07/06/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
I WAS A VERY GOOD SECRETARY," SAYS Denny Dillon, recalling a few lean months as an office temp. "You should see my file cabinets even now. They are the file cabinets of a very, very organized secretary, not an actress." It's the actress, though, who plays Toby, the cantankerous secretarial terror on Dream On, HBO's acclaimed comedy series about an addled book editor (Brian Benben) whose brain is apt to flashback to the TV fare he devoured as a boy. (The show makes ingenious use of vintage clips.) Toby is the sort who, when crossed on some small point, is likely to snarl, "You're not fit to be consumed by rats!"
"I hope I'm not that abrasive," says Dillon, who grew up in Cleveland, the second of four children. "But I like to think I'm as direct and I rank as Toby is." An alumna of Syracuse University and Saturday Night Live, the 5' Dillon has an unmistakable presence—part moll, part Kew-pie doll—that has led to her being cast as everything from Doreen, the disco loser who flings herself at John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, to the 6'8" Richard Moll's klutzy girlfriend on Night Court. It's what Dream On director John (Coming to America) Landis calls "her pugnacious energy," and Dillon's mother, Maggie, calls "that light-up quality." Adds Maggie: "I remember really noticing Denny's talent when she did this grade-school lip sync to Frank Sinatra's 'That's Life!' "
With Dream On renewed for next season, the unmarried Dillon ("single with two dog-daughters") has settled into a two-bedroom house in Pacific Palisades, Calif., where she loves to throw poker parties. "I always win," she cackles.
That pugnacious energy, you know.