Baird, 31, "but it was kind of messy anyway. Naturally. I assume there is great family trauma everywhere when things like that happen. Again, I can totally see the irony of it, but I would probably do her a favor by saying she's just a therapist."

She was well-prepared for just about any psychological challenge, however, after earning a bachelor's in cultural studies and communications from the University of Technology Sydney followed by three harrowing years of studying drama at the Western Academy of Performing Arts in Pert.



"I chose acting because it is the only thing where I feel at one with the world as I am doing it," she explained. "But training as an actor in Australia is incredibly traumatic, really grueling. It's a long haul and you don't come out of it unscathed. But eventually you learn the Zen of acting; being entirely in the moment."

Only a week after she graduated from the Western Academy in January, 2001, Baird landed her first professional gig playing a junkie on the Australian TV series "Water Rats." A day or so later, she was on her way to California to shoot an ABC Network pilot episode called "Metropolis" opposite Keith Carradine. When it didn't go anywhere, she bounced straight back Down Under for a three-month gig on an episodic called "Crash Palace." Incredibly lucky, she immediately segued into a three-year stint (2001-04) on the Australian hit medical drama "All Saints" - playing the rather vapid Paula Morgan, a fairly competent nurse and single mom.

"Then it was time for me to leave the show," she said. "Talking it over with my agent, we decided it was time for me to leave the show after three years; it was just enough to develop a higher profile and not long enough to get typecast."

Totally convinced that her professional future resided in Hollywood, she headed back to shoot two other U.S. pilots that didn't go anywhere, "Global Frequency" and "Conviction." Fortunately, the studios and production companies involved took care of all the paperwork for work permits and resident visas.

She also went back to Sydney to do a play called "The Memory of Water," a production held at the Whoosh Theater company - which she founded in 2000. And then it dried up for almost a year, forcing gorgeous Baird to work in an L.A. clothing store to make ends meet.

"That was a very tough time," she sighed, though laughing. "It was a tough, tough time because Australian customers would recognize me. I don't know what they thought when they saw methere ..."

After all, she had a university degree and had plenty of professional credits, making it difficult to accept that she was acting (temporarily) as a store clerk.

But she was back on track less than a year ago when cast as Ms. Doyle on the sci-fi series "The 4400," after one of the shortest auditions in history.

"I went to see the show's casting director in L.A. on a Thursday morning; she thought I was perfect for the part and shot my scene on video four times," Baird recalled.

As Baird - all fired up by the kind words and deeds in the casting office - went home to silence her nerves, the videos were sent to the "The 4400's" producers, the USA network, and the CBS Paramount Studios. A deal was cut and a flight was booked to Vancouver, British Columbia, the following morning. By early evening on that fateful Friday, she reported for work in Canada. There were costume fittings on Saturday and she reported on the set ready to shoot on Monday.

"And here I am - my whole life was changed in just one day," she laughed.

And more than anything, she's having an absolute blast as the chief tracker of 4,400 people who disappeared over a 50-year span and were returned to Earth (not a second older than when they vaporized) by a passing comet.

"To me, Meghan Doyle is the boss at NTAC without playing the boss card," explained Baird. "Practically born a raised in a think tank, she is a highly cerebral, but completely off-the-wall character who wears jeans and bling to work."

When not working, Baird's shares her home in Hollywood with Spinner, her Spinoni Italiano dog, and screenwriter Michael Petroni, a fellow Aussie of Maltese decent now holding his breath in the anticipation of a writer's strike. But should the strike hit, she hopes to open her nearby Australian cafe, Long Shot, with her barista brother Mark Baird, in January 2008 - leaving nothing to chance.
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