On the set of CBS's Sally Hemings: An American Scandal (see review, page 25), there were days when Carmen Ejogo had to get down and dirty. Literally. In one scene, says Ejogo, who portrays Thomas Jefferson's mistress, "Sally has just been whipped, and I had to lie in the mud for around two hours. I started crying. My ancestors weren't slaves," adds the British actress, who is one of two children born to Charles, a Nigerian entrepreneur (now deceased), and Elizabeth, a Scottish tour guide, who divorced when she was 3. "But I understand the pain."

Ejogo, 26, lives alone in her bohemian-style London flat since ending a four-year relationship with actor Max Beesley. "I have to deal with [racism] on a real basic level," she says. "Cabs won't stop for me. The police stop my brother [Charles, 24, a law student] for driving a decent car. It disgusts me."

Ejogo was 11 when she won a bit part in a British film. But she got her big break at 22, cast as Eddie Murphy's love interest in 1997's Metro. Last June she snagged the role of Sally in an open audition. "Carmen is charming and sexy and delightful," says costar Sam Neill (Jefferson), "so the love scenes were a lot easier to do." Still, Ejogo is a bit uneasy these days about her sudden fame. "I'm seeing my face on the sides of buses," she says, "and it's a little weird."