''JAG'' gets a new recruit
Cathrine Bell joins the hit CBS show as a series regular
Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Catherine Bell — star of the CBS stealth hit JAG — is every bit as babelicious as Sarah Michelle Gellar, her show stomps a certain Vampire Slayer in the ratings (attracting more than twice the viewers in the same Tuesday slot), and she can even bust a few kickboxing moves. Yet all you ever hear is Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. ”Bring her on!” says Bell, craving a piece of the teenage demon killer. ”Let’s do a crossover show.”
Bell, 30, has never been one to shrink from a challenge. After landing a tiny role during JAG‘s first season on NBC, she wrote a letter to exec producer Don Bellisario asking to play the new female lead when CBS picked up the Peacock castoff the following season. ”The part was perfect,” says Bell. ”She was tough and feisty and a lawyer and an action hero all rolled in one.” Bellisario was impressed: ”When she said ‘I want that part,’ she jumped to the front of the line.”
Bell worked like a charm: After winning the role of Maj. Sarah ”Mac” MacKenzie — a Marine attorney who’s like a less-skeptical Scully to costar David James Elliott’s Mulder — JAG began steadily climbing the Nielsens (it currently ranks No. 18 for the season). ”Catherine brought a real glow to the role,” raves Elliott. Adds Bellisario: ”She can be beautiful and sexy, but she doesn’t need a guy to protect her.”
Or promote her. As one of CBS’ few certifiable hotties, Bell has been actively courting the young male viewers that her newly NFL-enriched network so desires. She’s guested on Late Show With David Letterman, appeared on specials, and costarred in a highly rated TV movie (Cab to Canada), all to bolster her show’s once-invisible media profile. ”She’ll go to gas-station openings if it helps,” says Bellisario.
Born in London, Bell moved with her Iranian mom (now her personal assistant — ”she even makes my bed,” says Bell) to California when she was 2. As a child, she did TV ads before enrolling at UCLA to study biology. Bell soon dropped out to pursue modeling in Japan but couldn’t, um, stomach the lifestyle. ”They always said ‘You’ve got to lose 10 pounds,”’ she recalls. ”All my friends were like, ‘Look, here’s how you throw up.’ I tried that once — it wasn’t for me.”
Fortunately, acting was. Bell earned her SAG card doing a Mexican commercial for AmEx, then took a job as Isabella Rossellini’s nude body double in 1992’s Death Becomes Her. Frame grabs from the film have become a staple on several unofficial Bell websites. ”It doesn’t bother me,” she claims of her Net exposure. ”There’s actually worse stuff out there, but nobody’s found it yet.” Hear that, cyberpervs? ”It’s not that bad,” says Bell, backtracking. ”There are no pornos in my past.” The Death gig had another unexpected upside: On the set, Bell met her future husband, actor Adam Beason, who was working as director Robert Zemeckis’ assistant. (The couple live with their Italian greyhounds, Zoe and Leo, in a house overlooking L.A.)
Life after Death included guest roles on Dream On (as one of Brian Benben’s many girlfriends) and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (as an evil temptress). Most memorable was a spot on Friends as a head turner who causes Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc to leave a baby on the bus.