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'Melrose' couple Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro return to spotlight

Ten years later, they look the same as they assume their old roles of Sydney Andrews and Michael Mancini in the new series.

September 27, 2009|Denise Martin

The most disarming thing about Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro -- "Melrose Place's" diabolical Sydney Andrews and Michael Mancini -- is that they appear not to have aged since Aaron Spelling's campy hit wrapped in 1999.

Calabro dismissed the idea with a laugh. "You're not the first person to say that, but it's not true," Leighton said.

Oh, but it is, as evidenced in Tuesday's episode, which flashed back to Sydney's first death 12 years ago, a fatal car accident she somehow survived. Turns out Michael -- seen in all his '90s-era poofy-haired glory -- had lingering affection for his red-headed nemesis-turned-lover-turned-nemesis and helped her fake her own death. Executive producer Darren Swimmer said traveling back in time didn't take long. "We just had to adjust Thomas' hair, and Laura looks the same."

Resuming their scandalous alter egos for the CW's series reboot -- and the attention that has come with it -- took getting used to. "When we shot our first scene in the hospital, I thought, 'OK, this is weird. Fun, but weird,' " Leighton said during dinner with Calabro in Studio City. "It really was," Calabro said. "I just remember thinking, 'Thank God you're here with me.' "

Both actors have worked consistently, albeit out of the limelight, in the decade since "Melrose" went off the air -- Leighton in TV movies and short-lived shows, Calabro on stage and in guest-starring roles -- but now find themselves in the media spotlight. "Melrose" is the CW's highest-priority launch this fall, and while viewership has been tepid, the recent signing of Heather Locklear, who will reprise her role as Amanda Woodward in November, stands to goose ratings.

The producers of the new "Melrose" have zapped the camp in favor of a darker, slicker soap opera format. In 2009, Michael is a celebrity in the medical world but is at odds with his son David, who has inherited his pop's lying, cheating ways. Sydney, meanwhile, is resurrected and killed -- again, and for good -- by the end of Episode 1, her lifeless body found floating facedown in a pool. Leighton appears only in the memories of other characters, all of whom are murder suspects.

"They had me at 'facedown,' " she said. "It never occurred to me that I'd be involved at all. I was dead."

Executive producer Todd Slavkin said from his point of view that Sydney and Michael are the show's long-thwarted star-crossed lovers.

"We needed their romantic longing," Slavkin said. "Darren and I always thought of those two as meant for each other but so devious they could never be together."

Off screen, Leighton, 41, and Calabro, 50, are now busy parents with seven kids between them. (Leighton is married to "Desperate Housewives' " Doug Savant, who also starred in the original "Melrose.") During dinner, the two tried to negotiate a play date for their respective sons.

Leighton, who received a Golden Globe nomination in 1995 for playing Sydney, was less enthusiastic about her wacky story arcs. She worked as a prostitute, joined a cult, and was committed to a psych ward.

Leighton is not sure how long her run will last. The producers won't say how -- or if -- Sydney's character will work into the plot once her murderer is unveiled, but the actress seems to be OK with going along for the ride, however long it lasts.

"I have a family, and there are other things in my life now, but I think it's good to enjoy and appreciate this while it's happening," Leighton said.

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denise.martin@latimes.com

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