A Siren of Substance
Gail O'Grady of 'NYPD Blue'
It’s risky for a woman to get involved with a cop on NYPD Blue. Look at Sherry Stringfield, Amy Brenneman, and Debrah Farentino: After only one season, each of their characters is going or gone. But NYPD‘s buxom and breathy administrative assistant Donna Abandando endures thanks to her creator, Gail O’Grady.
By sculpting Miss Abandando (”Isn’t it a great name?” she coos) into a misunderstood beauty who wears her skirts short, her hair big, and her makeup as thick as her New York accent, O’Grady, 30, parlayed a short-term gig into a permanent part. ”I wanted to make her a little smarter than they had written her,” says O’Grady, ”a little more outrageous in her looks. Something that would stand out and not blow out of there in three episodes.” She not only succeeded, she also received an Emmy nomination.
Raised in a suburb of Chicago, O’Grady did a few commercials before moving to Los Angeles in 1986. (She currently lives in Sherman Oaks with artist boyfriend Robert Claypool, three dogs, and a cat.) After appearing in a now- legendary 1987 soda spot — she was the sexy neighbor for whom Michael J. Fox chased down a diet Pepsi — she embarked on a guest-starring spree (Cheers, Matlock, China Beach, In the Heat of the Night), often playing the villain. ”I’ve killed in a lot of different ways,” she says.
When NYPD Blue returns to the beat on Oct. 11, O’Grady won’t be affected by the departure of David Caruso. ”I got along well with him,” she says. ”But our characters weren’t intertwined.” Abandando will, however, become more heatedly intertwined with Gordon Clapp’s Detective Medavoy. Says Clapp of their offscreen relationship, ”It’s almost like we’ve been married for 40 years.” Keeping tabs on Abandando’s affairs will be O’Grady’s Catholic father, who, she says, found her topless scene last season ”shocking.” ”Now he calls and asks, ‘So, are your clothes going to be on in the next episode?’ ”
That’s another risk for a woman on NYPD Blue.