AS CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER BOBBY DONNELL on ABC's The Practice
, Dylan McDermott relies on his brooding stare to sway skeptical jurors. At home, however, it's the actor's sunnier side that wins over his wife of five years, actress Shiva Afshar, 31. "It's the little things when you're married that drive you mad," she says. "I love his dimples, and I love his front teeth, and they both show up when he smiles." McDermott, 38, got his smile unexpectedly. "I was in a car wreck and my teeth hit the dash-board," he says. "They went a little crooked." Of course, when you look like the 6-ft. McDermott, even physical imperfections seem like assets—if only because it's so hard to believe there are any. "When people find out I'm on The Practice
," says Maria Sokoloff, who plays Lucy, the firm's receptionist, "the first out of their mouths is, 'Is Dylan McDermott as good-looking in person as he is on TV?' " Her verdict? "He has the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen. And if you think they're beautiful on TV, it's nothing compared to what look like in person!" Buried within those blue eyes, though, is deep pain: When McDermott was 5, his parents separated; shortly after, his 20-year-old mother, Diane, died from an accidental gunshot wound. "It shapes you forever," he told Esquire
in March, "and you don't get over it." Cared for as a boy in Waterbury, Conn., by his maternal grandmother, the teenage McDermott moved to Manhattan to live with his father, Richard, 56, a bar owner, and his wife at the time, playwright Eve Ensler, 46 (The Vagina Monologues
), who legally adopted him. There, McDermott enrolled in acting classes and later majored in drama at Fordham University. Now living in Santa Monica—and a father to 4-year-old daughter Colette—McDermott is setting aside his suits for spurs to star in the post-Civil War drama Texas Rangers
, due out in August. His Lone Star turn may be a perfect fit for what Sokoloff calls "that whole chiseled look he's got going," but wife Afshar insists it isn't a case of typecasting. "He looks really rugged and masculine," she says, "but inside he's a soft poet."