08/25/2005 at 08:00 PM EDT
There's little that can haunt Patricia Arquette these days, with a sweet love, a young daughter and an Emmy nod for her hit TV show. The actress, 36, who stars in the surprise NBC favorite Medium, has rebounded since her rocky six-year marriage to Nicolas Cage ended in 2001. She's now engaged to actor Thomas Jane (The Punisher), and together the two are raising their 2-year-old, Harlow, as well as Arquette's 16-year-old son, Enzo. And after taking off about two years from Hollywood, Arquette has quickly wooed critics – and earned an Emmy nomination for lead actress in a drama series, playing a role based on real-life medium Allison DuBois. Arquette recently chatted with PEOPLE about getting into the head of a psychic and having her own glimpse at the other side.
Before the show, what did you think of psychics?
I thought some were really right on and far out and impossibly, frighteningly right, and then I thought some were charlatans and phonies. If someone you love dies, just say (what you want to them) out loud. They can hear you. You don't need this middleman.
Has doing the show changed your opinion?
I am just glad I don't have (the gift) because it really does seem kind of grisly. The things that she sees I wouldn't want to be familiar with.
Would you want to talk to the dead, if you could?
I don't think so. If I could help people, maybe I could do what she does.
How did you prepare for the part?
I met with (Allison) and had her give me a reading, more to watch her give a reading (than to get one). It was the process: What are you writing now? What are you feeling now? What does the room smell like or seem like for you? It is mostly about the emotional resonance of trauma that she picks up on.
How did the reading make you feel?
She said some things about my dad that were really interesting and right on. She said, "Your dad (actor Lewis Arquette, who died in 2001) is there, and he has a clown nose on." Which is funny because at my dad's wake, I ordered, like, 150 clown noses. We all had clown noses.
And as the star, how do you feel about the show?
(Writer-producer) Glenn Gordon Caron has written a more complicated female character than you usually see. There are a lot of conflicts between wanting to be a great mom and having this perfect soccer world with her kids, and this gross intimacy with the macabre and the violent and the bloody and the gory.
DuBois says you really nailed her relationship with her husband.
I think it is more Glenn, because there are a lot of things that I chose to play differently than Allison. I told her that when I met her. She is too far along in her process of self-acceptance. ... I was like, I am not going to play you like you are. You are stronger than I want to be.