Cover Story: Girl Power

by Eric Kohruiik (TV Times)

An exhausted Calista Flockhart lets out a sigh as she settles into a cushy easy chair inside the lobby of a posh Pasadena, Calif., hotel. It's a Sunday evening and Flockhart has joined the cast of Ally McBeal at a media party being thrown by producers David E. Kelley and Jeffrey Kramer. After a string of interviews the day before, Flockhart had to endure a photo shoot that stretched well into the night. Now, it's her chance to relax, mingle with the press, and begin to absorb the impact of TV stardom.

It's a phenomenon that is foreign to the 32-year-old Flockhart, a TV-series rookie whose professional background has largely been on the stage (both in regional theatre and on Broadway) and in small roles in such movies as 'The Bird Cage and Quiz Show. It wasn't until Christmas that Flockhart began to notice the growing amount of attention she had suddenly attracted.

"I guess I noticed it for the first time over the holiday," nods Flockhart. "I did feel like I was being stared at a lot, and I was shocked. I was, like,'Oh no, what's wrong with me?' "

What's wrong or, rather, what's right is that Flockhart has, in relatively short order, become a sort of working woman's role model, thanks to the weekly perils of her- TV alter-ego.

Ally McBeal casts Flockhart in the title role of a young, Harvard-educated lawyer who works at a prestigious Boston firn run by her law-school nemesis, an opportunistic shark named Richard Fish (Greg Germann). To complicate matters, one of Ally's co-workers is her ex-boyfriend, Billy (played by Vancouver native Gil Bellows). He's not just any ex-boyfriend, though: Billy is the guy Ally almost married, and the guy with whom she still connects most closely - on an intellectual, spiritual and emotional level. Trouble is, Billy is now married and totally devoted to his beautiful wife, Georgia (Melrose Place grad Courtney Thorne-Smith), who also works at the law firm.

The rest of the revolving cast of characters includes Ally's always-in-high-gear secretary, Elaine (Jane Krakowski), loopy lawyer John Cage (Chicago Hope alumnus Peter MacNicol), and Ally's best friend and roommate, Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson).

Ally is the type of woman who doesn't hide her emotions. And that often gets her into sticky situations, not only at work but often in her private life as well. Those situations are given an added tweak by fantasy images that suddenly come to life on screen - images ranging from quick mental flashes to a musical sequence involving Ally dancing with the famed Internet Baby.

The entire quirky mix has prompted a growing legion of fans to come to the show each week. In the process, Flockhart has also become a symbol of "girl power" - a standard-hearer for an entire generation of women, much in the same way that Mary Tyler Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Blair Brown on The Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd became role models for previous generations of TV viewers.

For Flockhart, the initial attraction of Ally came on a much more basic level. "I really saw an opportunity to play a character who was complex and full of contradictions that would go who-knows-where," she says. As for those who would turn her character into some sort of rallying point, Flockhart sees that as beyond her control. "I see Ally as an individual," she says. "To me, she is independent of any kind of role model or some sort of symbolic woman of the 90's who embraces 'womanhood.' "

Still, even Flockhart gets wrapped up in the prospect of what injustice will challenge Ally next. "I love playing this part,'' she says. I love being on an emotional rollercoaster ride. I love not knowing what she's going to do."
Ally McBeal. Mondays; Fox, Baton/CTV, VTV.

This Was Taken From The Feb 27 to March 5, 1998 issue of the TV Times (Canada)