Law and Ardor

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

RULE NO. 1 FOR ACTRESSES DOING LOVE scenes: Never bring your boyfriend to the set. Last spring, Marlee Matlin was in Oregon shooting Hear No Evil, a big-screen thriller (premiering March 26) in which she plays a deaf athletic trainer being stalked by a killer. After a romantic clinch with her costar, D.B. Sweeney, Matlin. 27, noticed her real-life leading man, Kevin Grandalski, 28, staring at her aghast. "You look like you've seen a ghost," Matlin, who has been hearing-impaired since she was 18 months old, said to him in sign language.

Grandalski, a suburban Los Angeles traffic cop who had learned to sign in college to fulfill his language requirement, signed back: "I didn't know you had to kiss him."

"That's acting," replied Matlin, a Best Actress Oscar winner for 1986's Children of a Lesser God. But, she says, "I wanted to prove how much I love Kevin, and kiss him all over—and I did." That, she says, "was not acting."

Nor is the body language Matlin employs while snuggling with the soft-spoken Grandalski on a sofa in her three-bedroom, ranch-style Hollywood Hills home. Grandalski moved in with her last October, a little more than a year after they first met on a Los Angeles street corner where he was directing traffic and Matlin was filming a scene for her NBC series Reasonable Doubts, in which she plays a feisty assistant D.A. They plan to continue nesting at Marlee's this fall, when their relationship is scheduled to culminate in marriage—the first for both.

"I feel so comfortable with Kevin," says Matlin, many of whose previous suitors have been Hollywood types, the most famous being William Hurt, her costar in Children. When she was 19 and Hurt 35, they embarked on a volatile two-year affair. "We brought out each other's worst instincts," she has said.

Grandalski frankly admits he hadn't known who either one of them was, though he had viewed Children as part of the sign-language course he'd taken at Fresno State, where he earned a B.S. in criminal justice in 1988. "I know [movie] people only by their characters," he explains.

So naturally, Grandalski didn't recognize Matlin on the Doubts set in July 1991. "Somebody had to point her out to me," he says. "I thought she was a pretty lady." But it wasn't until seven months later, when they met again on location, that they actually began to flirt. Then, as Matlin recalls, "I checked him out and"—here she mimes a fisherman reeling in a prize catch. Kevin blushes but admits he was hooked.

The truth is, says Doubts executive producer Robert Singer: "Ever since Marlee was a kid, she's had a thing for cops." Growing up in Morton Grove, Ill., the youngest of three children of Don Matlin, a used-car dealer, and his wife, Libby, a jewelry saleswoman, she would sit transfixed watching The Streets of San Francisco, Mannix and CHiPs. At William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Ill., she studied criminal justice and considered a career in law enforcement. But then she discovered that her deafness, the result of roseola, a measles-like disease she contracted as a baby, would have limited her to a desk job. So Matlin dropped out of school and switched to her second love, acting, which she had first pursued as an 8-year-old in Chicago's Children's Theater of the Deaf.

Grandalski knew he wanted to be a cop ever since he was a teenager growing up in Fresno, Calif., the eldest of three children of Richmond Grandalski, a forestry worker, and Charlotte, a postmistress, who divorced seven years ago.

On Kevin and Marlee's first date, he took her to a secluded spot in an L.A. park for a picnic lunch. Last month, on his birthday (Feb. 13), he took her back there, presented her with a three-carat diamond ring and proposed. Matlin, who doesn't mince words, says she wants "as many children as my uterus can handle."

Reminded of her long-ago ambition to be a cop, Matlin says, "Marrying one is better." Then she nestles closer to her burly L.A. lawman. "Much better," she murmurs.

JULIE KLEIN in Los Angeles

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