October 5, 1997 in Features

Three Cheers For Kirstie Alley She’s Gone From That Boston Bar To A Fresh Sitcom And A New Movie

James Sterngold The New York Times
 

One of the more striking things Kirstie Alley does in her performance as a dentist turned tooth fairy in the new movie “Toothless,” to be broadcast tonight on ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney,” is to act on several occasions, quite contentedly, all by herself.

Alone on camera, this high-energy prima donna of an actress, who insists she is at her best flirting with a room full of men, fiddles with her magic wand or dances crazily, cutting up without any need to play off another actor or her audience.

She comes across as a hip, fearless middle-aged woman exploring her unexpected role as a tooth fairy in search of love - without the slightest touch of self-consciousness.

Indeed, Alley herself is a hip, fearless middle-aged woman (the sultry sexpot of “Cheers” is now 42 and a single mother of two), one at the peak of her sometimes bumpy career. And suddenly she is everywhere.

Four years after the demise of “Cheers,” she is emerging from a string of disappointing films (including “It Takes Two,” in which she starred with the Olsen twins, and John Carpenter’s remake of “Village of the Damned”) and from a contentious, made-for-the-tabloids divorce into the kind of season many successful actresses can only wish for.

As has been much remarked upon since the fall schedule was announced last spring, Alley is the star of the most widely anticipated show of the fall television season, the NBC sitcom “Veronica’s Closet,” about the successful head of a lingerie company who must deal with an expanding waistline and a philandering husband. She has two major films opening later this year: “Deconstructing Harry,” Woody Allen’s latest exploration of guilt and angst, and “For Richer or Poorer,” a romantic comedy with Tim Allen about an affluent couple fleeing the Internal Revenue Service. A third film, in which she will star with John Travolta, may begin production next year.

More important, those who work with Alley say she is calmer than in her “Cheers” days, when she had a reputation as difficult to work with. Which is not to say she does not make her distinctive presence felt strongly on a set, according to people who work with her. She is still demanding and a font of wild energy who might say anything at any time.

“She is crazy most of the time, and I mean that in the best sense of the word,” said Marta Kauffman, a creator and an executive producer of “Veronica’s Closet.”

During a conversation on the set of the show, Alley described herself as both eager to succeed and willing to try anything.

“I fully intend to have a good time when I’m at work,” said Alley, who was wearing a slinky crushed-velour dress and conspicuously ignoring several leggy models sitting a few feet away. “You know, just on the edge of out of control. On the edge is where I’m at.”

David Crane, another executive producer and creator of “Veronica’s Closet,” agrees with her assessment of herself: “It’s really true: she’s not self-conscious. She’s game. She’ll do lots of things that another kind of actor would balk at.”

In fact, Kauffman characterized Alley as a sort of Lucille Ball for the ‘90s - a comic who stumbles through relationships the way Lucy once stumbled through her household duties and her efforts at getting into show business.

Like Ball, Alley apparently is happy to do a pratfall that makes her look ridiculous or to play an insecure, vulnerable character, as she does in the new series.

In fact, though Alley long has been seen as a sexy tease, with her striking green eyes and mane of chestnut hair, she is proving herself adept at physical comedy, as critics have already noted.

Many people in television describe Alley as focused and disciplined. Those qualities surfaced in connection with one potential problem, which Kauffman described in an interview as “possibly very icky.” It began when Alley asked if James Wilder, her boyfriend, who is an actor, could read for a part on the show. He auditioned but did not get the part.

“Yes, we were nervous, but there was very little discussion about it,” said Kevin Bright, also an executive producer. “She handled it well. It was very professional.”

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