- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Alex Kingston has been living a nightmare for three years. It all started when she decided to renovate her recently purchased older home in the exclusive Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles.

But now the frightening and frustrating experience is about to come to an end; a small army of workmen are putting the finishing touches on a beautiful Mediterranean-style home with four spacious bedrooms and a swimming pool. Besides spending a fortune to make her dream come true, she shed a river of tears on many sleepless nights.

She probably would have leaped from tall buildings into a series of dry sponges on several occasions had it not been for Florian Haertel, her boyfriend when the excruciating venture was launched and now her husband for the past 1 and 1/2 years.

"Seriously, I'd say [this experience] is a testament to our love," says Miss Kingston, almost surprised her marriage is still intact. "At the beginning of this year, my husband contracted a serious flu, which almost became pneumonia," says Miss Kingston, 37, best-known for her role as brilliant surgeon Elizabeth Corday on "ER," "and that was all stress-related because of this project and what we've been through. It's everything you can possibly imagine.

"The most frustrating thing was our original architect and contractor neither of them designing any air conditioning whatsoever," she continues, still mad. "They're supposed to do all that for us and then to suddenly find such an enormous oversight … This is California, and it's 100 degrees out there. So we had to do a lot of reworking on the roof and ceilings to hide all the air-conditioning ducts. At one point, I envisaged huge industrial aluminum worms running from room to room."

All's well that ends well, though, for Miss Kingston, who came to the United States in 1997 to promote the television movie "Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders" and lick her wounds after her four-year marriage to Ralph Fiennes a classmate at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts had come to a bitter end.

She returned to England long enough to play a wily gambler in the independent film "Croupier," now at long last burning up the American art-film circuit.

While in the United Kingdom, she received a firm offer from the producers of "ER" to join the cast as Dr. Corday, the brilliant British surgeon soon embroiled in an interracial relationship with Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle).

Their affair ended amicably, though Corday faces some resentment from Benton's new girlfriend, Dr. Cleo Finch (Michael Michele), and seems to have found a soul mate in Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) for the new season.

Miss Kingston returned home on hiatus from "ER" last year to portray a tough gangster's moll in another low-budget English independent movie, "Essex Boys," now in limited release after receiving decent reviews.

" 'ER' has changed my life in many respects, including a wonderful lifestyle in a great climate," she says.

"Professionally, being part of a high-profile television show has given me a lot more confidence," Miss Kingston continues, "by knowing that I can go up for a role in other projects where, ordinarily, nobody would look at me twice. It's unfair in a way, and I feel for people who have the talent but aren't in my position. Lots of them go unnoticed. It's just the way it goes."

The greatest change of all in the tall, frizzy-haired actress's life came when she met Mr. Haertel a German free-lance journalist on a blind date arranged by mutual friends.

"He says it was love at first sight, but for me, it took a little bit longer," she says, laughing. "I think I was in denial. I didn't want to know what I really felt, but I was definitely intrigued by him and kept hanging around."

They frequently speak German her first language as a child at home. Born in South London's Green Belt, she is the eldest of three daughters born to a German housewife and an English butcher.

"But I refused to speak German by the time I went to kindergarten because I didn't want to be different from the other children," she recalls, "and I didn't want to be called a Nazi, which happened from time to time. They were kids of 5 and didn't even know what Nazi means."

Born travelers, Miss Kingston and Mr. Haertel share a sense of adventure and constantly are on the move hiking, fishing and collecting antiques. They enjoy short weekend trips to California's incredibly diverse geographic areas, stretching from the southern tip of the Mojave Desert to the central Pacific Coast, the wine country near San Francisco and the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

They stay in "funky, out-of-the-way places where people don't expect to see celebrities," Miss Kingston says. "I value my privacy. If I'm spotted by a fan, I don't confirm or deny that I'm part of 'ER.' I usually return a stare with a smile that says, 'Maybe you just saw me at the grocery store.' But mostly we're left alone because you won't find us at a starry luxury hotel."

Getting married on Dec. 28, 1998, in Santa Fe, N.M., was a spur-of-the-moment decision, Miss Kingston says.

"We were spending Christmas there when we bumped into a young couple who had just had sort of a shotgun wedding. I told them, 'Oh, I thought you could just do that in Las Vegas.' One of them said, 'No, you can do it here just find a judge.' Florian and I looked at each other and said, 'Shall we do it?' So we did."

Because they are supervising the last details of the renovation on their home, Miss Kingston did not have a chance to visit her family in London this summer, but she says she remains extremely close to her siblings. "My younger sister, Nicola, is an actress who, ironically, played my young mother in 'Moll Flanders,' " she says.

"My middle sister, Susannah, was deprived of oxygen at birth and is severely mentally disabled," she continues. "I think she is the reason I got into acting my parents were so busy caring for her that they didn't seem to have much time for me when I was a little girl. So I retreated to my room, playing in my own imaginary world for hours on end."

Very good at pretending and encouraged by an English teacher at an all-girls school, Miss Kingston soon took part in school plays and made her professional acting debut in the British TV series "Grange Hill" at the age of 15. Two years at the Royal Academy led to a stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company and a dozen feature films, including "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (1989).

"And here I am, hitting the ground running in another season of 'ER,' " she says with a laugh. "Sheer luck."

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