In Dragnet, Alexandra Paul Proves That Even a Squeaky-Clean Virgin Can Get Her Man, Friday

updated 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She'd never seen Saturday Night Live, barely recognized the name Dan Aykroyd and couldn't tell Joe Friday from Jack Webb. So when Alexandra Paul cruised into Universal Studios for an audition last October, her spirits were a lot higher than her expectations. She was up for a part in Dragnet—the movie satire of the big daddy of TV cop shows—of which Aykroyd was the co-writer and star. "I'd never seen Dragnet," says Paul, 23. "We weren't allowed to watch TV when I was growing up because we had to concentrate on studies. So I didn't get any of the jokes. I guess you could say I was a natural; my character didn't know what was going on and neither did I." But she got the job, and now Paul is giving a striking performance in one of the nation's top movies. She plays Connie Swail, the virgin who is kidnapped, served to a python as the main course in a pagan sacrifice and rescued by Sgt. Joe Friday (Aykroyd) and his partner (Tom Hanks). Stony, straitlaced Friday falls in love.

Paul might quibble with his choice. "I don't think I am a particularly nice person," she admits, sipping tea in the living room of her one-bedroom L.A. apartment. "But for some reason, I tend to get cast as the sweet thing." Don't let her Bambi browns deceive you. Tacked up between the soft pastels of her Monet posters (more camouflage) are animal rights pamphlets, newspaper clippings on nuclear protests and pictures of Paul and her twin sister, Caroline, being arrested. In February Alexandra and Caroline, a world-class white-water rafter, spent four days in a Nevada jail for demonstrating against nuclear testing. It would seem that the statuesque actress, who combines Audrey Hepburn pixieness with Grace Kelly sophistication, the one Dragnet director Tom Mankiewicz calls 'a lucky penny," is an old-fashioned hard-nosed activist.

While filming American Flyers in 1984, Paul and pal Daniel Sladek created Young Artists United, a 150-member group that counsels teens on such problems as drug-and-alcohol abuse, eating disorders and suicide. "We used to talk about what we would do for the world when we were rich and famous," Alexandra recalls. "Then we decided not to wait." Paul gives talks about anorexia and bulimia, both of which she has been combating herself since age 15. "The next time you see me on the screen and think I'm so perfect," she tells her audiences, "remember I've leaned over a toilet bowl and stuck my finger down my throat."

A relaxed, expansive but exceedingly serious woman, Paul was born in New York and raised in Paris, where her father worked as an investment banker. The family moved back to the U.S. in 1974, and her parents divorced five years later. The twins and their brother, Jonathan, now 21, all went off to separate boarding schools. In 1981 Paul graduated from Massachusetts' Groton with honors, but she postponed college for a year and, while modeling in New York, landed a role in a TV movie, Paper Dolls. She then enrolled at Stanford University but backed out three weeks before registration. "I finally admitted to myself that I loved acting," she says.

Work came steadily: Christine, Just the Way You Are and American Flyers all featured Paul in virgin-next-door roles. Eight Million Ways To Die, a sleazy detective story co-starring Jeff Bridges, provided a refreshing contrast. "Playing a whore," says Paul, "I had to be comfortable with my body. It made me explore my sexuality."

Her offscreen romantic explorations are comparatively tame. Steadily dating no one, Paul counts actor Barry Tubb and her personal trainer, Scott McCray, among her close male friends. Her wedding band, she says, is only a "wolf ring," worn to keep the unwanted away. "I don't really believe in marriage, and I don't ever want to have kids, although my mother says I'll change my mind when I'm 29. She says, 'Alexandra, if you get your tubes tied, I'll just die.' "

Paul is refreshingly forthright about her career goals. "I want to become very powerful and rich," she admits. "The only way kids will listen to issues is if there's a celebrity attached. It's kind of a sick thing, but people go for the glitzy." You don't get a whole lot of bull from Alexandra Paul. What you get, as Sergeant Friday would say, are just the facts, ma'am.

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