Michael Michele of 'Homicide' -- The feisty actress isn't afraid to speak her mind, not unlike her character on the hit NBC drama

By Bruce Fretts
February 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Never let it be said that Homicide: Life on the Street‘s Michael Michele isn’t a straight shooter. ”Everybody knows I have opinions, and I voice them openly and a lot of times when I shouldn’t,” admits the thirtyish actress. That didn’t stop exec producer Tom Fontana from adding her to Homicide‘s cast this season. ”Because of how she looks, people make certain assumptions about her ability,” he says. ”So she’s had to deal with people in a straight, tell-the-truth way. She’s not pushy or obnoxious. It’s just ‘This is who I am — like it or move away.”’

Michele shares this take-no-prisoners aura with her character, Det. Rene Sheppard, who’ll figure in NBC’s Homicide-Law & Order crossover Feb. 17 and 19. ”Sheppard’s attitude is ‘Don’t question my ability because I’m a woman.’ I feel that same frustration,” Michele says. ”I told Fontana, ‘I feel like I’m around a shrink, because every time I open my mouth, man, it’s in the script.”’

Maybe her aggressiveness comes from growing up with a male moniker — though the Evansville, Ind., native was named after a female friend of her mom’s. More likely, her in-your-face nature springs from her athletic background. ”I wasn’t the cheerleader — I was the basketball player and the front-line spiker on the volleyball team,” she explains. ”It’s the same mind-set I have today — it’s about getting in the game.”

Michele got into the acting game with a role as Wesley Snipes’ moll in 1991’s New Jack City. Next she played a crime fighter on CBS’ late-night drama Dangerous Curves. She spent one season as Malik Yoba’s lawyer girlfriend on Fox’s New York Undercover but left to join CBS’ ill-fated soap Central Park West. ”It was glossy and pretty,” she says. ”As an actor, you’re browbeaten about that. You do Central Park West, and it’s ‘Why are you on Homicide?”’

Her strong, subtle work — especially in the recent episodes dealing with Sheppard’s beating by a perp — has quieted the naysayers. ”I’m exactly where I hoped to be,” she concludes. ”Now if someone is casting a chick who can play ball or pull a gun, I can be considered. I may not get it, but at least I’m in the ball game.”