Straight from the Heart
Darr put a crack in the pavement last year on NYPD Blue, playing Kathy, Officer Abby Sullivan's (Paige Turco) lover, who got killed off-camera earlier this season. Last summer, Ellen's executive producer, Vic Kaplan, began auditioning for the role of Laurie Manning, Ellen's single-mother, mortgage-broker squeeze. "Lisa has a lot of charisma," says Kaplan, who, unaware of her NYPD turn, hired Darr for six episodes. "She wins you over." Adds DeGeneres: "I'm thrilled to be working with Lisa. We're lucky to have found her."
The younger of two children born to Mollie, a theater actress, and Karl, a lawyer, Lisa Darr Grabemann grew up in Chicago and acted in grammar and high school productions. At Stanford University, Darr majored in biology, but after graduating in 1985, she returned to the stage, earning an MFA in theater arts from UCLA in 1987.
Since then, she has played a string of transient girlfriends to the likes of George Clooney, Kelsey Grammer and Drew Carey on ER, Frasier and The Drew Carey Show. "I have more chemistry with Ellen than I've had with a lot of guys," says Darr. "I really feel I'm part of the scene with her. With guys, you're the 'chick of the week.' There isn't an investment with them because I'm gone in 22 minutes."
Darr has enjoyed a longer run with her boyfriend Zachary Jacobs, 34, a film-editing equipment broker she met a year ago. While they often discuss marriage, they keep separate three-bedroom homes in Los Angeles. "We're not living together until I get the sparkler!" says the incongruously old-fashioned Darr. For now, Jacobs remains a proud boyfriend. "I'm so excited for her," he says. "I don't care that she's playing a lesbian. This role takes her over the top."
And into millions of living rooms, much to Darr's delight. "I've never ever been recognized from anything I've done," she says. "I'm thrilled to death that this is the thing I'm getting so much attention for."
MONICA RIZZO in Los Angeles