HEIDI SWEDBERG TAKES A DEEP breath and considers her vision of the Ideal Role. The 29-year-old actress seems at a loss for an instant, and then it hits her: "I'd be a Rhodes scholar," she says, "who's addicted to heroin and gets killed by machine-gun fire—a genius junkie who gets squibbed!" She smiles. "I always wanted to be a heroin addict when I was growing up." Really? Well, actually, no. What she liked, she says, was "just all the trappings without the addiction problem. If only my eyes could be sunken and sallow and I could be scrawny and a real mess—that would be ideal."
A strange goal, perhaps, unless you consider that Swedberg revels in her role as Susan Ross, a woman who has actually agreed to-become engaged to fickle, insecure, unemployed and hopelessly immature George Costanza (Jason Alexander) on the top-rated NBC sitcom Seinfeld. In the three seasons she has been on the show, Swedberg has put up with a lot. Kramer (Michael Richards) has thrown up on her and burned down her father's cabin; she was fired from her job as an NBC exec after George kissed her during a staff meeting; she had a brief lesbian phase rudely interrupted when her girlfriend fell for Kramer; and she has had to tolerate George's fixation on actress Marisa Tomei. (Though she and George remain engaged, NBC won't reveal whether wedding bells will ever really ring.)
The weirdness of the Seinfeld plot-lines fails to impress Swedberg, however. "Susan's the straight man," she says. "She's so stiff. One of my greatest fears about myself is being uptight, and Susan's got uptightness on tap." In Swedberg's kooky scheme of things, straightness, she says, is one of the deadliest sins. "I have a very good, religious family," she says. "I've been fighting against it all my life."
Swedberg was born in Honolulu, the youngest of four sisters, and raised in Albuquerque by her parents, Jim, 60, a laser physicist in the defense industry, and Kay also 60, a high school English teacher, now retired. "I was the kind of kid," she recalls, "who wanted to run away and join the circus." That predilection, along with a preference for adult company, led her, she says, to perform in community theater while a student at Sandia High School. "I had lots of friends my age," she says. "But there was just something about the. independence of hanging with an older crowd. It was like reverse pedophilia."
After graduating in 1984, she studied acting for three years at the University of New Mexico before dropping out to turn pro. While in Louisville, Ky, for regional theater gigs in 1987, she entered an open audition and was cast in a supporting role as a pregnant teen in Bruce Willis
's Vietnam-vet drama In Country. The hunt for work soon led her to Los Angeles, where she landed one-shot roles on Matlock, Grace Under Fire and Murder, She Wrote. "I'm lucky," she says. "I look like the girl next door. That makes it easier to stick me in things. One day I'm a doctor, the next day I'm a prostitute"—or a TV news producer, which she plays in the Michelle Pfeiffer-Robert Redford movie Up Close & Personal. Despite her success, she is mindful of the shallowness of the business. "You start off with Shakespeare," she says with a weary laugh, "and end up with Who's the Boss? That's when you know you've made it."
Seinfeld is different. "It's not like doing TV," she says. "I don't feel embarrassed to tell people about it." And to her castmates at work, she's a total pro. "She comes in—boom—does her job and backs off," says Michael Richards. "Then she sits somewhere and reads a book quietly."
Home for Swedberg is a two-bedroom West Los Angeles house she shares with her 21-year-old calico cat Freida, German shepherd Lulu—and her husband of two years, cinematogra-pher Philip Holahan, 42, whom she met on a blind date in 1989. Sitting in her living room, with the silver Airstream trailer she and Holahan use for lounging visible through a window, Swedberg picks up a ukulele and begins to strum a '60s tune. "Hey Joe," she belts out, "where you goin' with that gun in your hand? Hendrix was into the ukulele," she says, mock-seriously. "Most people don't know that."
Holahan, of course, is entirely accustomed to this sort of strange interlude. His wife's Seinfeld character, he says, "is really like Heidi." He pauses for an instant. "On a leash."
JOHNNY DODD in Los Angeles