By Jefferson Graham
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. Kelli Williams plays single and ambitious as lawyer Lindsay Dole, sometimes love interest of colleague Bobby Donnell on ABC's The Practice.
But between takes, Williams, 28, is busy mothering her 6-month-old son, Kiran, who shares a dressing room with his actress mom and a nanny.
She switches out of her legal attire into sweats for an interview over lunch, while Kiran takes a stroll around the studio with his grandmother, who is visiting for the day.
"I was very pregnant last year," Williams says. "But most people didn't notice, because I was usually behind a podium in the courtroom or holding a bunch of law books."
This season, more of her has been seen from head to toe, and she's had more physically demanding scenes, including a whipped-cream food fight with roommate Helen Gamble, a district attorney played by Lara Flynn Boyle.
Lindsay and Helen moved in together not only to save money, but also to allow Practice creator David E. Kelley to show legal eagles talking about life outside of the office or court.
"It shows a lighter side of both of us," Williams says. "And that's great."
She describes her character as "so up on the law, yet her personal life is completely dysfunctional. Like most career women, she's focused on her work, and pays little attention to her personal life."
It was revealed the first season that Lindsay and Bobby had a romantic history that predates the show, and in recent weeks, things have reheated a bit. The two have kissed and talked about getting back together, but that's it. "I have no idea where it's going."
When The Practice began, Lindsay was the fresh-out-of-college lawyer at Donnell's firm, who beat her former law professor in court when she represented a cancer patient suing a tobacco company. By the end of last season, she'd pulled off a coup that resulted in most of the lawyers becoming partners in the renamed Donnell, Young, Dole & Frutt.
She watched a lot of Court TV to research the ways of lawyering. "I thought there was a certain way I had to be. I'm so much more relaxed in the courtroom now. I've loosened up," she says.
Her character has "taken on a life of her own. I now can say, 'Lindsay wouldn't do this.' I've really gotten to know who she is."
Jeffrey Kramer, co-executive producer of The Practice, points to her "stunning" performance in a recent scene where a frustrated Lindsay threw a brief at a judge who wouldn't consider reducing a murder conviction.
"She brought it to a whole other level," he says. "This is a woman you should watch. She's got a major career in front of her."
Williams grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of an actress mother (Shannon Wilcox, seen in movies Six Weeks and The Border) and a plastic surgeon father, and went to boarding school in Paris and to Beverly Hills High.
When the urge to act hit her, she skipped college and found work quickly in ABC's short-lived Elvis (as the future King of Rock 'n' Roll's high-school sweetheart) and the CBS series New York News with Mary Tyler Moore. She also has been seen on shows such as Party of Five, Sisters and Law & Order.
Williams is married to writer Ajay Sahgal, author of the satirical novel Pool. Saghal is of Indian descent, and the couple named their son Kiran because it means "ray of life" in India.
Wanting the baby with her on work days, Williams wakes Kiran up at 5:15 in the morning and arrives at the studio by 6.
For now, other acting projects are out. "I'm busier than I've ever been. Being a mom and working full time is quite a lot."
Williams got called for The Practice while shooting a spot on Kelley's now-defunct Picket Fences as an Amish woman who was raped. She auditioned during a break from filming Picket, "and had no time to get nervous."
Now that The Practice is an Emmy winner for best drama and has settled into its comfortable Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT time slot, "Many more people are coming up to me and saying, 'Didn't I go to college with you?' " she says. "I guess I look familiar."
Transcript courtesy of USA Today©1999 All
Kelli's 'Practice' in stardom, motherhood