November 01, 1999 12:00 PM

At this first rehearsal for CBS’s Family Law last spring, Cristian de la Fuente couldn’t stop shaking. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, my accent! What am I going to do?’ ” recalls the Chilean-born actor, 25, who plays idealistic law clerk Andres Diaz. His Law partners, including Designing Women alumna Dixie Carter, say that the muscular, 6’2″ De la Fuente has nothing to worry about. “Of course,” adds Carter, “the fact that he’s handsome we all think [is] certainly not going to hurt our ratings.”

Indeed not. In only its second week, Family Law ranked 14th in the Nielsens, and a budding office romance between Carter’s and De la Fuente’s characters could really heat things up. Despite his hunk credentials (one of PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL’S 25 Most Beautiful), De la Fuente isn’t living la vida loca in L.A. “There’s no time,” he says, for dating, and he still phones his mother, Adriana, a home-maker in Santiago, several times a week. There, she and her husband, Hugo, a chemist who died in 1996, raised Cristian (pronounced Cristee-ahn), their only child, who was studying engineering at college when a talent scout discovered him. Soon he was a mainstay on Chilean variety shows and soaps, and in 1998 he moved to Mexico to costar in the cop series Reyes y Rey (he played Rey), a Hispanic version of Starsky & Hutch. Commuting to L.A. for acting classes, he earned a guest shot last September as a Marine boxer on Pensacola: Wings of Gold. “I’m [still] learning English,” he says. And never mind his accent. He can now imitate Carter’s Dixie drawl. “She says, ‘Here’s my clahhhennt.’ ” ¡Bueno!

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