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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Sheree J. Wilson feels very much at home on the 'Walker, Texas' range

July 31, 1994|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheree J. Wilson wanted to play a strong woman on television. She was getting tired of being a decoration in small, obscure movies.

Then, in Israel, three weeks into the filming of yet another low-budget flick, "Cold to the Touch," she noticed that co-star Chuck Norris was smiling at her "like the cat who ate the canary."

To her delighted surprise, Norris informed Wilson she'd landed the role as his co-star in his CBS series, "Walker, Texas Ranger." After he teased her that he was the person who gave final approval, the role of district attorney Alex Cahill was Wilson's.

It's a role she's extremely proud of. "She's a really great character to play," Wilson says from her Dallas home, where she's currently shooting the show despite the often "miserable" weather conditions. Temperatures of 105 degrees with 100% humidity are not uncommon, and the show, which premiered in April, 1993, frequently shoots outdoors.

Norris confirms Wilson's enthusiasm whatever the conditions: "No matter how demanding or difficult the schedule, she always shows up with a smile on her face, sure to brighten frequently otherwise dreary days."

It was Wilson's beatific face that got her into the entertainment world as a model for the high-powered Wilhelmina modeling agency. In 18 months, Wilson did 30 commercials for Clairol, Sea Breeze, Revlon, Maybelline and Keri Lotion, among others.

With two small movies ("Crime Wave," "Fraternity Vacation"), as well as several TV roles ("Velvet," "Kane and Abel" and "Our Family Honor") under her belt, she won a role on the hit series "Dallas" in 1986.

"I was April and started out as J.R.'s (Larry Hagman) nemesis," she recalls. "She was the richest woman on the show. I used to describe April as a bitch on wheels. Then they made me a reformed lady. I even married Bobby (Patrick Duffy). During the wedding, I was eight months pregnant in real life and they had this huge bouquet covering my stomach! But by then I'd worked on the show for four years and I needed a break."

To accommodate Wilson's departure, April was "gunned down in the typical 'Dallas' glory," while she and Bobby honeymooned in Paris, Wilson says, laughing. "I got to go out with a bang," she adds with a laugh.

Wilson took a break to spend time with her son, Luke, now 4, and her businessman husband, Paul deRobbio. When she returned to work, she chose both guest television roles as well as movie parts. She starred in Showtime's "Past Tense," which aired last month.

More movie roles aren't out of the picture, either. "I'm still interested in pursuing features. It's a totally different ball game working in television, where you work so quickly. It doesn't allow you time to really prepare and think a character and scenes through. Films give you creative license and you can develop idiosyncrasies for your character. On 'Walker,' we shoot two hours in two weeks. You do two hours in three months for a film."

Despite the show's breakneck pace, Alex proves to be a significant woman's role for Wilson. "I'm getting away from that 'Dallas' stuff where the women were often used as decoration. I don't wear designer labels any more. They do dress me nice, but listen, OK, a woman can be strong, competent and hold her own, but I can still be a woman. Just because you're female doesn't mean you don't enjoy being romantic and sexy."

She may get to sample some of the latter in the show's upcoming season. As Norris puts it, "It's been great fun watching our respective characters develop and wondering just where the relationship may lead."

"Walker, Texas Ranger" airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.

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