(written from a Production point of view)
Rachel Emily Nichols (born 8 January 1980; age 36) is an American actress who appeared as Orion Starfleet cadet Gaila in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek.   Nichols previously worked with Abrams (as well as Trek writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) on the popular series Alias, in which she had a starring role as CIA agent Rachel Gibson during the show's fifth and final season.
Nichols was born and raised in Augusta, Maine, where she attended Cony High School. After graduating from Cony, she attended Columbia University in New York. She began modeling during her time at Columbia, which included doing photo shoots in Europe. In 2000, she appeared as a model in the film Autumn in New York, starring Winona Ryder, who also appears in Star Trek.
Although she intended to study psychology when she initially began attending Columbia, Nichols ultimately took up drama courses and opted to pursue a career in acting in 2002. She made her television debut that same year in an episode of HBO's Sex and the City, starring Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country actress Kim Cattrall. Shortly thereafter, she received her first major film role, playing the female lead in the 2003 comedy Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. That same year, she was ranked #28 in Maxim magazine's Top 100 Sexiest Women.
Nichols later had supporting roles in the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror, opposite her Star Trek co-star Jimmy Bennett. Nichols was nominated for both an MTV Movie Award and a Teen Choice Award for her work in this film. She also appeared in the 2005 film Shopgirl, along with Clyde Kusatsu and Randy Oglesby. After a supporting role in the 2006 drama The Woods, Nichols co-starred with Teri Hatcher in the 2007 drama Resurrecting the Champ. She then played the lead role in the 2007 horror/thriller P2.
Nichols was next seen in the 2007 political drama Charlie Wilson's War. Her co-stars in this film included fellow Trek alumni Spencer Garrett, Cyia Batten, Pavel Lychnikoff, and Faran Tahir, the latter two of whom worked with Nichols on the new Trek movie. Nichols was most recently seen as Julia in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, which opened July 2008. Nichols has also completed work on the film For Sale by Owner, which co-stars Joanna Cassidy. After Star Trek, Nicholas was seen as Master Sergeant Shana M. O'Hara, aka Scarlett, in Paramount Pictures' film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. She has a recurring role on the series Criminal Minds. She also has a new syndicated time-travelling sci-fi cop show with Tony Amendola entitled Continuum and will be appearing with Tyler Perry in Alex Cross, sequel to Ashley Judd's Kiss The Girls.