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The new legal eagles

March 24, 1991|SUSAN KING

And just who are those three new regulars on "L.A. Law"?

Amanda Donohoe isn't trying to be cagey when she won't divulge what's next in store for her character, attorney C.J. Lamb.

"The producers don't tell us a thing," she says. "I'm not quite sure what direction they are going. It's like they're dunking their little toes in hot water."

Donohoe's C.J. got more than her little toes in hot water last month when she gave co-worker Abby Perkins (Michele Greene) a good-night kiss.

"They rang me up and asked how I would feel about doing it," Donohoe says. "I said I had no problem as long as it was presented tastefully. I was rather delighted. I have always been a kind of renegade myself and I like pressing buttons. That is what a lot of my work has been about."

Before "L.A. Law," the British actress was known in the United States primarily for such British films as Nicolas Roeg's "Castaway" and Ken Russell's "The Lair of the White Worm" in which she played a sultry vampire.

The actress tested the waters in Hollywood last summer because work has been drying up in England. "I made four films in 1989 and in 1990 I did a TV movie and started 'L.A. Law,' " Donohoe says. "I am at the top of my profession in Europe and I couldn't get a job."

But she also couldn't get a film job here. "I couldn't get arrested," she says. "Producers were happy to meet with me, but I felt I was going (to interviews) to be seen. There were no serious offers of work."

"L.A. Law" came as a fluke. The casting director recommended her to executive producer David E. Kelley. Donohoe met with Kelley and then returned to England. Three months later she was asked to videotape scenes.

"I spent my last few sheckles getting this bloody tape done and couriered to America," Donohoe says. "I kept thinking, 'I am kissing that money goodby.' "

But 24 hours later, she was offered the role of C.J. and the next day was on a plane for Los Angeles.

After CBS' revamped version of "Wiseguy" was abruptly canceled late last fall, series regular Cecil Hoffmann landed on her feet, winning the role of assistant district attorney Zoey Clemmons on "L.A. Law."

Before "Wiseguy," Hoffmann was a regular on NBC's 1989 series "Dream Street" and in 1987 on the CBS soap "The Guiding Light.".

"I was lucky," she says. "I was sort of ready to have six or seven months off."

Hoffmann auditioned for the role of Clemmons via tape in New York and a week later was asked to come out to Los Angeles. "A little while later, they called me up and said come and start to work," she recalls.

The actress appeared on "L.A. Law" last month, but originally was hired for just a three-week guest shot with the provision she could become a regular. "There was no guarantee that would happen," she says. "In the middle of the end of the third episode they told me on the set I was on the show. It was kind of romantic. It was wonderful."

Becoming a new regular on an established series, Hoffmann was determined to "be as graceful as I could and let everyone feel out how they felt about me being there. I couldn't have been more welcomed. The cast, crew and producers made me feel that my work was not only welcomed, but important. They were pleased they had me there."

John Spencer, who plays attorney Tommy Mullaney, immediately noticed the power of television when he joined "L.A. Law" this season.

"I have been acting since I was about 16 (he frequently played Cathy's boyfriend on 'The Patty Duke Show' from 1963 to '65) and the last 12 years have been acting nonstop," he says. "There's certainly a difference in visibility. My first trip to Hughes Market, all of a sudden five people recognized me. I am still at the point I enjoy it because it has been positive."

It was his performance last summer as Harrison Ford's cynical investigator in "Presumed Innocent" which led to his being cast in "L.A. Law."

"I met with the guys (the producers) in New York," he says. "I kind of gave them my fears about doing nighttime TV because, I don't know, it's not always been an artistic experience for me. But I couldn't dispute the writing I was being shown."

Spenser also was impressed with Kelley because "we are not exactly the same kind of guy but he writes like I talk. He played some of my films so he could hear the way I talk in his head."

Like Donohoe and Hoffmann, Spenser is due to return next season. He says it's a "little scary" thinking about the show without Kelley or Dey.

"David has done so much of my writing," he says. "But what is amazing about 'L.A. Law' is that I don't think we have any stars. I don't mean that in an egoless way. It has some of the best ensemble acting on TV. But no one is bigger than that little license plate logo. So as much as I love everybody, including myself, I don't think anyone is irreplaceable."

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