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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Julie White's Nadine is a neighbor you can depend on for laughs and sisterhood

June 04, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though she seems quite the Southern belle herself, "Grace Under Fire's" Julie White has had enough Southern hospitality for now, thank you.

White, who plays Nadine, neighbor and buddy of Grace (Brett Butler) in the ABC sitcom, has just returned from her youngest sister's mega-wedding in their native Texas.

"I'm totally exhausted," White says in her Southern twang from her hillside home in the San Fernando Valley. Just mentioning sis Terry Lyn's 650-person, five parties and a wedding--all in three days--makes her tired. "I was one of 14 bridesmaids," she says. "We hit the country-club circuit big time."

White knows something about "I dos." Her character Nadine's been married four times. "In her first three marriages, Nadine didn't make it past three years and 10 months," White says. Nadine and Wade (Casey Sanders) just celebrated their fourth anniversary.

White says Sanders' innate sweetness comes through in right-wing Wade, making Wade and Nadine a romantic and loving couple. "I think she's beginning to realize how committed she is to him," White says.

As for taking another walk down the aisle herself, the divorced single mom of 8-year-old Alexandra, says: "Hardly. I'm too picky. My brother-in-law made the toast at my little sister's wedding and he said to the groom, 'Well, I've got the mean one'--that's my sister Laura--'You got the sweet one, and no one's got the one who's got all the money!' "

White, 33, laughs and says, "Money was never all that important to me, just so I could pay for my apartment," referring to her stay in New York, where she moved to at 19 to seek fame and fortune on stage.

By the time she was 16, White had found success in regional theater in her hometown of Austin, Tex., where her dentist father still has a ranch. "I was very lucky to be successful young and make a living," she says. "There was a real fabulous theater life happening in Austin in the late '70s and early '80s, and I was able to do some wonderful, strange, offbeat stuff."

While taking a bite out of the Big Apple, she won theater roles in "Lucky Stiff" and "The Stick Wife" before landing a role on Broadway in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles," opposite Mary McDonnell.

Last December, she shot the TV-movie adaption of Wasserstein's play, which stars Jamie Lee Curtis; it is scheduled to air Oct. 15 on TNT. This time, White says, "instead of sweet wife Jill [now played by Sharon Lawrence] who I played for eight months on stage, I'll be the radical, combat boots-wearing lesbian, Fran. Wendy kept saying, 'See what three years can do to you?' " She laughs again and adds, "I guess I got tough."

White was tough enough take over her current TV role from Mary Kay Place, who played Nadine in the "Grace Under Fire" pilot. "I guess it was a classic case of creative differences," she explains of her predecessor's departure. "They weren't sure what they wanted to do with Nadine, but when Brett and I met, we couldn't have gotten along better."

More than just their Southern roots in common, she and Butler "relate to each other so well."

The on-screen friendship "is perfectly suited to us," White says. "We're both funny women with a wicked sense of humor. She's the oldest of five girls and I'm the middle sister of three, so it's very complementary. It might not work as well if we were both oldest, but this works. We're sisters by choice. We're both from good people."

On hiatus until late July, she's a little disappointed she doesn't have enough time before shooting resumes to do a play that has at least a six-month commitment. She hopes, though, to win a feature film role: "I want to carry a gun, maybe ride a horse. I think I could be a funny 'Red Sonja.' "

"Grace Under Fire" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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