More like a force of nature. "It's like Hurricane Mel," says Billy Baldwin, her costar in Curdled, a thriller due next fall. Gorham, who at 36 has two marriages behind her (the first, at 17, to hairdresser Steve Berman, and the second, at 21, to Ralph Gorham, who founded and owns Bison Motorcycles), inherited her nonstop exuberance from her parents, now divorced, whom she describes as "Lucy and Desi—in reverse." Her father, Sandy Schnier, 67, a retired journalist, has spent a lifetime in amateur theater. Her mother, Cuban-born Emma Netsch, 60, is a retired manicurist and sometime nightclub singer. The two got together when Schnier visited pre-Castro Havana in 1956. They settled in Coral Gables, Fla., where Gorham, an only child, grew up and got into acting. She majored in drama at the University of Miami and after graduating in 1981, headed to Manhattan and the stage.
Getting a breakthrough role took time. Gorham had parts in 32 shows, mostly off-Broadway, before landing a role in Blue's 1995 prequel, Smoke. Now, besides Curdled, NBC has signed Gorham to star in a sitcom next fall as, yes, her own wacky "Cuban-Jewish" self. "Hopefully," she says, "I'll become America's next sweetheart."
TALK ABOUT YOUR LIVES OF THE party: Mel Gorham was superb as Harvey Keitel's Latina girlfriend in the movie Blue in the Face, but she was so scintillating at the wrap party, doing an impromptu version of the Peggy Lee standard "Fever," that the filmmakers went back and shot the song for their movie. The sultry scene, which includes a modified striptease, has worked wonders for Gorham's career—and helped make Blue an art-house hit. Says executive producer Harvey Weinstein of his part Cuban, part Jewish-American star: "She's a firecracker."