May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

And so, ladies of the jury, how do you find the defendant, Dylan McDermott? “The man is liquid sex,” says his enthusiastic costar Camryn Manheim. “He’s a walking orgasm.” Guilty as charged. With his boyish sapphire-blue eyes and the strong, square jaw of a straight-shooter, the 36-year-old star of ABC’s law drama The Practice turns women of all ages into hanging-on judges. Says the show’s co-executive producer Jeffrey Kramer: “Women under 40 want to marry him, and women over 40 want to adopt him.” For much of the past decade, the 6-foot McDermott played it sweet and shadowy: Julia Roberts‘s Steel Magnolias hubby; Holly Hunter’s laconic Home for the Holidays boyfriend. As Practice’s aggressive but idealistic defense attorney Bobby Donnell, however, he has blossomed into a prime-time heartthrob.

Likewise, his looks took their own good time arriving. As a skinny, freckled high schooler who grew up working in his father’s Manhattan saloon, McDermott says he had a “Dorothy Hamill hairdo” and wore a powder-blue tux to the prom. “I didn’t get a lot of play back then,” he adds. The handsome thing finally came into focus when he focused on his idols Bogart, Brando and Clift. “I just kind of willed myself into being like them,” he says, “watching their films wondering, ‘How did they do that?’ ” He’s now more confident. “It takes a long time to get comfortable with your looks,” he says. “But I think for men it gets easier.” Yet as a small-screen star, McDermott, who shares a Santa Monica home with his actress wife, Shiva Afshar, and their 2-year-old daughter, Colette, works to stay comfortable. He takes an occasional soak at Beverly Hot Springs—”my biggest indulgence”—and sweats to keep his weight down with weekly calisthenics on the beach with a personal trainer. And there are no stops at the Colonel’s afterward, either. He shuns fried foods. “I’m Irish,” he says, pinching his cheeks. “It goes right to my face.”

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