PASADENA, Calif. - Actress Linda Cardellini thrives on chaos. It seems the perfect condition for someone who wants to be an actor.

The woman who plays Nurse Taggert on "ER" says, "You don't get into this business to know your future, and there's part of you that loves the roller coaster ride of the unknown.

So there's a give-and-take of being on a series as well because you miss the adrenalin rush of being up and down at any given moment. It's part of what you accept when you choose a job like that. And it's part of what draws you to it, too."

So far the unknown has served Cardellini well. She was one of the winning teens on "Freaks and Geeks," costarred in the two "Scooby-Doo" movies, played a winsome waitress in "Brokeback Mountain" and on Jan. 13 arrives on CBS' six-hour miniseries, "Comanche Moon," a prequel to "Lonesome Dove."

Ever since she was 5, Cardellini has wanted to perform. She used to print out tickets, sell them to her relatives, put on a show in her living room and provide "concessions" during intermission (donning an apron in the process).

Her first time on a movie set wasn't exactly glamorous. It was cold, she ruined a new pair of shoes, earned $35 for the entire day and filming took place in an L.A. jail. But she was still hooked.

Her first real job came when a manager saw her in a college production (she played a hunchback).

"He sent me on an audition and I got the part. It was a small kids' show called 'Bone Chillers' on Saturday morning. I was 21 and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I'd just come from scooping ice cream at college for $4.80 an hour and now what I was making seemed astronomical to me."

The 32-year-old actress worked with author Larry McMurtry and his co-writer Diana Ossana on "Brokeback Mountain." She got a call from Ossana when they were casting "Comanche Moon."

"They knew that 'Lonesome Dove' is my favorite novel and Gus McCrae is my favorite character in literature. I remember as a gift - I was so floored - Larry McMurtry gave me an inscribed copy of 'Lonesome Dove,' which is one of my treasured possessions. I just really enjoyed them and apparently they wanted me to work with them."

She plays the younger version of Clara, portrayed by Anjelica Huston in "Lonesome Dove."

"I was dying to play Clara because she was the great love of Gus McRae's life," says Cardellini, who's gone back to her natural brown hair after a turn as a blonde.

"In 'Lonesome Dove' you see the end of the relationship and you realize what happens to them. The anguish in the end, them never being together, is the joy of them being together in the 'Comanche Moon' days and the great love that begins and is fostered during that time. But it's still star-crossed." *