March 19, 2001 12:00 PM

Janel Moloney freely admits it: She’s a ham. Who else would eagerly volunteer that she was on her high school synchronized swimming team and loved it. “It wasn’t just the water I enjoyed,” she says. “It was the theatricality of it. I vividly remember a routine that involved dancing on deck with top hats. It was great!”

Maybe, but these days Moloney, 31, is even happier going hatless in D.C. as Donnatella Moss on The West Wing. Playing the sassy but loyal aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Moloney hasn’t yet fallen for her TV boss despite the palpable sexual tension between them. Whitford, for one, hopes the producers don’t ruin a good thing. “There is nothing more boring [on TV] than consummation,” he says. “So I don’t know that we’ll be getting together.”

Moloney, whose own love life is on hold as she focuses on her career, has her family (all live near each other in L.A.) to keep her company. The youngest daughter (born eight minutes after fraternal twin Carey) of hairdressers John and Judy Moloney, she grew up in L.A., where she studied acting after dropping out of the State University of New York at Purchase in 1989. After several small TV roles, including a one-shot spot on Sportsnight, she landed the West Wing role last year. But she doesn’t always play it straight, especially when it comes to her hair. “I curled it,” Moloney says, for the 2001 Golden Globes, which honored the show with the best-drama trophy. “For the first time since my prom, I curled my hair.” Capital idea.

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