Teri Polo

Hometown: Dover, Delaware

First venture into showbiz: “I was a dancer, moved to New York at 17 and missed the last year of high school.”

Who she admires: “I watched and stared at De Niro because he’s an amazing actor. With me, he was very fatherlike and affectionate.”

Anxiety disorders: “I’m usually off for about a week before I start to panic.”

Motto: “I’m a working actress. When I first moved to L.A. in ’95, I found out if you’re not blond, busty or beautiful, it can be tough.”

Only in Hollywood can a woman be working in television for the past 17 years and now be considered an actress to watch.

But 31-year-old Teri Polo, who first appeared in the soap “Loving” as a teenager, has her priorities in order and knows not to take the thesp life too seriously.

She’s an actress that has graced primetime — “Northern Exposure,” “Sports Night” and most recently “Felicity” — and now will get a chance to show off her acting chops in the upcoming DreamWorks/Universal pic “Meet the Parents,” directed by “Austin Powers” helmer Jay Roach.

Polo portrays Ben Stiller’s girlfriend, a woman who’s looking for the approval of Stiller’s onscreen dad, Robert De Niro.

“This film starts a new phase in my life and career,” says Polo, married nearly three years to a photographer. “The way I used to prepare for a role would be to be insecure and scared. For this film, I just left all that outside. There’s a lot of me in her.”

Also appearing in “The House of the Spirits” with Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, Polo has shared screen time with A-list talent, but working with Oscar winner De Niro was obviously a thrill.

“When they flew me out for the screen test I said to myself that I either have to give 110% or I’ll never forgive myself,” Polo recalls. “My screen test was giving him (De Niro) all these hugs and kisses. I couldn’t think that I was doing this to De Niro but, rather, doing it to my father.”

As Scott Speedman’s fling on a few episodes of “Felicity” this season, Polo was a cheating wife having an affair with a college student as sort of a backward way of getting even with her own adulterous husband.

“I was mad at that character,” Polo admits. “She honestly did not mean to hurt poor Ben.”

Though “Felicity’s” Nielsen numbers are not exactly “Millionaire”-esque, enough people who saw those episodes do give her a double take on the street.

“It’s been very strange how many people have stopped me on the street, especially in New York, and said I saw you on ‘Felicity.’ ”

And getting noticed is what makes all the difference in this business. “It’s the reason we do what we do,” Polo says. “I always make sure I stop and have a conversation. At this point, it makes me feel good about my work.”

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