The Skinny on 'Ally'

By Bill Brioux (TV Times Jan 15 to 21, 1999)

Ally McBeal's Gil Bellows offers some straight talk on life, love, stardom ... and Calista Flockhart

Gill Bellows wants to get one thing straight, right off the bat; He is sick and tired of all the cheap shots that have been aimed at Calista Flockhart.

The handsome, Vancouver-born actor plays straight-arrow solicitor Billy Thomas on one of TV's most-talked-about shows, Ally McBeal. Asked about all the rampant press reports earlier this season that his willowy series co-star was anorexic, Bellows quickly blames an out-of-control and irresponsible press.

"In My opinion." he says,''they did a real piss-poor job."

The normally poised and articulate Bellows explains that, for the 10 years he has known her, Flockhart has always been extremely slender. Back when they were struggling actors, the two used to cross paths at auditions in New York. Suddenly, last season, she became TV's hottest new star. "That's what I really found to he the most disgusting part of all of this," Bellows says. "Last year-, [the press] was so ready to embrace her as this new face. Two seconds later, they're so eager to knock her down."

Bellows can he forgiven for his passion in defending Flockhart. It's the same passion for fair play and justice that his character brings to the screen in Ally McBeal.

A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, Bellows first gained widespread attention among movie audiences for his performance as an inmate with a penchant for knowledge in the outstanding 1944 prison drama, The Shawshank Redemption. Shortly after that, he gained more attention for the role of Matt in Miami Rhapsody.

His other film credits include Love And A .45, Looking For Richard, The Assistant, Dinner At Fred's, and Judas Kiss. On TV, meanwhile, Bellows racked up a list of guest appearances on such shows as Law & Order, Going To Extremes & Flying Blind before landing the part of Billy on Ally McBeal.

Bellows enjoys playing Billy, whom he describes as a small island of sanity in an otherwise wacky Boston law office. "They like to call me the anchor or the voice of reason," says Bellows. "Now, each character comes to me with issues of the heart. Pretty soon, I'm hoping to evolve into resident rabbi or priest."

Bellows admits that he would like to see his character loosen up and get in on some more of the fun in the show. "I think Billy or Georgia [his on-screen wife, played by Courtney Thorne-Smith] could use some trouble," he says, hinting at what may lie ahead. "It would be good for both of them and good for the show."

According to Bellows the Ally McBeal cast is "a pretty united bunch." with Thorne-Smith "the wittiest by a mile."

"She has a perfect Canadian sense of humour." says Bellows, whose parents and sister still live in Vancouver. "She's dry, fast and understands how to put verbal and visual images togther in a very funny fashion."

Bellows met his own wife actress Rya Kihlestedt (Home Alone 3), in 1991, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. It was love at first sight. "We met the first day in the experimental theatre company and we've been together ever since." he says. After years of chasing roles around the globe. Bellows is glad to be on a series that keeps him close to home.

There are other perks, too - like the time, early on in the series, when Bellows was flying from New York to L.A.

"This woman who was at the ticket counter, loved the show and loved my chacacter," Bellows recalls. "She said,'You`re not flying coach' and put me in first class. I thought that was pretty terrific."

As for the controversy that swirls around his co-star, Bellows says the anorexia story began as an erroneous report (which was later recanted) on an L.A. news program. It quickly spread across Noth America, was picked up by tabloids and radio stations and eventually worked its way into late-night comedy monologues. (Conan O'Brien joked that astronaut John Glenn had achieved weightlessness - Just like Flockhart.)

Still, Bellows insists he isn't worried about Flockhart. She may he skinny, he says, but she's tough. "Calista is pretty fearless." he declares. "And when there's a fight to he had, she will not back down." Neither, apparently will he.