How 'Ally' Complicates Flockhart's Life

Television: Being the very public personification of the young person in the city makes eating out a bit more difficult.


There's something about Ally.

It could be her doe-eyed, subtle beauty. Or the way she comically collapses when she is overcome by her attraction to a man. Or the way she declares unapologetically that her problems are bigger than anyone else's "because they're mine."

Whatever it is, the title character in Fox's "Ally McBeal" has become the new TV personification of the young, single, professional woman trying to make it in the big city, inheriting the torch from the 1960s-era Ann Marie of "That Girl" and the 1970s-era Mary Richards of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

More significantly, the character has catapulted Calista Flockhart, who was basically an unknown only a year ago, to a bevy of magazine covers and tabloid inquiries about her personal life. Flockhart, who beat out Kirstie Alley, Helen Hunt, Ellen DeGeneres and others in winning a Golden Globe this year for best actress in a comedy series, is a favorite in Sunday's Emmys, where she is nominated for outstanding comedy actress.

Flockhart, who was principally a stage actress before her leap to the small screen, now is so besieged by interview requests that she turns many of them down. She demands photo approval for articles done on her. She is preparing to launch her own production company. On the "Ally McBeal" soundtrack album, it's Flockhart's face on the cover, not that of Vonda Shepard, who performs all of the songs on the album.

During a brief break in filming last week, Flockhart said the success of the show and its impact on her has been "a bit surreal. It took us all by surprise. No one was prepared for what happened."

Said David E. Kelley, the show's creator and executive producer: "Calista's just bombarded from every direction by the media. For an actor who's in every scene, that can be a bit much. We're trying to protect her a little more this season."

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The actress seemed much more confident, relaxed and aware than she did a year ago, when she was still trying to get a grasp on the tone of McBeal. She talked easily as she sat on the set, wearing a gray sweater that swallowed her petite frame. While she is grateful for the role and ecstatic about the work, Flockhart regrets her loss of privacy.

"Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming," she said. "For the most part, I never paid attention to the media. It was easy to stay in the cocoon and not let that penetrate. But sometimes I feel like I'm living under a microscope. Walking the dog around the block can become difficult. I sometimes become self-conscious. Going out to a restaurant and eating by myself is not as easy as it used to be."

She's also bewildered by some of the passionate essays and articles discussing the social significance of "Ally" and its depiction of women.

"I never thought of this more than a TV show," she said. "We have so many male protagonists on our show, and they're not picked apart like the women are. All of a sudden we're supposed to be representing what all women are like. This is just Ally. We're not saying this is what all women are like."

On the other hand, she understands why many women identify with her character.

"It's become an epidemic, these people in their late 20s and early 30s, that have a successful career but they're alone. They become preoccupied with finding a husband and boyfriend. The show raises a lot of concerns that a lot of young women and young men have."

Going into the second season of "Ally," producer Kelley was jubilant in his praise of Flockhart.

"She's just gifted," he said. "There's never a day when I'm writing when I ask myself, 'Can Calista do this?' It never gives me pause. There's nothing she can't do."

During her summer hiatus, Flockhart filmed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Italy, and took some time off in New York, where she went to every play she could.

By and large, she is trying to keep her life as simple as it was pre-"Ally."

"I really do have it OK," she said. "Most people who come up are generous and nice. And those that hate the show, they don't bother me. They don't care."

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