Seattle native and Blanchet graduate Bianca Kajlich charts her own course in Hollywood. Her biggest break so far: A major role in CBS' "Rules of Engagement," airing Mondays on CBS.

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CULVER CITY, Calif. — Actress Bianca Kajlich was down to $20 in her bank account and had spent the day riding the roller coaster at Magic Mountain. It was her way of saying goodbye to Hollywood and returning to her native Seattle to try some other field.

“I got home and there were 11 messages on my answer machine saying, ‘You need to be in San Diego tomorrow morning. They’ve let someone go, and you’re the replacement in the movie ‘Bring it On.”‘

“That’s literally been the story of my career. I’m always the second choice. And you know what? I’m more than happy to be that person,” she says in her dressing room at Sony Pictures Studios.

She was not the first choice to play the young fiancee on the CBS sitcom “Rules of Engagement” either. Someone else had been cast in the pilot. And when Kajlich showed up to audition she was pitted against four other women who didn’t look anything like her.

“We couldn’t have been more different. There was a Spanish girl with an accent, a girl who was blonde and blue-eyed. I thought, ‘Oh my God, they’re just going to throw it against the wall and see who sticks.”‘

Fortunately Kajlich has managed to stick not only in “Rules of Engagement,” but “Dawson’s Creek,” “Boston Legal,” “Vanished” and several movies.

Five minutes with her and you wonder how she did it. Kajlich isn’t anything like a TV star. There’s much more Seattle about her than Hollywood.

Kajlich attended Blanchet High School and gained stage experience performing with Olympic Ballet Theatre. After graduating, she went to Washington State University.

When she left the Northwest for Los Angeles she packed up her old Honda Prelude (the left side had been bashed in in a “fender bender,”) and her mom followed with the family Suburban loaded with Kajlich’s possessions. They kept in touch via walkie-talkie.

Once in L.A., she may have been second choice, but she got work within six months, and a small part in “10 Things I Hate About You” earned a Screen Actors Guild membership.

“That all happened pretty quickly,” she says. “The good thing about it was I was so naive that I never even considered the idea I would fail. So I blindly set out to do it and I guess that’s the right way to go about it.”

Kajlich, 31, hails from a close-knit family. Her dad, who is ailing, is an anesthesiologist and her mom is an RN who teaches nursing. She has a sister and a brother. It was a tragic accident in her brother’s life that imbued Kajlich with a sound sense of priorities.

“In 2003 he was hit by a subway in Prague and lost both of his legs,” she says. “It made me realize that we take for granted every step we take, and my brother now has to physically challenge himself to take each step in his prosthetic.

“It made me realize we’re so hard on ourselves and our bodies and we don’t realize truly the miracle that occurs with actions that we do, each gesture we make … I feel like we’re so critical about how we look, and we’re always obsessing about those last couple of pounds or we don’t particularly like a certain part of our body. But when you watch someone you love very much go through the loss of parts of their body, you just become so grateful for every part of yourself.”

Her dad’s lifelong heart disease (resulting in three surgeries) has forged her resilience. “He’s never once complained. And I think that’s taught me and my brother and sister that no matter what you’re going through in life there’s always somebody who has it worse, and to play the victim doesn’t really hurt anyone but yourself.

“I think that all three of us siblings feel that anything you want to do in your life you can achieve as long as you take responsibility for it,” she says.

“It’s easy when you’ve had difficulty or strife in your life to look at other people who seem like they’ve had it easier. But the thing we forget is that it is all relative and each person’s experience is uniquely their own, so that the worst thing they may be going through is truly the worst thing for them … it’s just about having compassion. Everyone is truly going through things, fighting their own battle. Why we make it so difficult for others is beyond me because we’re all in it together and that’s the truth.”

Married to Galaxy soccer player Landon Donovan, who is preparing for the World Cup in two years, Kajlich says that while their fields are different, they share a commonality.

“We get it if someone has to cancel and at the last minute can’t be with you in that important moment. We both understand how important that is … You have to retain your identity. Too many people get married and lose themselves. You have to fiercely hold on to who you are, and you need to celebrate that in the other person because that’s what made you fall in love in the first place.”