04/10/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
FIGURATIVELY, SHE'S HOLLYWOOD'S latest 900-lb. gorilla, able to swing from top-rated sitcom to box-office hit. Actually, she's a 5-lb. capuchin monkey, 22 inches tall and named, prosaically, Monkey. On NBC's Friends, she plays Marcel, the quirky pet of Ross (David Schwimmer). In the biomedical thriller Outbreak, she is an illegally imported African monkey, carrier of a deadly virus.
"If Monkey were human, she'd be Meryl Streep," says her proud trainer, Nerissa Politzer, 25. Just so. Like many a great actress, Monkey never talks about her technique; she lets her performance speak for itself. And the heck with all that blather about subtext and character motivation—Monkey, says Politzer, who works for Benay's Bird and Animal Rentals in Tarzana, Calif., "will do anything for a mealworm."
Well, almost anything. Capuchin monkeys, says Politzer, are a lot like human actors: "They can get an attitude at times." If Monkey is moody, she has a stand-in, Katy, 2. (When the pace gets frantic, even the backup needs a backup. Although Monkey, 7, is the main simian in Outbreak, three other capuchins act as body doubles.)
Monkey, who was born in Florida, doesn't work for peanuts: Her fee is $350 a day. On Outbreak she took a special liking to Dustin Hoffman—perhaps because he's so deadpan. "Too much facial expression can frighten monkeys," says Politzer. On Friends, Monkey is friendliest with Matt LeBlanc, who plays Joey.
Of course, they're just pals. On the set of Outbreak, the simian star met another capuchin named Freddy, and the couple recently moved in together. Although cheap Hollywood gossip continues to portray the pair as notorious swingers, Politzer maintains they have strong family values—and may, very soon, produce capuchinfants.