01/13/2003 at 01:00 AM EST
Sure, Marissa Matrone admires Jennifer Lopez
—the knowing way she works a camera, her none-too-subtle sense of humor (like when she shoved a bouquet of flowers in Matrone's face). But mostly the 32-year-old single Manhattanite, who plays the sassy sidekick in J.Lo's hit comedy Maid in Manhattan
, admires the way Lopez "oozes sensuality," says the self-professed tomboy. "As part of my whole attempt to be more feminine, I got some new, super-high-heeled shoes."
And she's gleefully kicking them up. Until March 2002, when the New York University grad got the Maid
part, Matrone's career highlights were a stint in Broadway's Side Man
, an episode of Law & Orde
r and some failed auditions for The Sopranos
. "I was always too Italian looking," she laughs. (After Maid
she appeared on two episodes of the HBO hit drama.) And so last year the Long Island-raised older child of retired teacher Joseph and his legal-secretary wife, Michelle, both 59, took an assistant position at an ad agency and became certified as a substitute teacher. As she puts it, "I didn't want to keep waiting for the phone to ring."
Now she's on Hollywood's speed dial. "It could not have happened to a better person," says her Side Man costar Edie Falco. "So many people are just waiting to get famous, and they do not pay attention to the steps in the middle." Not Matrone, who has seen Maid a couple of times to critique her own performance. "I used to always go to movies and think, 'One day I want to do that,' " she says. "I do believe there is magic in the world."