Special Delivery

updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

British actress olivia williams believed she'd blown it. Kevin Costner saw her videotaped audition for the female-lead role of Abby in his postapocalyptic epic The Postman and was impressed. Still, when he phoned the virtual unknown at her north London fiat and asked for a second tape, she said, "Well, um, no." Why? "I hate video," says Williams. "It's a denial of every artistic ambition to sit in a room with bad lighting and a stationary camera." After the call she thought, "At least I can tell my grandchildren that Kevin Costner rang once."

Actually, though, the postman always rings twice. Two days later, Costner arranged for Williams, 29, to fly to L.A. for an in-person audition, and she got the part. "Olivia has a lot of moxie, and that's very much the role of Abby," says producer Jim Wilson. "She doesn't take crap from anybody."

Never has. The daughter of two lawyers, Williams graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1989 with an English degree and later studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company. But after she struggled to find work, acting started to look like "a patently ridiculous career choice," and she was thinking of going to law school. Then Costner called. Her Postman part didn't pay much by Hollywood standards—$135,000—yet it has already done wonders for her résumé. She now gets stacks of scripts, she says, and is starring opposite Bill Murray in the upcoming film Rushmore. Not that life is perfect for the woman who recently ended an eight-year relationship with her college sweetheart. "Where in all this," she wonders, "am I going to get married?"

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