Jennifer Armstrong
January 13, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

Julie Bowen has a list of leading men she’d like to play opposite: dashing Patrick Dempsey, brooding Brit Hugh Laurie, and…gawky character actor DJ Qualls? Yes, seriously: ”He’s like 16 times sexier than a guy with a square jaw and a perfect haircut,” she says, thus fueling the fantasies of geek boys everywhere.

But Bowen knows from sexy romantic leads — she’s made a career of playing the dreamy man’s dream girl. After a four-year run as Tom Cavanagh’s crush-turned-wife on Ed, she’s become ABC’s go-to girl: Last season she debuted as both John Stamos’ co-worker-with-potential on Jake in Progress and Matthew Fox’s flashback wife on Lost (a show that has also featured…DJ Qualls!). And this fall she became a regular on Boston Legal. In January alone, Bowen will appear in a key, revealing Lost flashback on Jan. 18, while also romancing Legal guest star Michael J. Fox (who plays her dying-of-cancer client) in a four-episode arc. ”I love that ABC lets me do it,” Bowen says of her intra-network show-hopping. ”They just asked me what I was interested in doing, and as things came up, I said, ‘Sure, why not?”’

Bowen landed the Lost gig as a result of some truly island-worthy kismet: She jokingly asked a writer acquaintance who works on the show if she could be on it — ”I said, ‘Doesn’t Jack need a wife or something?”’ she recalls — just as producers started their search for Jack’s spouse. Once her name came up, they didn’t consider anyone else for the role — and her existing network connection made it an easy negotiation. ”We were like, ‘Who is worthy to play this character?”’ says Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse, a Bowen fan since her Stuckeyville days on Ed. ”She’s in the Ideal Woman category — the type you want to marry.”

Bowen’s such a major fan of Lost, in fact, that when she got her full script for this season’s opener (with flashbacks featuring her character, Sarah Shephard), she read only her own parts, saving the long-awaited hatch revelations for the episode’s real-time premiere date. She also finagled a piece of the short-lived Dr. Arzt (who exploded in last season’s finale) from the special-effects makeup artist. ”It’s this rubbery stuff, kind of like…I don’t even know what it is,” she says. ”It’s gross, especially when it’s been in the bottom of your bag for a six-hour flight.”

ABC seems equally psyched to own a (figurative) piece of Bowen. After she appeared on both Jake and Lost, she scored a starring role on the network’s romantic-comedy pilot Love Life, opposite Tom Everett Scott. When that didn’t get picked up, the producers of Legal pounced, giving her a long-awaited chance to work for show creator David E. Kelley. Early in her career, Bowen auditioned for his failed mid-’90s pilot The Pastor’s Wife, acting out a scene that included her character taking off a dress. And though she was expected only to pantomime the action, Bowen did it for real. ”I’m convinced that’s why he didn’t hire me,” she says. ”He was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, she’s too much of a wild girl!”’

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