Lauren Holly wants to show off her sprawling, newly renovated Los Angeles home. This way, please, to the four bedrooms. Over here, the exercise room and library; over there, the estate-size yard and pool.
Last year, when construction was completed, Holly gazed about in awe. “I was just, like, ohmygod,” she says.
Ohmygod is right. In the past two years, the determined, 29-year-old actress has experienced nearly all life’s highs and lows. She has married Anthony Quinn’s actor son Danny (Space Rangers), 29, endured the death of a beloved brother and seen her career shift into high gear. Holly’s currently winning raves as Linda Emery Lee, the wife of martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, in the hit movie Dragon. Her steady job, meanwhile, is as tough deputy sheriff Maxine Stewart in the quirky CBS dramatic series Picket Fences. “People complain about [there being] no good roles for women,” says Holly. “I’ve got two this year. I keep getting these smart women roles.”
Could be typecasting. The eldest of three children of Grant Holly, now an art historian at the University of Rochester, and his wife, Michael, a professor of literature at Hobart and William Smith College, Lauren grew up in a Geneva, N.Y., household where academics were a priority. She’d been active in drama since second grade, but after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 1985 with a 3.5 average, she envisioned a legal career. Her plans changed when, during her senior year, she landed a part in the teen flick Seven Minutes in Heaven, co-starring Jennifer Connelly. “I was bitten by the bug,” says Holly.
Her next role was as a teenage sex kitten in the 1985 film Band of the Hand. Playing opposite her: Danny Quinn. “I was just drawn to her,” recalls Quinn. “She was so smart and beautiful and funny.”
Though similarly drawn, Holly balked because of her belief that onset romances were “a cliché.” But Quinn came on strong and capped a five-year courtship with a surprise visit to her New York City apartment one Sunday morning. “I was in a flannel nightgown,” says Holly. “My hair was a mess, and Danny wakes me up and says, ‘Will you many me?’ ” The couple wed two years ago.
By then, after some early struggles, Holly had spent three years as Julie Chandler on the ABC soap All My Children. Then Rob Cohen, 44, who’d directed her in the short-lived courtroom drama The Antagonists, called about Dragon. “Lauren can play anything,” he maintains, “from a Grace Kelly part to a slut.”
It helped that there was immediate chemistry between Holly and Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce), who’d been tapped to play the late star. But there was also immediate physical intimidation. “When I first saw Jason’s body, I ran to the Stair-master,” says Holly, who also took a crash martial-arts course and spent time with Linda Lee to beef up her characterization. “She’s so charismatic, and I wanted to capture that,” she says.
But Dragon did not go smoothly. First Jason contracted hepatitis. Then Cohen suffered a heart attack. Finally, just as Holly was set to leave for Hong Kong to begin shooting, she got the tragic news that her brother Alexander, 14, had died alone at home in a yet unexplained fire. “There are no words to describe how I felt,” she says. “When Brandon Lee died, my heart went out to his sister, Shannon.”
Holly found that immersing herself in work was one way to cope. “I don’t know how I did it,” she says, “but I had lo. Otherwise I would have let too many people down.” Now, perhaps because of her own pain, “her instinct is to help people,” says Picket Fences colleague Tom Skerritt. “She’s wonderful to have around.”
Certainly, Quinn would like to have his wife around more. In the couple’s rare time together, they tend their four dogs, two parakeets and an Arabian filly, or—with careful planning—go to as many as four movies a day. “I dreamed of this life,” says Holly, “but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
If success ever goes to Holly’s head, she can just open a kitchen drawer containing 36 boxes of Annie’s Shells and Cheddar. “I keep the macaroni and cheese,” she says, “lo remind me that 79 cents used to be all I had to spend on dinner.”
MARIA MONEYSMITH in Los Angeles