Elaine role is right up her 'Ally'

LONG BEACH, Calif. Elaine is bearing witness today.

The Ally McBeal office assistant isn't in the courtroom, but at a local church, where producers are filming a rousing funeral for Judge Boyle. Actor Phil Leeds, who played the judge who asked lawyers about their teeth, died during the Fox show's summer hiatus.

"It's a funeral, Ally style," Jane Krakowski says. "A little unusual, and a celebration of life."

This episode won't air for several weeks, but Monday night (9 ET/PT), Elaine Vassal will be in the thick of the action in a two-week story arc that involves a suit brought to the firm by her beau, played by TV veteran John Ritter. "I grew up on Three's Company," says Krakowski, 29. "And there I was, on our set, having kissing scenes with John Ritter! I couldn't believe it."

If Krakowski sounds happy, she should. On the strength of her work last season, producers are throwing Elaine a lot more screen time this fall.

"Jane is an unbelievable talent," says Ally co-executive producer Jeffrey Kramer. "I call her Hurricane Jane. She just comes in and scores. You can always count on her."

"I love the part," Krakowski says. "I come in and have the last line of a scene, where I either drop a bomb or throw a flame. That's a great character to play."

Ally is Krakowski's first prime-time TV series, after a career primarily in New York theater. She began acting at age 15 on NBC's Search for Tomorrow for two seasons, and by 18 was roller-skating across the Broadway stage in the musical Starlight Express. She also appeared in the musical Grand Hotel, revivals of Company and Once Upon a Mattress, as well as the films Fatal Attraction and Dance With Me.

Kramer was driving to work one morning when he heard Krakowski singing a Broadway tune on the radio. Within weeks, Ally creator David E. Kelley wrote in a scene for Elaine to sing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus on the Christmas episode.

"I never expected to be singing on TV, much less on a law show," says the actress, who is in negotiations to cut an album of jazz standards or folk songs.

With more of Elaine on view this season, Krakowski says she'd love to see where her character lives. "I imagine it would be a cross between the New School and some inventor's dream." (Elaine, of course, is known for her wacky inventions. Last season, she wore a "face bra," a device for preventing wrinkles.)

The actress spent a few weeks this summer traveling in Europe with Camryn Manheim, the Emmy-winning actress from David E. Kelley's other legal show, ABC's The Practice. "We have a lot in common and had a great time."

Meanwhile, her Ally castmate Calista Flockhart has been the subject of speculation about her shrinking size, after she appeared bonier than ever at last month's Emmy Awards.

Krakowski chalks it up to a media out of control. "Calista is an incredibly strong woman," she says. "She's totally healthy and great.

"Fame is a double-edged sword. We work all our lives for something like this, and then it can turn, with a media feeding frenzy based on rumors, not fact. I haven't seen the downside yet, but she sure has."

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY