April 29, 1991 12:00 PM

PREVIOUSLY ON L.A. LAW: THE SHOW is in chaos. Susan Dey may leave to have a baby. Jimmy Smits wants to quit so he can pursue his movie career (Old Gringo, the forthcoming Switch). Harry Hamlin wants out so he can—so he can what? With Hamlin, you never know. Executive Producer David E. Kelley is forced to exercise his fiduciary responsibility (whatever that is). He considers hundreds of actors as replacements before selecting John Spencer, Cecil Hoffmann and Amanda Donohoe. He gives the newcomers plenty of airtime so audiences can get to know them. Then he starts writing Dey, Smits and Hamlin out of the show. And you thought the civil war at McKenzie Brackman was simply a plot device.

Move along, Douglas. Résumés, please:


The least likely new face to show up this year in the yupscale world of L.A. Law is that of John Spencer, 42. The veteran character actor plays the low-key, streetwise Tommy Mullaney, whose brainpower equals that of any two Ivy League lawyers, though his ethics may not. The role, says Spencer, is perfect. “After I read the first script, I realized that this guy Mullaney talks like me and thinks like me,” he says. “So as long as the words continue, the scriptwriters are gonna have one happy dude on their hands.”

Spencer got the part after the show’s producers saw him play Harrison Ford’s investigator in Presumed Innocent, his first film after ending his drinking days. “Booze wasn’t so much affecting my career, but it was killing me,” he says. “I was a solitary drinker too. I would go home, turn the phone off and be with my best buddy, that bottle.”

One day he found himself drinking vodka at 11 A.M. and decided enough was enough. He called a cousin, a recovering alcoholic, who got him into a detox center. “The minute I walked in that hospital. I knew I was home,” he says. “It was the best thing I ever did for myself.” Now he attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly. “I’m not anonymous about my sobriety,” he says. “I wear it like a medal.”

Little has been presented on L.A. Law so far on the background of Tommy Mullaney. But one would guess that it resembles Spencer’s—in spirit, if not in fact. He grew up in Totowa, N.J., the only child of John, a dump-truck driver, and Mildred, a truck-stop waitress. At 16, he dropped out of high school and moved into Manhattan to pursue a budding interest in acting. Within weeks he had won a part on The Patty Duke Show playing Cathy’s boyfriend. That gave him the money for acting classes, and he even attended college for a while. But the theater beckoned and so did films, starting with his first movie role, as a military officer in 1983’s WarGames. On the personal side, things didn’t go as well. Married at 19, he was divorced at 26. “I’ve been married several times since, just not legally,” he says. “I mean, I lived with different people in romantic; relationships. I’ve always been with someone.”


Given Spencer’s past entanglements, it seems fitting that his character would have a past as well: a gorgeous ex-wife named Zoey Clemmons who just happens to be an assistant district attorney in Los Angeles. “I feel a little like Alice,” says Cecil Hoffmann, 28, who plays Zoey. “A bottle said DRINK ME and I did, and I ended up on L.A. Law. It’s a dream come true.”

Cecil (rhymes with wrestle) started dreaming of becoming an actor while growing up in posh McLean, Va., near Washington, D.C., the eldest child of Martin, a corporate attorney, and Margaret, a retired college administrator. After graduating from Princeton in 1984, she kicked around New York City before landing a series of television roles that turned out to be good training for L.A. Law: She twice played prosecutors, on The Guiding Light and Wise-guy. Now that Hoffmann has moved west, she writes short stories, rides horses and tends to her two cats. There is no steady man in her life—other than Spencer, but that doesn’t count. They spent a lot of time together—going to the movies, having dinner, but nothing more. The plan was to develop a platonic relationship that would carry over onto the tube. “John and I really get along,” she says. “We just like each other so much.”


Mention Amanda Donohoe’s L.A. Law character—C.J. Lamb—and most viewers will bring up the famous kissing scene with Michele Greene (Abby) in a parking lot. While that interlude was fairly hot for prime time, it was a minor blip in the context of Donohoe’s career. After all, this is the same British actress whose 1987 film debut, Castaway, consisted of prancing around naked on a desert island for two hours. Her next film was no less notorious. In Ken Russell’s gothic romp The Lair of the White Worm, Donohoe, 28, played a beautiful vampire who—in one memorable scene—wore nothing but body paint, a suspender belt and a sexual device resembling a male organ.

Donohoe says she was willing to work in the buff because she wanted a start. “I had this rather liberal, arrogant attitude that if other people couldn’t handle it, then that’s their problem,” she says. “But all in all, it was a hell of a launching pad.”

The second of two daughters born to Bond Street antique dealers Ted and Joanna, Donohoe found her exhibitionistic tendencies severely tested during her years at Francis Holland School for girls. “It was very traditional, very English,” she says. “I got in trouble more often than not.” After that it was a brief stint modeling and then three years at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, from which she graduated in 1984. Her move to Los Angeles from London in 1990 was abrupt—and difficult, Donohoe says, especially since it has meant separation from her boyfriend of two years, documentary filmmaker Nick Broom-field, 42. But she says she is managing. “You can kind of kill yourself with worry,” she says, “and you can’t live like that.”

As the season nears its conclusion, Spencer, Hoffmann and Donohoe have already convinced their most important judge—producer David Kelley—that they are worthy of being full partners. “I think they’ve been overwhelmingly successful so far,” says he. Case closed. Now, if they could just fix that elevator…



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