01/12/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
ARRIVING FOR HER FRIENDS AUDITION in September, Paget Brewster spotted three gorgeous rivals for the same plum role and instantly felt her self-confidence slipping. So she played the Matthew Perry card: sarcasm. "I am obviously your runty alternate," she drily told Perry, who helped with the audition. Said he: "Way to sell yourself."
He wasn't joking. To Brewster's surprise, she landed the role of Kathy, an alluring medical research assistant who becomes Matt LeBlanc's girlfriend before falling for Perry It's a plot twist that probably won't be untangled until her last episode Jan. 22. Brewster, 28, will miss her supportive costars and they, no doubt, will miss her. "Paget's great," says Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe. "There's this confidence about her." A development deal will do that. In 1996, Brewster signed with Fox and is now set to star in a sitcom that actress-writer Carrie Fisher is creating just for her and which they hope will air this fall. Says Fisher: "Paget's annoyingly pretty, bright and funny."
But growing up in Concord, Mass., Brewster was only annoyingly dorky. Although her parents—Galen and Hathaway—taught at the prestigious Middlesex School, she preferred to enroll at the all-girl Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. "I was a nerd," says Brewster, "which is okay if there are no boys around." Moving to Manhattan at 18, she enrolled at the Parsons School of Design and sang for a few rock bands before moving to San Francisco to study acting. The next year, she learned to drive, broke up with her boyfriend (she's currently not dating anyone) and moved into a modest apartment in L.A.—the better not to tempt fate. "I'm so convinced this is all going to evaporate," she says.
That would certainly bum out her father, who now runs a day school in Scottsdale, Ariz. Since Brewster's role on Friends, Galen says, "instead of being the old headmaster, now I'm the cool old headmaster."