Alex Kingston article from today's Daily News (NYC - 10/10/99) : LUSENET : ER Discussions : One Thread

TV's Sexiest M.D. On the set with Alex Kingston  but how cool is this sexy British actress


Alex Kingston, out of uniform in a spaghetti-strap orange top, loose-fitting pants and sandals, leads a visitor down a narrow passage between two blocks of towering soundstages at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank.

It is a hot autumn afternoon as Kingston, familiar to many as the frisky British surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Corday on "ER," passes a long line of "Star Wagon" trailers where her fellow "ER" doctors and nurses each take air-conditioned refuge from filming the life-and-death drama of America's most popular TV show.

"How was your weekend?" Kingston says in her tamed English accent to Julianna Margulies, who, in wraparound shades and tight leather pants, also appears to be freshly arrived on the lot. (She has just flown in from New York.)

Redheaded Laura Innes, who plays the purse-lipped and prickly Dr. Weaver, is all smiles as she ambles over to offer a warm hello.

Almost everyone seems to have attended the premiere and party for "Three Kings" the night before in Westwood. The movie stars George Clooney, late of "ER," and his former colleagues had come out to wish him well.

Kingston asks Innes, "How late did you stay?"

"We had to leave early  we had a baby-sitter," says Innes, a reminder that these familiar faces in white coats have lives away from the characters they have played for six  going on seven  seasons on NBC.

"We are no different from anybody else in this world," Kingston says when she has found her way to the studio commissary for lunch, "and yet the media chooses to exploit us and exploit the public into thinking that just because you're on television you're somebody who's on a higher pedestal than everyone else. It's rubbish."

Rubbish, perhaps, but even she admits that if she is not on a higher pedestal, she at least lives in a higher tax bracket since coming to America and "ER" two years ago.

In that short time, Kingston, 36, went from one life subsisting on the cold-water-flat wages of an English repertory theater actress to another in which she bought her own home in the favored Hollywood Hills, has two cars, can eat in any restaurant she chooses and fly to New York for the weekend without thinking twice about it.

"This is so different and it's actually quite nice," she says, dropping any pretense. "The thing now is I'm frightened about how easy I'm finding it and that it could get taken away again. We don't know what the life expectancy of the show is. And if it's taken away, I don't know that I want to go back to how I lived before. It might be a very healthy thing for me to do that, to touch earth again. On the other hand ."

The suggestion that Hollywood lies someplace other than Earth  and therefore is not nearly as real as doing Chekhov in Manchester  is charming in the way it sets her apart from the cultural assumptions of, say, Heather Locklear.

The unassuming Kingston is a strapping beauty with olive skin one doesn't associate with the English climate. The daughter of a Surrey butcher, educated in private schools, she began acting at age 5 and seems to take her profession more seriously than she takes herself. You would know she is British by the way she says "ombi-ohnce" for ambience, for example, but states, "I've never felt really English." (Her mother was born in Germany.)

As Kingston begins her third season on "ER," the show, while still a ratings powerhouse, has come under the sort of scrutiny critics tend to apply to long-running series that inevitably struggle to avoid growing stale.

One of those critics is, yes, George Clooney, who in the October Esquire made some sarcastic remarks about the decline of the show's writing.

"Did he really say that?" Kingston asks, apparently unaware of the published remarks in the same magazine that last year saluted her as one of the "Women We Love," complete with a cheesecake shot of her in a lacy bra.

"I don't believe he said that. I think it's going to be an interesting year for the show because you've got new faces, an enormous influx of new characters. We all hope that it's going to be a successful decision that's been made, to bring these new characters on."

Like any player in a television series, Kingston's onscreen fate is in other people's hands  the writers and producers who plot the twists and turns of the story line at Chicago's County General  and the cast members sometimes only get their scripts a week before filming.

Last year, it should be noted, her fate was also influenced by fellow cast member and onscreen lover Eriq LaSalle, who successfully petitioned the producers to end his affair with Kingston as he thought it was sending "the wrong signals" about black men only being in stable relationships with white women.

Kingston publicly expressed her disappointment at LaSalle's decision. This season her hot-blooded Dr. Corday is already progressing in a new medical romance with the brave and noble Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards).

She puts it in perspective: "The audience saw us having an end-of-the-season kiss last year. It's not a surprise that we're together, but certainly the season started with us being rather tentative."

We have it on good authority that their tentativeness will give way to consummation in the next episode.

"Did they give you that information?" she asks politely, not sure whether she should confirm this.

Wearing her newfound fame lightly, she is still absorbing the impact of prime-time success after nearly 15 years of distinguished and relatively anonymous work in Britain as a stage actress (including being a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and a brief shining moment as the lusty Moll Flanders in a Masterpiece Theater presentation that "maybe 14 people in the U.S. saw on PBS," as one admiring Web site put it.

"The amounts of money that people earn is just nuts," she says about the "ER" salaries made famous by that contract holdout two years ago (just prior to her joining the show).

"Huge amounts of money have been given to the original male cast members, and they know it's silly money. It's completely out of proportion to anyone's worth. But that's Hollywood."

Possibly she refers to the amounts granted her onscreen romantic partners LaSalle and Edwards, reported to have been renegotiated to levels of $250,000 and $400,000 per episode, respectively, adding up to tens of millions for three seasons.

