Court And Spark

By Mark Schwed

It's just criminal. Kelli Williams gets to flirt on-screen with Practice costar Dylan McDermott - then run home to her hubby and new baby.

As a kid, you set up a lemonade stand outside your ritzy Bel Air home, where one of your customers is Johnny Carson. You go to the real Beverly Hills High. While others are scrambling to get their Screen Actors Guild card, you don't even know you've had one since that diaper commercial you did when you were 6 months old. And now you're playing Lindsay Dole, a brilliant Harvard-educated lawyer on ABC's Emmy-winning drama The Practice, and when you're not beating the pants off the tobacco companies in court, you get to kiss a guy who's so darn good-looking other guys want to smack him.

But on this December morning, don't tell Kelli Williams how she's got it made. Her pale blue eyes are bloodshot because she's been up all night with her 7-month old, Kiran Ram (Kiran is the Hindi word for "ray of light"), who has his first cold. But she has to run out, do a quick interview at a coffee joint (no java - she's still breast feeding), race around doing errands, then rush back home to her son. And this is her day off. Glamarous, eh? "Be careful what you wish for," says Williams.

She's only kidding. This 28-year old mom is on the brink of breaking out - not as another pretty face (although she is deceptively stunning), but as an actor's actor. A star. And it's just beginning to sink in. "Someone asked a friend whether I was gay," says Williams. "I've arrived. People are actually talking about my sexual orientation." (She's been married two years not to writer Ajay Sahgal.)

She grew up around movie sets with her actress mom, Shannon Wilcox ("Six Weeks"). Dad John was a plastic surgeon who also did, in William's words, "boobs and noses"; no, she didn't take advantage of his skills. Her parents were divorced when she was 13; she has one brother and three half-brothers. Yet even with her early exposure to Hollywood, she's not quite comfortable with the fame that's creeping up on her. "You know how somebody looks at you and you think, "What, do I have food in my teeth?" That's how I feel right now.

Three years ago, she had a black eye, not food in her teeth, when she tried out for a new David E. Kelley show called The Practice, about a struggling Boston law firm. The bruise was makeup; she was playing an Amish rape victim on Picket Fences, another Kelley Emmy-winner, when she got called to audition. "She nailed it," says Practice co-executive producer Jeffery Kramer. "There's beauty and honesty in her acting you don't find anywhere else."

"She reminds me of the women in Wooy Allen movies like "Hannah and Her Sisters," says costar Lara Flynn Boyle, who plays courtroom rival Helen Gamble. "She has great quirks. Yet she's this really centered, somewhat earthmother who's really funny. And she does everything in one take. I hate her."

While Williams had roles on shows like Law and Order and Party of Five, this was the part she was waiting for. "I had always played the troubled junkie or the girl next door, and it was great to finally be an adult," she says. But as is the case with most of Kelley's female characters, this one is complex, quirky, and smart. When Lindsay wasn't beating the boys in court, she had a fling with Bobby, played by reluctant hunk Dylan McDermott. Then Bobby left her for Helen. Now Helen and Lindsay have become roommates - just as Lindsay and Bobby's romance is heating up again.

While it looks real enough on TV, Williams is uncomfortable doing the love scenes. "Dylan is so handsome," she says. "I'm sure women would kill me for saying this, but we're all like brothers and sisters. I know his wife (Shiva Rose). He knows my husband. We talk about our kids."

After two seasons bouncing around the schedule, The Practice got a break this fall with its move to Sundays. Then it won best drama Emmy in a surprising upset over ER, Law and Order, NYPD Blue and X-Files. "Anybody who says winning doesn't mean anything is full of it," says Boyle. It means everything."

That's certainly true for Williams. While she hasn't found the right script, she hopes to make her first big film during her summer hiatus. The Emmy also means something else for this perfectionist. "I can relax," she says. I know they're not going to cancel The Practice. And I know they won't cancel me.


Transcript courtesy of TV Guide1998 All Rights Reserved


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