HOMETOWN: Littleton, Colo.
LATEST GIG: Tough A.D.A. Casey Novak
•Rap sheet: A figure skater in high school, Neal started modeling at 18 for Shiseido and Pond's skin-care ads ("People like pasty," she says). In '99 she quit and went to study biblical archaeology in Egypt and Israel "because I wanted to be Indiana Jones really badly." Back in New York City three weeks later, she took a six-week acting course on a whim. "My older sister has all her degrees in theater, and I couldn't stand the theater geeks!" she says. But "it I turned out to be the most fun I'd ever had."
•Prior conviction: In '01, in one of her first roles. Neal played a woman who raped a male stripper on SVU
. "My parents [Chris, federal attorney, and Colleen, a math teacher] said, 'We're so proud of you, sweetheart.' It could have been worse, like, 'Look! I'm gonna play a rapist and murderer, and I booked a tampon commercial!' "
•Copping a plea: Before she moved to New Jersey with her fiancé, Irish model Marcus Fitzgerald, 31, she lived in a crumbling 3O0-sq.-ft. Manhattan studio. Once, when a cop came to arrest a neighbor, "he was like, 'You're on SVU
.' I'm like. "Yeah.' And he's like, 'Well, you're not very nice to the cops .' I'm like, 'Oh, that's changing. Don't worry.' There was a little inkling of, 'Hey. You're on our side.' "