Actress takes on a tall order as new 'Ally' cast member

September 14, 1998

BY PHIL KLOER (Cox News Service)

A competent lawyer on "Ally McBeal"? What's this show coming to?

But that's how Portia de Rossi, who joins the firm of Cage, Fish and Associates when "Ally" returns for its second season tonight, describes her character, lawyer Nell Porter.

"She's good at her job. She's a competent, strong woman," says de Rossi, who had a bit part in "Scream 2" -- and survived all the slashings as ditsy sorority babe Murphy. "Fish ('Ally's' founding law partner, superbly played by Greg Germann), being as greedy as he is, wants to enhance the possibility of making a lot of money, so he brings her in."

The actress is the first new regular added to Fox's breakout hit since it made its debut last season and became one of the most talked-about shows on TV.

Cast members have warned de Rossi that her life is about to change enormously as she goes from being little-known to watched, somewhat obsessively, by millions. She says they told her: "It's nuts out there. Lock your doors. Don't even go outside."

De Rossi says she still doesn't know much about her character, including what quirks the show's creator, David E. Kelley, will saddle her with. She says the cast told her Kelley likes to watch the actors and then pick up and magnify their tics.

"Greg Germann said the other day: 'Maybe you'll be blind. Maybe you'll have really thick glasses.' I said, 'Maybe I won't.' "

One reason Kelley may have hired her, though, is her height. She's 5-foot-8, easily 5-foot-10 in high heels. Star Calista Flockhart and most of the other cast members are considerably shorter, and de Rossi's height may be used to intimidate them. Or, knowing "Ally," to cut Nell Porter down to size.

De Rossi was born in Australia but has lived in Los Angeles for four years and has no trace of an Australian accent. In addition to "Scream 2" ("There may be some possibility of doing 'Scream 3,' she says), she had a small role in the 1994 film "Sirens" with Hugh Grant.

Although actors frequently say they don't have time to watch much television, de Rossi says she was a huge fan of "Ally" last season.

"It was amazing," she says of her first week of filming, "to have these characters that I love so much right in front of me."