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'Ally McBeal' star relishes new starring role as mother

Monday, October 29, 2001

By Terry Morrow, Scripps Howard News Service

Calista Flockhart is this party's best-kept secret. The star of "Ally McBeal" arrived at a summer party to promote her Fox series, but she did it without much fanfare. While other network celebrities were glad-handing and working the room full of reporters, she sat quietly at a table.

 
    "Ally McBeal"

When: 9 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Calista Flockhart

 
 

She was sitting under a light, evoking every cliche written about her. She's pencil thin and looks tired. Flockhart doesn't appear as if she wants to be interviewed.

In fact, she's waiting for her ride so she can exit the party posthaste.

However, if you approach her table, she is gracious. She smiles and explains she isn't used to going to parties anymore.

"I didn't have much of a social life before I had a baby," Flockhart says, her face lighting up at the mention of her 10-month-old son.

Earlier this year, Flockhart became a single mother when she adopted a child. Naturally, such a major event has changed her life.

"It does do what everybody says. It puts everything in perspective really quickly. I don't sleep very much, and I still don't go out."

Why didn't she go out much before? "Because I work too much," the 37-year-old says with a laugh. "Some days, I have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to go to work. I just like to stay home. I always have.

"I have a small group of friends that I like to hang out with. I'm not a big party girl. I never have been."

When the topic of friendship and trust comes up, Flockhart jokingly says she trusts no one, then offers seriously: "I never want to become a cynical person, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I really rely on my instincts when it comes to people.

"I can usually tell who I can trust."

Her character's instincts haven't worked as well. Ally, a single lawyer, is successful in the courtroom but hasn't found the right verdict for her love life. As a new season begins, she is facing an office filled with new faces and new conflicts.

"Ally is meeting new friends this season. I think," Flockhart says with a slight laugh. "I don't really know much about what's going to happen."

Many critics and fans say change has been a saving grace for "Ally." It experienced a renaissance period last season when Robert Downey Jr. was added to the cast. He played Ally's boyfriend, Larry, and provided the show a new spark.

"It's hard for me to have any perspective on it at all," Flockhart says of last season, "because I am so close [to the work]. I can say this: My experience of last season was wonderful. I had a great time working with Robert.

"I don't know. I can't even articulate, work-wise, whether [the show] was worse or better than previous seasons."

After legal problems and a well-documented relapse into illegal drug use, Downey is out of the series. There have been reports he may reprise the role later in the season.

Flockhart has said in other interviews she would welcome Downey's return to the show.

Other high-profile defections have hit the series as of late, too. Lucy Liu is exiting the show after a few episodes this season. Original cast member Peter MacNicol is reportedly making limited appearances this season.

However, "Ally" is welcoming newcomers. Pop star Jon Bon Jovi has signed to appear in nine episodes. Four new regular characters will come aboard, including Regina Hall, Josh Hopkins, James Marsden and Julianne Nicholson.

"It can be daunting doing a show that's been on this long ... I never knew Calista before doing this show," Nicholson says, but "she is very warm and generous and honest. She's lovely. She puts me at ease."

"Ally McBeal" begins its fifth season tonight at 9 on Fox. For Flockhart, time has flown and stood still while on the show.

"Sometimes, it feels like nothing," she says, "and sometimes, it feels like 100 years."

Even after all this time, though, Flockhart says she can still find things about the show that make it exciting for her.

"All the changes make it exciting. Changes add a new energy," she says.

"It's constantly changing. We're constantly changing so we never really feel like the same show from season to season."

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