Mazar builds Denise of 'Civil Wars' into major role

September 29, 1992|By New York Times News Service

With her curtain of long velvety hair, Windex-blue eyes, porcelain skin, hey-look-me-over walk and black palazzo pants, Debi Mazar looks like a hip club-culture Snow White. But if the look is part Disney, part SoHo, the sandpaper voice is pure New York: a lush outer-borough accent, machine-gun delivery, and nTC "you know" and "like" studding her sentences like raisins on a Danish.

"It's funny, but sometimes people notice me for my voice, you know?" Ms. Mazar (pronounced MAY-zar) says as she shoves a Bendel's shopping bag under the table at a sidewalk cafe off Bleecker Street. "The other day I was in a store wearing sweats and no makeup, and this woman says, 'You sound just like that girl on that TV show, "Civil Wars.' " Then she comes closer, like inspecting me, and says, 'You are that girl! But you don't have your eyes on. What's the matter?' I've got to tell you, it freaked me out."

Ms. Mazar, who celebrated her 28th birthday last month, has become a familiar voice and face since ABC's "Civil Wars," created by Steven Bochco, went on the air last fall. The show began its second season last Wednesday.

She plays Denise Iannello, a legal secretary from Queens whose mall-girl hairdos and makeup belie a sly intelligence and spunky wit, and her role has expanded substantially. Denise began as an ancillary character, but her importance grew to the point that her wedding was last season's finale.

This season, viewers can expect to see a good deal of her and her new husband, Jeffrey, the independently wealthy bicycle messenger and poet. In coming weeks, they'll argue about sex (she'll take the issue to a radio call-in psychologist), the honeymoon (the Caribbean vs. Jack Kerouac's childhood home) and where to live. Denise will also make an impression on a Central Park West co-op board in a plot that involves White House stationery.

"Debi's earned more screen time," says Bochco, who rhapsodizes about the actress' accent. "She's funny, she's inventive, she's got great style, and she just adds a fabulous color to our palette."

Over the course of a three-hour lunch, Ms. Mazar also comes across as an open, good-natured young woman, one of whose top priorities is spending time in Queens with her Latvian grandmother (for whom there's a gift in the Bendel's bag).

"Now that I'm so busy working, I don't get to hang out with my friends and family enough," laments Ms. Mazar, who shuttles between Los Angeles and an apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn that she has had for 10 years. "I have a 2 1/2 -year-old goddaughter I want to watch grow, but I come back and the kid's forming sentences. It's those kind of things I miss."

Ms. Mazar's first movie roles were as New York home girls, in "GoodFellas" and "Jungle Fever." Does she worry about being typecast?

"Right now, it's the best thing that can happen because it gets me work," she says. But she works with a speech coach, learning to "turn the accent thing on and off."

"Not like I'm interested in losing it and talking like I'm from Middle America," she quickly adds.

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