SOME ARE BORN TO BRADYNESS; others have Bradyness thrust upon them. Actress Christine Taylor uncannily manages to straddle both categories. "All through school, people told me I looked like Marcia Brady," explains Taylor, 23, who plays the eldest, primmest, perkiest daughter in The Brady Bunch Movie. Her, like, really neat performance—a virtual cloning of Maureen McCormick's as TV's original Marcia in the 1969-74 sitcom—is one reason why the Brady Movie has been this winter's surprise hit.

But as a tour of Taylor's rented, wood-frame bungalow in the Hollywood Hills reveals, the resemblance doesn't stop at looks. "Gosh!" "Neat!" and "Gee!" tumble naturally from her lips—except when she surveys the abstract paintings on the living-room walls: works by her roommate, voice-over actress Janna Levenstein, 24. Taylor wrinkles her nose at all but one. "The one with some colors in it," she says. "I like things bright."

That's one reason you won't find Taylor in the Viper Room or sipping cocktails in the lobby of the Chateau Marmont. "I can't stand the club scene," Taylor says. "It's all about impressing people." That attitude impressed her Brady Bunch Movie director (and former Hill Street Blues star) Betty Thomas, who says, "Christine seems less cynical than the average Generation-X kid." But hardly as squeaky-clean as Marcia Brady, her mother insists. "Christine is not a Pollyanna or an idealist," says Joan Taylor, 44, a homemaker back in Allen-town, Pa. "She just makes the choice to be positive."

It hasn't always been easy. In 1993, Taylor and a friend found themselves accosted by a car-jacker near her apartment in L.A. Suddenly, Taylor says, "there was a gun in my back and I didn't know if he was gonna take me with him. I was hysterical." The gunman sped off alone in her red BMW convertible, which was never recovered. "I still have nightmares," says Taylor, who ever since that day has felt "like a different person. That made me realize how precious life is."

Taylor's formative years were relatively trauma-free. Growing up in Allen-town, she enjoyed what she calls a "wonderful, supportive" family life (her father Skip, 46, owns a security company; brother Brian, now 22, is a business major at the University of West Virginia). Her worst crisis came, she says, when, at 14, she failed to make the cheerleading squad at Allentown Central Catholic High School, where the perfectionist Taylor was a straight A student. "I had a big sleep-over party that night," she recalls, "and I found out all my girlfriends had made it and I didn't. I sobbed. I said, like Marcia would, 'My life is over!' "

Hardly. To take her mind off that debacle, Taylor turned to school plays and then community theater productions of Grease and Fiddler on the Roof, where a local talent manager discovered her. "If I had made it in cheerleading, I would have never been an actress," she says. During her senior year, Taylor won a role as an ail-American gal on Nickelodeon's teen sitcom Hey Dude. Two years after her graduation in 1989, she moved to L.A. Her big break came in 1992. Taylor won the Marcia role in an L.A. production of The Real Live Brady Bunch, a stage revue based on scripts from the sitcom.

Then came an invitation to audition for the film version. Taylor pored over hundreds of hours of Brady Bunch tapes, analyzing McCormick (whom she has still never met) from head to toe. "The hair flip was very big with her," Taylor says. "It was her exclamation point at the end of sentences." Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz, the producer of the movie, was bowled over. "Christine was really our only choice," he says now. "She became that character."

And yet Taylor remains very much her own person. "I love the girl," says Shelley Long (who plays Taylor's movie mom, Carol Brady). "Christine maintains a nicely grounded sense of self. She's not going to be swept away by Hollywood." Taylor, in fact, still feels connected to back home. On her bedroom table sits a framed photo of ex-Duke University basketballer Billy McCaffrey—now a pro in Italy—who was her one boyfriend through high school. Now, she says, "we're just very close friends." Today she remains "single and happy," she says. "I'm not scoping [anyone]. But if love comes," she vows, "I won't do a Marcia hair flip and run away." She is, however, scoping juicier roles. "Someday I'd love to do Shakespeare," she says. "And to play a bitch."

GREGORY CERIO
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • John Griffiths.