Siberian model and actress Irina Pantaeva, 25, has appeared in magazines such as Vogue and Elle, in adverts for Levi's jeans, and in Woody Allen's film Celebrity. Her book, Siberian Dream, is out on 11 March; her jewellery collection, Irina's Universe, goes on sale shortly at Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

My life is full of challenges, and that's what I love. That's how we lived in Russia; surviving every single day. What I had to face in the fashion business wasn't that difficult. Somewhere deep inside, I always heard these voices calling me.

My father is a musician and composer and my mother makes costumes, so I was always in this world of art and glamour. But it really started when I met a local designer. She was one of the first to introduce me to the fashion world. When I sent my photo to Pierre Cardin for a 40th anniversary show in Red Square, I was wearing her clothes. There were thousands of us; he only chose 15 or 20.

I was refused so many times in Paris: I spent all my energy and effort to succeed. Some girls were going to see Karl Lagerfeld for a casting. My name was not on the list, and I had to get past so many security guards, but there was something inside telling me: if not now, it will never happen. I insisted and convinced them. Before you see a designer, at least 10 people judge you. Finally, I was standing in front of Karl Lagerfeld.

American designers took a chance on my looks: my success in the US is a matter of being there at the right moment. When my modelling career took off, I went to the Oscars to present an award. A casting director offered me Mortal Combat, then I was offered a part in the TV series Third Rock From The Sun.

Growing up in a Communist country you don't have a clear picture of the rest of the world. America was fascinating to me, but with a Russian passport it was not possible to go there. When my French visa was about to expire, I felt my life was only just starting. I stood at the American Embassy and insisted they give me a visa, because sometimes in your life you really have to fight.