Ally Chat

During its debut season, Ally McBeal became more than a hit series. The hourlong comedy created by David E. Kelley (The Practice, Picket Fences) was co-opted as a cultural flash point for such issues as contemporary workplace mores, the death of feminism and the revival of the miniskirt. Overnight, the actors became stars contending with awards (Calista Flockhart won a Golden Globe and received an Emmy nomination), publicists and movie roles, among other Hollywood rites of passage.

Now, as the series heads into its all-important second season with a few notable changes, including a new cast member (Portia de Rossi), a glossy new set and an off-camera move to luxurious new studios, the cast still seems to be rubbing its eyes. During an afternoon photo shoot and interview session, Flockhart and costars Jane Krakowski and Lisa Nicole Carson displayed wildly differing responses to their new status in the Hollywood pecking order. Krakowski, a onetime Broadway dancer, twirled about the photography studio, munching a slice of chocolate banana bread, laughing as she read a magazine story about herself. Flockhart took a different tack: She indulged in a fit of private giggles during the photo session; at the start of the interview, she settled warily into a chair and began tugging the sleeves of her sweater and rocking back and forth. Meanwhile, Carson opted for cool, puffing a dark cheroot and dropping a few well-chosen observations into the conversation.


TV Guide: Judging by the large number of publicists at this photo shoot, you've seen a lot of changes in the past year.

Jane Krakowski: I remember the first photo shoot we went to, there was only the cast. At the next one, there were more publicists than cast members; it was scary.

Calista Flockhart: Now all my friends are people I pay.

Krakowski: [laughing] That's so sad.

Flockhart: It's true!

TVG: What's it like to walk down the street these days?

Flockhart: As much as a show like this gives you professional freedom, it really takes away a lot of personal freedom. I used to go out to eat by myself in New York. Now you have to be more careful.

Krakowski: I don't think it's been a bad thing. In New York, everyone's like "Hey, Elaine, you rock!" but in L.A., people are more like, "I really enjoy your work," like they're in the business. But it's different than what Calista gets.

Flockhart: [laughing] I find you can't be rude to people anymore.

Krakowski: Well, you do feel like you're being watched a lot. I'm a bulimic shopper, so I buy a lot of stuff, and then I return some of it. But now I feel like people are thinking, "Do you really need that $45 back?"

Flockhart: When I said you can't be rude, I don't mean randomly rude. But when you get bad service somewhere or if you've just been treated awfully, now you have to suck it up.

Lisa Nicole Carson: [laughing] I don't suck it up.

Flockhart: Well, I'm a bit more timid now.

TVG: How's the second season going? Where did that new swanky apartment for Ally and Renee come from?

Krakowski: When you guys shot that first scene in your new apartment, did they show you unpacking boxes or anything, because you never even mention it?

Carson: [laughing] No, we're just there.

TVG: And what's with the dishy new lawyer, Nelle Porter?

Flockhart: That's Portia de Rossi, and she's great.

Krakowski: I wish she wasn't as blond, thin or talented, but "Welcome, Portia, welcome!" No, one of the things that I like about the show is that we have more women than men.

Flockhart: It's rare to have a woman protagonist and even more rare that David Kelley has written a woman protagonist who isn't perfect. There's a chemistry between the actors but also between David's writing and the actors.

Carson: This may come out wrong, but for me, usually when you first meet the cast, you think you're the only talented one in the group. But now it's like the theater where everyone is talented.

TVG: You all started in theater. Do you feel challenged working in television, playing the same role over and over?

Krakowski: I used to judge how I was doing by the reaction of the audience, and without that I've had to become more disciplined.

Flockhart: I'm completely different. Because TV happens so fast, I've had to learn to think on my feet.

Carson: The challenge of being a supporting player is waiting your turn at bat while others are hitting home runs. At the beginning of last season, I didn't know what was going on with Renee. Fortunately, David started to explore my character, so I was able to actually go work instead of just being on the set.

TVG: Do you worry fans won't distinguish between you and your characters?

Carson: Renee's a lot fiercer than I am. She's decisive, and she's really got it together. I need a Renee in my life.

Krakowski: People either love Elaine or they hate her, and Jane the actress had to find ways to justify a lot of what Elaine did. But I will say I'm better looking and thinner than Elaine [laughing].

TVG: [to Flockhart] People seem to think of you as Ally. Has that been a problem?

Flockhart: I resent that comment. I'm not Ally McBeal, I'm Calista Flockhart.

TVG: I'm not saying I think that, but there seems to be this public perception that you created Ally McBeal.

Flockhart: I understand what you're saying, but I take offense to that, actually. I am really very different, and she is such a character. This is a woman who falls down, who throws her shoes; she's far from real. We're actresses playing roles, but because the name of the show is Ally McBeal, it's also become a cultural term, and I'm afraid that's all I'll be known for.

Krakowski: It's interesting that people have already lost that perspective with you. Like when Time came out with you on the cover. They had photos of three real women, including Susan B. Anthony, and then they had you.

Flockhart: Susan B. Anthony would roll over in her grave.

TVG: What was your reaction to being held up as the whipping boy, so to speak, for the end of feminism?

Flockhart: It's surreal. I won't say I was horrified, but I was quite depressed. I mean, this is a comedy about an exaggerated character, and to compare her to Susan B. Anthony is outrageous. To say that our generation has no feminists, that all we have is Ally McBeal, is just crap. I know in my circle of friends we're all feminists. It's more subtle-we're not out there burning our bras, and we take going to college for granted-but I battle sexism and oppression and all that. Feminism does exist, and I challenge those who say it doesn't.

TVG: Why do you think the show has become such a hot button for social issues?

Flockhart: There is a group of women who are in their 30s who have chosen careers but who have no husband or children, and time is running out, so even though they said we could have it all, it's not so easy. So now I'm a freak because I'm alone and I don't want to be, but if I say that, the feminists will kill me. It's almost as if there's no answer for it, it's just where we as a culture are.

Carson: We're just girls on a show, that's how I look at it.

Flockhart: I think people make the mistake of assuming that we're saying this is how women act and behave. This is how Ally behaves, not how all women behave. I really think people should stop taking the show so seriously and just enjoy it.

TVG: Speaking of enjoying the show, did any of you go Hollywood? What about personal trainers or-

Krakowski: [laughing] Does it look like I have a trainer? Compared to Calista, everyone seems big. It's like that cartoon with two girls in a bar, one Barbie-doll size, and this guy says, "Are you girls models?" And the bigger girl says, "My friend is, but I'm real-sized." That's what it's like standing next to Calista all season. I felt like I had to say, "I'm real-sized."

TVG: You all seem smaller in person.

Krakowski: Oh, say that again!

Carson: Yeah, could you start the article that way? "They were so much smaller in real life." End.