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Cover Story: Being shot in the head with a .45 changed my life.

Byline: JOHN MILLAR

Laura Harring should turn the story of her life into a movie.

She survived a near-death experience when she was the innocent victim of a street shooting and has had more adventures than any fictional Hollywood heroine might dream of.

The sultry sex symbol, who plays gangster John Travolta's evil wife in comic book romp The Punisher, was only 12 when she was accidentally shot in the head. She only lived because the bullet missed her brain by a whisker.

By the time she was 21, Laura had travelled through India, become the first Latino winner of the Miss USA title and gone on to be a real-life aristocrat by marrying Count Carl Von Bismarck.

Now she's an actress acclaimed for her sizzling performance alongside Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. The girl from Los Mochis, in northern Mexico, is also hailed as having the class and style of screen goddesses of the 50s.

Her latest film The Punisher stars Thomas Jane as a man who gets caught up in a vengeful bloodbath with John Travolta's gang.

When we met in Los Angeles for the launch of the film, Laura, 40, agreed her life has been extraordinary.

'I know that my life could be a movie,' she says. 'I have been writing a journal since was 15 and have all my experiences in there. Eventually will write a book.'

The most dramatic chapter will undoubtedly be when she was in the family's Range Rover, along with her mother, her Cuban stepfather and her six sisters.They had planned a family outing and were driving to the cinema in Texas when suddenly Laura felt like she had been smacked in the head with a rock.

'It was a drive-by shooting in Texas with someone trying to shoot someone else and I was shot in the head.

'One millimetre closer and the bullet would have shattered my skull,' says Laura. She spent 24 hours in hospital until she was out of danger.

One of her most vivid memories is the sound of the blood pouring like a fountain from the wound as her mother pressed her sweater against her daughter's head, trying to staunch the flow.

'That was something that really changed my life when was shot in the head with a .45. I thought then - at a very young age - that I had not done anything with my life. felt it couldn't be true that I was dying. But there was a certain feeling inside that has helped me to do all of the things I have done in my life.'

She smiles when ask whether she was being watched over by a guardian angel. 'Yeah, think you are right. I was being looked over at that moment,' she says.

After being educated at an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland, Laura set up home in El Paso, Texas. It was then she took the plunge into the beauty queen game. In 1985 she was the first Latino to be crowned Miss USA and the first non-native born holder of the title.

And is the beauty queen business really all back-biting and dirty tricks?

'Oh boy! remember in the Miss Texas Pageant, I was the only Latin girl, there were a lot of blondes,' she says, suggesting the other girls were not thrilled by her success.

Laura added: 'A lot of strange things happened there but I couldn't believe they were being done on purpose. But I suppose there is a dark side to everybody. don't know what other girls did but did not do anything nasty. But I'm sure it happens.'

It was at the end of her reign as Miss USA that Laura was spotted by a producer and cast in a TV movie about The Alamo. She played the bride of Mexican General Santa Ana.

But that was the first and last time being a beauty queen helped her acting career. Laura said:'I think have had more obstacles in Hollywood because did those beauty pageants for three years. I think they are looked down upon.'

After her acting debut, Laura appeared in the TV series Sunset Beach and some less than impressive movies until director David Lynch - creator of Twin Peaks - cast her in Mulholland Drive.

Since then she has appeared opposite Denzel Washington in John Q, filmed thriller The Poet with Scots actor Dougray Scott and is now alongside John Travolta in The Punisher.

When she talks about working with the star of Grease and Saturday Night Fever, it's clear she's a big fan. 'John Travolta is an amazing man,' she says. 'Everybody he meets, he makes them feel great. I haven't met one person who can say a bad word about him. It's unbelievable.

'As soon as heard I was going to be opposite John Travolta in The Punisher - and playing his wife - I knew that wanted to do it.'

Making a movie with Travolta may be a dream come true - but Laura is accustomed to living a fairytale life. Take her romance with Count Carl Von Bismark.

They met at a New York party when she was still Miss USA, he whisked her off to his castle in Germany, they fell in love and were married in February 1987, making Laura a countess. Although the couple divorced two years later, Laura still has the right to use her title but doesn't bother.

'I have been thinking about that because it's so funny people might be impressed because it really means absolutely nothing,' she says.

Although she's on good terms with her ex-hubby, Laura has no regrets about turning her back on the days when she was a member of European nobility.

She said: 'I can't live my life with just parties and beautiful dresses, need to create. I have been like that since was little when I painted.

'OK, who doesn't like to wear beautiful clothes or go to a party? But at the end of the day like to go home and do something that takes some skill.'

Her inspiration comes from the spiritual aspects of life rather than the superficial - the result of a stint as a social worker in India during her teenage years.

Laura said: 'I was a vegetarian and like a hippy I wanted to be in the foothills of the Himalyas and to experience waking there at 5am.

'I performed manual labour every day - and I mean for nine hours in the boiling sun.

'That was a turning point in my life. It was the first time I was really connected. I understood that there was something much greater than us. India did that to me.'

Laura has studied works on Eastern mysticism and says that, plus her own experiences, has helped form how she looks at life.

'They say nothing is a mistake in life. Things happen because they are meant to,' she said.

'We are all searching for happiness but think I have finally found the secret.

'It's not in the future, it's not in the past, it's right here, right now. It's so liberating to feel like that. It doesn't matter if you are successful. Being happy in this moment is all that matters.'

#The Punisher is on general release on September 24.

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Laura won the Miss Texas title, then Miss USA; Laura with John Travolta in The Punisher; In the arms of Hank Cheyne in Sunset Beach; Laura and Justin Theroux in Mulholland Drive
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 5, 2004
Words:1243
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