Ten years ago, she and her mother were having dinner at home in Malibu when dessert turned into an audition.
"I told her, 'Life is so mysterious,' " said Sachi Parker, daughter of Shirley MacLaine. "And she said, 'Oh, sweetheart, just say that one more time with feeling and cut the fruitcake.' And I did, and she says, 'I knew it. I knew it. You can act.' "
So Parker, after years as a stewardess and waitress, took up the family profession. She's bounced around between minor parts in movies and television, and larger performances on the stage, never making it, never fading into obscurity.
In her latest role, she plays a woman trying to escape a domineering mother in "Independence" at the Gnu Theatre in North Hollywood.
The role begs comparisons to real life.
"I'm a step ahead of her," said Parker, 34, of Marina del Rey, referring to her character. "I'm really a happy person. I have a life."
And Parker is very independent. Although she welcomes advice from her famous family, Parker has navigated a career without too much direction from her mother or her uncle, Warren Beatty.
"It was very clear," Parker said. "She said, 'You're on your own, kid.' If she or Uncle Warren offered help, God, it would be great. But I don't feel resentful. What is so bad about doing it on your own? It's how most people do it."
She credits her stability to her upbringing in Japan. Parker's parents decided she would be better off growing up away from Hollywood. At 2, she was sent to Japan to live with her father, producer Steve Parker. For summers and during Christmas and Easter, she visited her mother. Of Hollywood, she said, "I came here as an adult, and I might have been jaded if I grew up here."
At 18, Parker went to see the rest of the world. The trip took six years.
Parker taught skiing in New Zealand, became a waitress in Hawaii, then spent five years as a stewardess for Qantas Airways. She was engaged to an Australian but broke it off. "The guys there are mates, and the women belong in the kitchen," she said. "In a way, I was attracted to that. I know better now."
After several months in Paris as an au pair, Parker stood at a career crossroads. On her way back to Japan, she stopped in Los Angeles to visit her mother for a couple of months. That's when they had dinner, and her acting ambitions became clear.
"She told me later that she had a sense ever since I was a kid that I could act," Parker said, "but she never mentioned it to me. She was in total neutral until that moment, and then encouraged me to no end. And it was the right time. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life."
She and her mother have become best friends and talk several times a week when MacLaine is in town. She's not as close to Beatty, although "he's always interested in what I'm doing."
Parker recalls picking up the acting bug before understanding its significance.
"I used to do little skits down the aisles of the plane," Parker said. "I obviously wanted to act, and I just didn't know."
While her mother and Beatty constantly encourage her, Parker said she feels no pressure to match her family's acting achievements.
"I'd be putting myself in a terrible bind if I did that," Parker said. "They have their lives. I have mine."
Her resume includes television appearances on "Star Trek, the Next Generation," "Equal Justice" and "Alien Nation," and small film roles in "Stick," "About Last Night," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Bad Influence." She has also done small local theater.
The pace has been just right.
"It's been slow, but it's been just as it should be," she said. "I'm ready now to hit it big in some way, whatever that means."
Jeff Seymour, who is directing "Independence," concurs.
"She's just coming into her own," Seymour said. "She can follow in her mother's footsteps."
Seymour said he auditioned dozens of actresses and picked Parker because she "had an adult quality, but there was a lot of little girl, too."
Parker said she's writing a screenplay about a young woman who has strong emotional ties to Japan and the United States during World War II. She said Japanese investors have expressed interest in the project, which she expects to finish by the end of the year. She wants to play the part, too.
"I understand both souls," Parker said. "I'm both and neither. It's all about cultural differences. It's my story."
"Independence," written by Lee Blessing and directed by Jeff Seymour, will run from Thursday through May 26 at the Gnu Theatre, 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. For more information, call 818-508-5344.