May 07, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Not everybody loves Lucy, at least when it comes to the spunky redhead on ”The Practice.” When the sassy receptionist Lucy Hatcher mouths off during Sunday’s season finale (10 p.m., ABC), not every fan of the show will be smiling. Shortly after the character became a series regular, some viewers threatened to boycott the show until she was given the boot. ”There was a debate on the Internet that my publicist faxed to me, and it was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever read in my life,” says Marla Sokoloff, the 18-year-old who plays Lucy. ”When I first started on the show, I knew not everyone was going to like Lucy, but excuse me, I didn’t think people would be as cruel as they were!”

The actress was shaken by the criticism. ”I completely obsessed over it for the longest time,” Sokoloff tells EW Online. ”I know it wasn’t an attack on me, but when people say ‘I throw my remote control at the television because Lucy’s so obnoxious I can’t stand to see her face,’ you’re going to take that kind of personally.” It was only the intervention of series creator David E. Kelley — who made Lucy the focus of the April 18 episode in which she inadvertently becomes the star of a porn website — who helped Sokoloff embrace the hate. ”He said, ‘You know what? That’s exactly what we wanted people to do,”’ recalls the actress who also played less-than-lovable characters in ”Party of Five” and ”The Baby-Sitters Club.” ”So I was able to say, ‘Okay, maybe I AM doing my job.”’

Sokoloff, who says that she has little in common with her character (aside from a taste for well-aimed sarcasm), is now better able to laugh off some of the more outrageous slings and arrows from her critics: ”I went on a website that said, ‘Marla Sokoloff is a hoax! She says she’s 18 but she’s really 57!’ Hey, I must have a kick-ass plastic surgeon.”

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