By Dan Snierson
Updated March 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Ming-Na Wen has this strange, almost-masochistic wish. ”I would love to make every mistake in the book,” says the 26-year-old actress. ”Choose the wrong projects, say the wrong things, crash, hit rock bottom, and have to start all over. Then I wouldn’t worry, ‘What if I make a mistake and go down?”’ Her wish is looking more like a pipe dream now that she has landed a choice recurring role as young resident Deb Chen on NBC’s freshman-sensation hospital drama ER. It’s another step up the Hollywood ladder for Wen (who kept Kleenex in business with a moving performance in The Joy Luck Club), though she’s not quite planning a straight climb. ”I’m always throwing my agents curve balls,” she says, breaking for lunch at a Los Angeles cafe. ”It’s like, ‘Where is she? She’s not doing films? She’s doing television?”’ Wen certainly keeps ER’s audience guessing-is Deb a brown-nosing competitor or shy friend to her third-year classmate, John Carter? ”Ming’s extremely subtle, which I really like,” says Noah Wyle, who plays Carter. ”She brings a lot of levels and a lot of nuances to the part that aren’t necessarily in the text.” Wen even brought her own latex gloves to her ER audition, which required her character to perform a rectal exam sans K-Y. ”Latex and skin don’t mix very well,” she notes of her, uh, dry run. Generally, it’s been smooth going for the China-born, Pittsburgh-raised Wen, who was named one of People’s ”50 Most Beautiful People” in 1994. She landed one of her first gigs out of Carnegie Mellon University as ”town virgin” Lein on As the World Turns (1989-91). Wen later won the role of the piano-playing daughter in 1993’s Joy Luck. She starred as a butt-kickin’ reporter in 1994’s Street Fighter and is producing a play, Exit the Dragon, with boyfriend Eric Michael Zee. She and Zee view the road to success differently. ”He wants to do it in a slow-burning way; I want the fast track,” says Wen. ”So we’re trying to help each other. I’d love to slow down a bit.” But on breakneck ER? She wishes.