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Snake Charmer

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You might say Mili Avital was born to play Scheherazade, the yarn-spinning heroine of Arabian Nights (an ABC miniseries airing April 30-May 1). At age 6, “I would take books that I liked and make them into plays,” says the Israeli-born actress. “Then I would go to all the kindergartens, knock on their doors and say, ‘Would you like me to come and do my show?’ ”

Now 28, Avital showed similar pluck shooting Nights on location in Turkey during November 1998. In one marketplace, “there were snakes,” says executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. “But Mili just worked her heart out. She’s a very tough little girl.”

And gutsy. The oldest of two children of Iko and Noni, both graphic designers, Avital moved to New York City in 1992 with just $6,000, the paycheck from her last Israeli acting gig. “That money was gone within two months,” she says. Then poof! a genie appeared—actually, a movie talent scout who spotted Avital waiting tables one day and got her cast in 1994’s Stargate.

Next came a handsome prince: Friends‘ David Schwimmer, 33, with whom Avital fell in love while costarring in 1998’s Kissing a Fool. “There is a very nice balance between them,” says pal Melissa Ellin. “David might be a little quieter, where Mili is more outspoken.” Last year the couple moved into a Mediterranean-style home in L.A., but Avital is currently in Belize to film After the Storm with Benjamin Bratt. “My life has been so unpredictable,” she says, “that I never think about where it’s going to take me next.”