L.A. Lawyers Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry Have Their Own Partnership in Real Life
The two-hour pilot of NBC's new hit series L.A. Law had several moments that strained the bounds of credulity. But it was a bit of pure comic relief at the firm's annual cocktail party that seemed to require a full suspension of disbelief. Gorgeous do-good lawyer Ann Kelsey, played by 5'8" Jill Eikenberry, has a few drinks and a soul-baring discussion with the firm's tax man, Stuart Markowitz, played by Michael Tucker. Markowitz is a nice guy but sort of a nebbish and, at 5'5", is most definitely modeled on the IRS short form. Before you can say, "Rostenkowski," our pro bono princess is actually bedding down this sweet, shy legal beagle. So much for verisimilitude. So much for natural selection. But wait. If there's something about their mutual attraction that rings true, there's a reason.
It might be the simple fact that offscreen, Eikenberry, 39, and Tucker, 41, have been married for 13 years. Jo-Beth (The Big Chill) Williams, whose husband, John Pasquin, has directed both in a number of theatrical productions, says, "You can tell they find each other very sexy, which is good, since they're married."
Not only do they find each other sexy, they are also widely admired by the acting community for their longstanding compatibility. John Lithgow, who acted with Tucker on Broadway in 1975 and was in last summer's The Manhattan Project with Eikenberry, goes on about the duo. "Basically everybody in our gang in New York loved and envied them in equal measure," says Lithgow. "They had the apartment everyone wanted, the house in the country. They are devoted to each other and wonderfully supportive. Everyone always went to Michael and Jill with their problems."
These days the thespian pair have as enviable a professional arrangement as their dovetailed domestic one. If their coveted roles on the latest series from Hill Street Blues co-creator Steven Bochco look as if they were custom-written for the twosome, it is because they were.
Bochco, an old friend of Tucker's from college days at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, wrote the meaty parts into the pilot script and gave the pair the soft sell to get them to leave New York. Recalls Tucker, "Steven said, 'You don't have to commit yourselves. I'll understand, even though I'm writing these especially for you. If you want to pass on them it's okay.' He was essentially saying, 'Turn this one down, you sons of a gun. I'd like to see you turn these parts down.' "
For Eikenberry and Tucker, it was an offer they couldn't refuse. Rather than typecasting his friends, Bochco devised interesting stretches for them. Eikenberry says she's nowhere near as forceful or angry as the often strident Ann Kelsey. As for Tucker's part as the lovable loser Stuart Markowitz, Eikenberry remembers their dating days and reveals that her husband is doing some serious out-of-character acting. "Michael was very amorous. He didn't have any problems being rejected. I don't think he struck out a lot," she says.
Since L.A. Law's successful debut, Eikenberry and Tucker have been besieged by congratulatory calls. The phone seldom stopped ringing during a recent interview at their rented two-story condo in Brentwood, Calif. (Not only is Bochco their boss, but he's their landlord as well, since they are living in a condo he owns until their own place is ready.) Like the compulsively liberated couple they try to be, Jill and Michael take turns answering the phone, until confusion sets in after 10 or so calls. Eikenberry starts to rise from the couch to answer the latest ring, but Tucker stops her. "Isn't it my turn? Or is it yours? I think it's mine.... Yeah it's mine," he claims and gets up to do the honors.
"See how 'equal' we are," jokes Eikenberry about their private protocol. "We tend to slip back and forth into traditional roles, even though I consider myself a feminist." Interjects Tucker, "So do I."
Tucker does most of the cooking in their marriage, while Eikenberry leaves the dishes for the maid. They share the disciplinary duties for their 4-year-old son, Max, and Alison, Tucker's 17-year-old daughter (by his first marriage), who has stayed in New York to finish her senior year in high school. They work hard to make the marriage as egalitarian as possible, though Tucker will always have to stand on tiptoe to kiss his wife.
The knockout and the gnome met in 1970 as struggling actors at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Though he was the father of an infant daughter, Tucker found his marriage of 3½ years to a schoolteacher foundering, and he was immediately attracted to Eikenberry. "Before I found out about her other qualities, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever met," he says.
Eikenberry held out for two weeks. "Then I decided that he was the man for me," she remembers. "There was an electricity pretty early on. He's a sexy guy. And something about Michael reminded me of my father, even though my father is 6'2". Michael is very manly but very gentle."
Yes, but not very gentile. Though his parents—a fur buyer and a cosmetics saleslady—were officially Orthodox Jewish, Tucker, who grew up in Baltimore, says, "We were really holiday Jews." Eikenberry, the daughter of an insurance company executive and a housewife, was born in New Haven, Conn., raised in Madison, Wis. and St. Joseph, Mo., attended Barnard and Yale Drama School and is a Unitarian. Michael explains Jill's attraction to him as "the call of the Old Testament."
His first marriage left him with a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. "I felt like a villain. I was the one who was going to be happy and [my first wife] was going to be sad. Jill and I were going off into the sunset with this fabulous romance, into a new life to star on Broadway [in Moonchildren] and taking my daughter with us."
Though his marriage was already rocky, Tucker admits that meeting Eikenberry was the catalyst for the final dissolution. "Ultimately it was Jill who made me make the move. But it wasn't Jill who upset the marriage," he confides. For all the emotional hardship, Eikenberry allows that "it was all sort of amiable—as amiable as anything like that can be."
Although their long-standing union hardly seems to need it, Jill and Michael's role-playing on L.A. Law has had priceless connubial fringe benefits. They have gotten the chance to relive and re-enact their original romance. Says Eikenberry: "It's wonderful to pretend we don't know each other well and re-experience all the old feelings again." Tucker has a more earthy assessment of their renewed off-the-set relationship. "Sex is as good or better now than it was when we met," he says. "I feel as if we're having this torrid affair!" Verisimilitude indeed.
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