Kristin Davis (charlotte)

updated 06/01/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/01/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TALK ABOUT THE SPLIT BETWEEN FICTION and reality. On Sex and the City, prim and proper art gallery dealer Charlotte York is the only one of the Fearless Foursome who is married. And until she exchanged vows with her preppy heart-surgeon husband (Kyle MacLachlan) last season, her energies were focused on corralling Mr. Right into a picket-fence future. Away from the small screen, though, Charlotte's alter ego Kristin Davis, 36, is the only one of the four who does not share her home with a significant other. Nor is she marriage obsessed, says actress pal Lisa Kaminir, who once co-owned a Hollywood yoga studio with Davis. "She doesn't buy into the rules the way Charlotte does."

Well, maybe not the rules of dating. But Davis has mastered the rules according to Emily Post. "Kristin is the perfect guest," says her friend Melanie Shatner (daughter of Star Trek's William Shatner), an L.A. boutique owner. "If you invite her for dinner, she brings a plate of cookies and stays until the last dish is washed." Davis's charm comes from her southern roots. She was raised in Columbia, S.C, by her mother, Dorothy, 57, a university data analyst, and Keith Davis, 65, a University of South Carolina psychology professor, who adopted Kristin when she was 3. (She did not meet her birth father, a Toronto psychologist, until 1995.) Davis began performing at age 10 in school productions. After graduating from Rutgers University in 1987 with a drama degree, she landed parts on shows like ER and Seinfeld before hitting the big time in 1995 as Melrose Place's volatile Brooke Armstrong.

Away from work, at her split-level hillside place in L.A. (she also rents an apartment in Manhattan), Davis tends her orchids, checks out flea markets and explores the great outdoors with her golden retriever Callie. "I have to be outside," Davis told Women's Sports & Fitness last year. "I'm much more of a hiker girl than my character." And no matter what befalls Charlotte in upcoming episodes, Davis, who in January took off alone on an African safari, remains committed to going her own way. "Actors are dressed by other people, say words by other people, are directed by other people," she said recently. "I don't ever want to be 'created' in life."

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