The L Word's Katherine Moening

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Philadelphia
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•Family ties: The cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow (Moennig's dad, William, a violinmaker, is actress Blythe Danner's half brother), Moennig got a taste of showbiz as an apprentice on a summer-stock production starring Gwyneth. "I never knew she wanted to be an actress," Paltrow tells PEOPLE. "We all thought she would be a violinmaker like the rest of her family. She always had a distinctive personality and sense of self."

•Ahead by a nose: Moennig took stage roles and modeled to make ends meet after graduating from Massachusetts's Notre Dame Academy in 1996. "I once got $90 to test nasal spray in a focus group," she says. "I don't even have allergies."

•Gender bender: With her husky voice and lanky figure, Moennig previously played a cross-dresser on the short-lived WB series Young Americans and a transsexual on Law & Order: SVU. "My career is based upon androgynous roles," she says. "Everyone has their little pocket that they play in."

•The other L word: Though she lives alone in L.A. with her Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix Floyd, "I'm looking for love," she says. "I like commitment and safety and collaboration in a relationship. Life is so crazy and insane, I want to know I can be safe with someone and tell them anything and not be judged and vice versa."

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