'Ally' actress finds role quirky and sentimental

BY VIRGINIA ROHAN (Free Press News Services)

NEW YORK -- Prodding Jane Krakowski to recall her most bizarre moments on "Ally McBeal" is like asking a Baskin-Robbins clerk to rattle off ice-cream flavors.

There's a lot to remember.

"I just put a frog in my bra a couple of episodes ago. I never thought I'd do that on television," Krakowski says, with a hearty, throaty, contagious laugh.

"Wow. I never imagined that I'd wear something like a face bra on my face on national television," says the Parsippany, N.J., native, whose Elaine Vassal character is not only the buttinsky assistant of Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart), but a prolific inventor.

Besides the face bra -- which helps keep a woman's skin taut -- Elaine's inventions include the automatic toilet seat warmer, the husband CD (which creates the audio impression that there's a man in the house) and the cool cup (an undergarment that boosts a man's sperm count).

Krakowski doesn't look very much like her Elaine -- a character, she notes, who never wear pants, but always dons "open-toed high heels in the middle of winter."

"Elaine is a very hair and makeup kind of girl," Krakowski says. "I always thought that she got up an hour earlier than everyone else to really do her hair and makeup for work. She never just strolls in."

Back in Parsippany, where her parents still live, Krakowski had a regular childhood, going to public school and doing typical suburban-kid things.

"But then I would go into New York City on afternoons or weekends for training or classes or shows," she says. "I really feel like I had a lot of the best of both worlds."

For her, showbiz was almost a foregone conclusion.

"From the time I was born, my parents were very involved in the community theater, so many times, instead of getting a baby-sitter, I would just go and hang out there with them," she recalls. "I think it somehow infiltrated into me that that's where my parents were having fun, and that's what I wanted to do."

As a kid, Krakowski did industrial shows, then commercials, and ultimately, theater. Her stage credits include a number of productions at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts (where she met future "Ally" costars Flockhart and Gil Bellows) and Broadway shows, such as "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Grand Hotel" (for which she won Tony and Drama Desk nominations).

When she got the script for "Ally McBeal," Krakowski loved its quirkiness, but never imagined millions of other people would, too.

"In the pilot script, Elaine had about 10 lines, so it was very little to go on," Krakowski says. "The script said she was a great secretary, but also, in everybody's face. And it said, 'We see Elaine Vassal dressed to accentuate the positive.' That could be taken in many, many ways."

Krakowski had her own interpretation.

"For my audition, I wore the tightest wrap fuzzy Angora sweater that I owned, and a little flip skirt, and a Wonderbra," she recalls.

After she landed the part, Krakowski and Loree Parral -- the costume supervisor during the show's first season -- decided to continue to "push the flirty side of the envelope."

Krakowski loves that producer David Kelley gives all the characters not only the strange scenes, but "really heartfelt, touching moments" too. She also likes that Elaine's relationship with Ally -- which began with some head-butting -- is "complex and confusing," especially now that they have become friends.

As for all those stories about Flockhart's weight loss since last season, and the rumor that Flockhart has an eating disorder (which the actress denied in a recent People cover story), Krakowski says, "It was sort of a shock to all of us, because it just didn't seem like that big of an issue. I've known her forever, and she's always been very thin."

All that said, Krakowski adds, "I also think there's unbelievable demands in this business to be extremely thin. I understand that you're supposed to be presenting a fantasy, and that's why people are tuning in, but some of the demands are a little bit crazy.

"I consider myself to be more real-sized than most of the actresses in California and in show business. They're very small. They're like miniature people."