On the Case

Somebody should have warned Dallas native Angie Harmon about New York City’s pretzels. Last July, on only the second day of filming since joining TV’s Law & Order as prosecutor Abbie Carmichael, Harmon was shooting an outdoor scene with costars Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt. The script called for the trio to converse while munching on a street vendor’s soft pretzels. Soft? “It was like cement and dough put together. I couldn’t talk,” says Harmon, 26, a former fashion model and ex-Baywatch Nights cast member. “We were going on Take 12, so I was really feeling bad. I was like, ‘I have no business being an actress.’ ”

Since then, Harmon (who succeeds Carey Lowell as L&O’s third female assistant D.A. in five years) has had no trouble making herself heard. “Angie’s from Texas—plain-spoken, forward, assertive,” says Sam Waterston, who plays assistant D.A. Jack McCoy. “She brings a whole new energy to the show, which is definitely what they hope for whenever they make a [cast] change.” Executive producer Dick Wolf agrees. Wolf cast Harmon over 84 other contenders last July after Lowell departed to spend more time with her daughter Hannah, 8.

As soon as she won the role, Harmon called her father, Larry, 55, an executive at a Dallas hospital information network. “I play this young, aggressive attorney who is very headstrong and has absolutely no respect for authority,” she told him. He replied, “Did the other girls know they didn’t have a chance?”

Her parents weren’t camera-shy themselves. Both Larry and his wife, Daphne, had become Dallas models by the time Angie was born. A year later they divorced. Daphne, now 48 and still modeling, raised Angie until she was 10. Then Larry took over the parenting while Daphne pursued her career in New York City. Although happy living with her dad (who remarried two years ago), Harmon was less happy living with herself during those years. “I was not the most attractive child,” she says. “I had two really big buck teeth. I was horrendous—long, lanky and gangly.”

Braces helped fix her smile, and adolescence added some shape. Then, when she was 15, everything else changed too. “I was in U.S. history class when this message came in, and my teacher says, ‘I think this is important,'” Harmon recalls. “I looked down, and it said, ‘Call over at Seventeen.'” Her mom had entered Harmon in the magazine’s nationwide cover model contest, and they were phoning to say she’d won. “I started screaming and yelling,” she says.

After graduating from Highland Park High School in 1990, Harmon began to model professionally in Manhattan, posing for Harper’s Bazaar and Elle as well as the French and Italian Vogue. Her dad was at first concerned for her. “The modeling business is rife with drugs,” he says. “I’m so glad that she kept her nose clean.”

By 22, Harmon had had her fill of runways and makeup sessions. That’s when Baywatch star David Hasselhoff literally flew to her rescue. On an Orlando-bound flight in 1995, he noticed Harmon in the seat behind him and, as he recalls, stood up and said, “I’m casting a new series, and you would be perfect for it. This is not a joke. Can you act?” “I’m working on it,” Harmon replied. She worked on it for the next two years, costarring as private eye Ryan McBride on the syndicated Bay-watch Nights, then reported for duty as a rookie FBI agent on ABC’s short-lived C-16. Soon after that show folded, Harmon tried out for Law & Order.

While toiling up to 16 hours a day on the set and living out of a suitcase last summer—first in a hotel, then with a friend—she found a cozy Manhattan apartment and burst into tears of joy on the spot. “I’m hugging this poor broker I’ve never met before,” says Harmon, “and she’s like, ‘Okay, get off me.'”

Single and not dating anyone, Harmon relaxes by watching her favorite videos—including Disney animated films like Aladdin and The Lion King. Someday she’ll share them with her kids. She wants at least four—but not yet. “This life is so much fun,” says Harmon. “I keep waiting, like in the cartoons, for an anvil to drop on my head.” But, hopefully, not a New York pretzel.

  • Michael A. Upton
  • Mary Green in Manhattan
Related Articles