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Attorney makes grand entrance as newest character on 'Ally'

Monday, April 17, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

First of all, his last name is pronounced Le-grow.

"They'll tell you it's 'the grand' and 'the large,' but the French colloquialism is 'the fat.' There's no getting around it," says actor James Le Gros of the translation.

Le Gros will start living large tonight on the Fox series "Ally McBeal." He joins the cast as lawyer Mark Albert, hired to fill the slot left vacant by Billy Thomas's abrupt death from a brain tumor.

Attorneys in the Boston firm don't take kindly or easily to someone picking up Billy's cases or contemplating moving into Billy's office or trying to put the moves on Ally or Nelle or Elaine or Ling. Actually none of that last, lothario stuff is happening -- at least not yet.

Asked if his character will become romantically involved with someone in the office, Le Gros jokes by phone, "They talk about that, but I haven't seen anything in the scripts I've been doing so far. Look, it's always imminent on that show. Anything can happen; rewrites can come in a split second."

Expect the newcomer to arrive with his own little quirk: a penchant for dental hygiene. And apparently that doesn't just mean keeping extra mint floss in his desk or breast pocket.

"There's a deep, deep commitment that's not realized in most lifestyles," Le Gros says, preferring to keep the specifics secret. "When I met with David [Kelley] we talked about a half-hour, 45 minutes, and flossing was not mentioned once or any dental practice whatsoever."

Whatever they did talk about sold the show's creator on Le Gros.

"I really don't know what their process was. I just got a phone call and they said, 'Would you come down and meet with us?' I drove down there. I sat in their office. We talked. They offered doughnuts; I said no thank you. We chatted, and that was it.

"We covered a pretty broad range of subjects, many of them having absolutely nothing to do with show business. I really have no idea what was in their mind, what they'd seen." Later that day, Le Gros was asked to join the show.

Talking about Hollywood's renewed appreciation for writers and strength of story, he says, "That's what is great about working for David Kelley. The guy knows how to tell a story. What's great about working with those actors is they're always fresh, and they keep their standards very high."

The 30-something Minneapolis native has a long list of credits in indie films such as "The Myth of Fingerprints," "Living in Oblivion" and "My New Gun," and mainstream fare such as "Psycho," "Enemy of the State" and "Born on the Fourth of July."

"Well, my kids have to go to college, too. It's a very modest way of life," he says of toiling on the smaller-budget movies. Le Gros and his wife, a photographer, live in Los Angeles and have two children, ages 6 and 3.

"I try to keep busy all the time. In fact, as soon as I wrap 'Ally McBeal,' I'm going to go up to Halifax and make a film there. I'll work on that till they yank me to come back" for the series. The movie also will star Maura Tierney and be directed by her husband, actor Billy Morrissette.

In the "Psycho" remake, Le Gros was the auto dealer who helps Marion Crane swap cars before her fateful stop at the Bates Motel. Although some critics and hardcore Hitchcock fans questioned the need for a new version, Le Gros says it was a terrific experience.

"It was a remarkable crew. I really learned a lot from watching them. ... It was a great education."

He sloughs off the naysayers. "I think at this point in time, people won't be able to judge it, but after some time passes, they'll be able to look at that picture differently."

Although the Fox series will raise Le Gros's profile considerably, he doesn't anticipate being turned into a magazine cover boy. Besides, he often is recognized now, for projects ranging from the surfing safari "Point Break" to "Phantasm II" about psychic teens to "ER," on which he played a doctor for three episodes in spring 1998.

"What happens more than anything is they don't know who I am. A typical situation would be something like a disgruntled guy in his late 40s or early 50s who says, 'Hey, you. My wife happens to think you're somebody. Could you please tell her you're not?' "

Not letting the star trip go to his head, he adds, "It's just a job, that's all it is. People work in a bank; this is what I do."

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