"If you think you could ever spend that money in your lifetime and what could be done with that money in the rest of the world, those are things you think about," says Kingston. "On the other hand, nothing can recompense you for the privacy you lose. I mean, I'm fairly lucky that I joined the show later. The crazy circus around us I don't think is as bad as when the show first really hit it big and made those leading actors big celebrity names."

She has not yet, for example, been asked to offer medical assistance in public.

"I know it's happened to the others. They've been in situations where their help has been called upon and they've had to say, 'I'm not a real doctor.'"

"We were looking for someone who could challenge Benton (LaSalle), who could stand up to him," says "ER" co-executive producer Neal Baer, recalling how Kingston was added to the cast. "She can do humor as well as the most emotionally wrenching scenes. Once I remember she managed to look like she'd been awake for two days and nights."

And plucky, too. In the closing scene of this season's first episode, she tracked her new love Dr. Greene to a batting cage, where he was venting his frustration at the wicked politics of the hospital administration. When she said hitting a baseball didn't look so hard, he challenged her to take a few swings. The way the scene was shot, one could assume Kingston wasn't really facing the pitching machine (like Edwards), but was whacking at softer throws tossed by someone off camera.

Not at all, says Baer.

"No, she stood right in there and she'd never had a bat in her hands in her life."

The "ER" opportunity came at a good time for Kingston, when she was looking to distract herself from her separation and eventual divorce from "English Patient" star Ralph Fiennes, whom she met when both were students at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and who left her after 12 years for an older woman.

Late last year she eloped with German journalist Florian Haertel, who, it's been reported, met her while interviewing her for a German magazine, though Kingston says they met on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend.

"We just decided to buy the certificate and get married," she recalls.

They flew to Santa Fe for the ceremony.

"It was good. Just the two of us and our dog. We were lucky that we stayed in a hotel that allowed dogs. So our dog was with us on our wedding night, which I'm sure not many people can say."

After lunch, Kingston has to get to makeup in time for a scene on Stage 11, which houses the sprawling and labyrinthine County General set. It is a scene in which Margulies' character, Nurse Hathaway, pregnant with twins by the aforementioned and long-gone Clooney, is given a surprise baby shower at the nurses station.

This is episode six, scheduled to air sometime in November. Kingston has only one line, depending on how the scene plays.

Walking back across the lot, Kingston says she never memorizes her lines much earlier than the night before.

"Because a lot of the lines are medical and technical, I've found that if I learn them three or four days in advance, I just forget them, they're out of my head. I can learn them quickly and keep them in my head for 24 hours, then they're gone.

"Typically I come in, say, at 7 to be in makeup, on the set at 8, then work through to lunch, than after lunch go back and keep on working. Or have a couple scenes in the morning, then leave and have the rest of the day to do other things. It just all depends on how involved my character is in the episode."

When she comes out of makeup and appears again at the stage door, she is dressed as Dr. Corday, the familiar white coat over a low-cut dark dress, a real photo ID clipped to her lapel and a stethoscope curled around her collar.

Leading the way across the set's institutional gray linoleum floor, past the various and sundry extras required to give "ER" its hospital hubbub atmosphere, Kingston points to a cabinet and says, "All that in there, that's all proper saline solution. We've got a lot of medical stuff that's actually for real."

She arrives at the nurses station, decorated with pink and blue balloons for the surprise party. Margulies, now in nurse costume and padded out to look seven months' pregnant, chats with other actors and crew, including Innes, Gloria Reuben, who plays physician's assistant Jeanie Boulet, and director Richard Thorpe. The latter has the look of an industry veteran, with a perfectly cut shock of silver hair, jeans and expensive tan loafers.

Makeup and hair people dart in for touchups. Thorpe yells, "Action."

The gaggle of nurses and women doctors starts to chatter while a shoulder-mounted camera tracks Margulies' entrance, and then comes a chorus of "Surprise!"

"Oh, I had no idea!" exclaims Margulies.

"You've got to see the bassinets,' says Kingston.

"They're very sweet, I love them," says the nurse.

For someone like Kingston who has played the great Shakespearean heroines, done Ibsen and Brecht, how does the melodrama of "ER" stack up?

"The story line can sometimes sink into melodrama, into soap opera, into comedy that's a little broad for my taste," she says. "I want it to be like the documentaries you see on the real ER because I find that so fascinating. But I'm very happy doing what I'm doing.

"It's not so much that I haven't been challenged enough, it's that the longer I am on the show, the more I fear I will only ever be seen in this role. And because I've already had such a long and versatile career in acting, I don't want that to stop. So at the moment I'm definitely wanting to pursue something else."

She has a meaty role as a gangster's moll in the upcoming British film, "The Essex Boys," which has not yet been scheduled for release. She says she would like to do a play in New York or Los Angeles.

Although she likes Los Angeles and has no plans to return to London to live, she misses the professional values of her native country.

"Acting in Hollywood, I think, is less about the connection to creativity and more about the connection to wanting to be a star and earn big bucks. In England, you don't go into it lightly because the financial gains are fairly small.

"You do it because you have this burning passion and you know that's all you can do."

-- just another person (, October 10, 1999

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