Once in Love with Andy

updated 10/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She stripped down last season, and may again

EVERY SHOW COULD USE SOMEONE on the set as chipper as Sharon Lawrence, and no show more than ABC's NYPD Blue. The hit cop series, which begins its second season this Tuesday (Oct. 11), is about to get whomped: Carrot-topped David Caruso, the show's leading man, will bolt Blue after the fourth episode to pursue movie stardom. How the show will fare after his departure is, for cast, crew and fans, a nervous-making question.

In that atmosphere, Lawrence's cheerfulness is especially welcome. On Blue, she plays Sylvia Costas, the but-toned-down assistant DA who last season unwound enough to have a complicated affair with rumpled, recovering alcoholic Det. Andy Sipowicz, played by Emmy-winner Dennis Franz, after Sipowicz kicked off the season by calling her a "pissy little bitch." In real life, though, Lawrence is as emotionally untangled as they come. "Sharon is very up," says Franz. "I'll be whistling something as I walk by her, and she'll pick up on the melody and break into a show tune. She'll dance."

The 33-year-old Lawrence, who has the lithe figure of a onetime Broadway ingenue, is the kind of person who can say, without a hint of Lettermanesque irony, "I have a lust for life." The type who, when asked about the reportedly temperamental Caruso, will sweetly answer, "We've had a lot of laughs. I hope he's happy, wherever he is." Who, after losing a supporting actress Emmy last month to Picket Fences' Leigh Taylor-Young, can smile and say, "I told myself, 'Honey, if nothing else, you've had a great ride.' "

Lawrence is characteristically optimistic that Costas and Sipowicz—he fell off the wagon late last season and the two parted—will get together again this year and, as she says, "explore an awkward, fun, realistic sexuality." That may mean she'll get to repeat the nude scene that made her one of the few women ever to be shown topless in network prime time. That being Lawrence's first nude scene ever, there was some trepidation—and some aerobics. "I worked out to make sure everything was toned, and yeah, my heart beat a little faster when we shot it," says Lawrence, who was raised a Baptist in Charlotte, N.C. "But the scene was about Sylvia caring for Andy, not about me being the sexiest woman you ever saw. It was liberating."

And perfectly okay with her folks, Tom Lawrence, 55, a TV news reporter for WRAL in Raleigh, N.C, and his wife, Earlyn, 55, a retired Head Start supervisor. (Her brother, Mark, 31, is an event videographer.) "There was some apprehension," says her dad. "But we trust the decisions Sharon makes. She pushes herself, always has." Sharon is just as proud of him. "I get my energy and curiosity about the world from him," she says.

By age 6, when she would sing for passersby, Lawrence knew she was destined to perform. She trained as a singer and dancer, but—to have something to fall back on—studied journalism at the University of North Carolina. She landed on her feet. After graduating in 1983, she moved to New York City, where she won parts in revivals of Fiddler on the Roofand Zorba. Moving to L.A., she shimmied her way into small roles on Beverly Hills, 90210, Cheers and producer Steven Bochco's Civil Wars. It was Bochco who brought her to Blue. "She has a terrific presence," says Bochco, "and she's sexy in a real way."

For Lawrence, reality ultimately means retiring to North Carolina and raising a family. "But now I want to focus on the work," says the actress, who hasn't dated seriously since January and currently shares a two-bedroom Hollywood Hills apartment with actress Alexandra Wilson (Homefront). Not having a beau doesn't mean she sits at home, though. "She hates to miss a party," says Wilson. "It kills her."

One other thing causes regret: not having the opportunity to belt out those beloved show tunes. "We've talked about finding some way for me to sing on Blue," says Lawrence. "Maybe it'll be in the shower." She laughs. "Given this show, that would make sense."

TOM GLIATTO
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

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