By Michael A. Lipton
Updated May 20, 2002 12:00 PM

As legal-aid lawyer Louise “Lulu” Archer on CBS’s hit drama The Guardian, Wendy Moniz wages war with her colleague Nick Fallin (played by series star Simon Baker) both in and outside the courtroom. Lulu chastises Nick for backsliding into booze. Nick yells at her for agreeing to marry a rich doctor he doesn’t believe she loves. Romantic tension? Definitely. “Lulu,” says Moniz, “is very intense.”

Some things never change. In her last big TV role—as the even more combustible diva Dinah Marler Thorpe on daytime’s Guiding Light from 1995 to 1999—she had an affair with her stepson, lied about the paternity of her unborn baby and, in her final scene on the soap, accidentally shot her latest lover to death in a fit of fury. “I was trying to shoot someone else,” the 33-year-old Moniz explains with a laugh. “Frank [Grillo, the actor who played her unintended target, oil tycoon Hart Jessup] jumps in the way and takes the bullet. And I ride off into the sunset.”

That’s not exactly how things worked out in real life. After departing GL, Moniz and Grillo, 36, wed in 2000. Grillo, a former fitness instructor, admits that his wife does have a volatile streak. “When I manipulate her into saying what I want her to say, it drives her crazy,” he says with a laugh. “She’s been known to throw a jar of lip gloss at my head and say a few choice words.”

Her colleagues on The Guardian usually see her gentler side. “Wendy loves to giggle, and it has a welcome effect on the cast,” says costar Alan Rosenberg. “She has real uninhibited laughter.” Actually, quips Baker, “I work like a dog, but she seems to be very easygoing about everything.”

Not always. Growing up, Moniz was obsessed with sports. The younger of two daughters of Bob, a shoe designer, and Billie, a school-teacher, both 52, who divorced when she was 8, she starred in track and field hockey at Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass. It was Billie, an amateur actress, who encouraged her and sister Dawn, now 36 and a hospital technician, to try community theater. After graduating in 1991 with a B.A. in English from New York’s Siena College, Moniz wed classmate David Birsner, a business major. They settled in Jersey City and Moniz soon landed in a string of more than 50 TV commercials. “I had a face that sold soap,” she says—not to mention toothpaste, cereal, pain reliever and deodorant.

She and Birsner, 35, divorced in 1996, the same year Grillo joined her in the Guiding Light cast. “He was like this angel who dropped into my life,” she says. “On a Friday the actor who played Hart before Frank was abruptly fired. Frank had the role on Monday.”

Friends at first, they moved in together in 1998 and left GL a year later to try their luck in L.A. “We loved to work together, but it was time to go,” says Moniz. “There’s an adventurous side to me, and I wanted to do different things.”

Today they nest in a three-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills, where “I like reorganizing drawers,” says Moniz, “while Frank loves to box.” And between Moniz’s series work and Grillo’s movie projects—he played Cameron Diaz‘s ex-beau in The Sweetest Thing and turns up next month as a cop in Minority Report—the couple often commute back to Manhattan, where they keep an apartment to be closer to Remy, 5, Grillo’s son from a previous marriage. “She is a phenomenal mother figure to Remy,” says his dad. Inspired, Moniz says, “We’re definitely having children.” Grillo thinks she’ll be a calming influence on them. “Wendy doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve like Lulu does. She is more reserved. Unless,” he says, mindful of that flying lip gloss, “I really tick her off.”

Michael A. Lipton

Lorenzo Benet and Elizabeth Leonard in Los Angeles