- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Like most — well, some — ingenues trying to break into Hollywood, Catherine Bell got her first major break by dropping her drawers and having a Polaroid picture snapped of her. By a casting woman. By the time the image had developed before her very eyes, Miss Bell was cast as Isabella Rossellini's body double in the mediocre feature film "Death Becomes Her" (1992).

"It was one of the last assignments I got from my modeling agency, as they were getting into body doubling a lot," explains the hyperattractive 5-foot-10-inch brunette. "It was one of the oddest things I've ever had to do, and I only did it because it was a huge movie with big stars and a great director."

In "Death Becomes Her," Miss Rossellini's character had taken a secret potion, and her body turned into that of a 20-year-old.

"No matter what kind of shape her body was in, they really wanted … a 20-year old," Miss Bell says. "At the time, we had the exact same haircut, were the same height and had the same hip measurements."

Miss Bell, 32, who plays Lt. Col. Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie on the international hit series "JAG" (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on WUSA, Channel 9), took a lot of heat from the production crew for "Death" — but gained a husband, Adam Beason, director Robert Zemeckis' assistant.

"A lot of the guys were going, 'Hey, baby,' assuming I was easy because I was a body double," she recalls. "But I liked Adam because he wasn't like that at all — he was sweet and shy."

They married on May 8, 1994 (the second anniversary of their first date) and settled down in a contemporary-style three-bedroom house in the lush San Fernando Valley community of Sherman Oaks.

There are no children in their happy marriage, "but it's definitely on the horizon," Miss Bell says. "We're thinking about it all the time, and whenever we see a baby we both go, 'Oooh, how cuuute.' But we definitely don't want them while I'm on 'JAG' because the hours on the set are insane. I would never see my babies. But what we both kept thinking was in the distance is now only a couple of years away."

Resting up for the fifth season of the naval law series, Miss Bell and her husband took the summer off to travel in Greece and Cyprus, then headed home to "wakeboard" ("It's like a cross between snowboarding and water-skiing") on a local lake, ride their Yamaha R-6 motorcycle ("I just get into leather and hang on") and make frequent visits to a nearby golf course. ("Yesterday I was horrible; today I was pretty decent.")

When time is short, they hole up in their state-of-the-art home theater to view the latest on video and DVD. The kick-boxing actress — who guards her home with a .38 special and can field-strip an M-16 rifle in 16 seconds — says she is thoroughly enjoying her work, but claims not to know where her character is headed by the end of the season.

"Mac remains strong, intelligent and disciplined, with a sense of humor, but her relationship to Harm (David James Elliott) remains a mystery," she says. "I have noticed lots of looks between them lately — they are definitely aware of each other — but things keep coming between them. It's like, 'How come we're not together?' "

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. MacKenzie amuses herself with Australian naval officer Mic Brumby, portrayed by 35-year-old Perth-born Aussie hunk Trevor Goddard.

"Our relationship is all over the place, with many twists and turns," she says with a laugh. "We argue, we make up. We get along, we don't. I suppose anything can happen by the season finale."

Mr. Goddard and Miss Bell also happen to be old friends, having co-starred in Dolph Lundgren's action flick "Men of War" seven years ago.

"I played a bad mercenary chick, and we shared many adventures while shooting in Thailand for 10 weeks," she says, laughing "including amoebic dysentery from swimming in fetid lakes in some action scenes. We definitely shared that. When I found out that Trevor got the part, I was thrilled. He's a friend and a great guy."

Miss Bell was born in London to a British architect and an Iranian-born nurse but moved to Los Angeles with her mother after her parents divorced when she was 2. Five years later, she landed a couple of TV commercials through some of her mother's new industry contacts.

Though she was raised in an Iranian household with her grandparents and was fluent in Farsi, she attended a Catholic girls' school taught by nuns in Los Angeles before enrolling at the University of California at Los Angeles with the notion of studying medicine or becoming a biomedical engineer.

Tall and striking, Miss Bell fell into print and catalog modeling during her first year of college and dropped out at 19 to take a four-month modeling job in Japan.

"I found a very different culture in Tokyo, where you easily offend someone without even knowing it," she recalls. "It's also a sexually repressed culture. I can't tell you how many times I was groped by men on the street.

"It was insane, though it wasn't like anybody tried to rape me," she continues, still miffed. "It was basically men — like little kids — reaching out and grabbing my breasts as they would run away into the subway. What could they possibly get out of that? Anyway, I was bigger than most of these freaks, and once in awhile, I was able to turn around fast enough to smack 'em in the face or knock 'em down. That became a bummer, and I got homesick pretty fast."

Fast tiring of "the shallow modeling world," Miss Bell returned to Los Angeles and decided to study acting with Milton Katselas.

"I was very, very shy, and it started out as a challenge," she explains. "It was a matter of trying to lose some of my shyness while learning to express my emotions a little better."

Needing flexible hours for auditions, she soon dropped modeling to make a living as a massage therapist until her one-line debut in the short-lived sitcom "Sugar and Spice" (1990).

"I ran an ad in a local holistic-medicine magazine, and my first call was from an extremely soft-spoken Englishman," she says. "After setting the appointment and getting the address, I asked for his name. He said, 'Peter Gabriel.' I laughed and said, 'Not the Peter Gabriel.' He said, 'Yes, I am.' I brought one of his CDs, had him sign it and gave him a massage.

"Afterward, he invited me to stay for a spot of tea, and we chatted a long time. We talked about his career and my struggles, and he gave me some encouraging words. It was great."There are no children in their happy marriage, "but it's definitely on the horizon. We're thinking about it all the time," Miss Bell says.

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