- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.

The plain black door opens to reveal flowers, music, scented candles, a tiny dog with a big bark and a vibrant blonde with a huge, warm laugh.

Dyan Cannon is laughing about the way her Chihuahua, J.C. (short for Jeepers Creepers), is dressed.

"I want you to check this out it´s a dog sweater with cashmere and jewels," the actress exclaims. "She has to put on her plain cashmere now." Miss Cannon searches in a bag for something more low-key than J.C.´s magenta-and-mauve garment, a gift for appearing on a TV show.

Miss Cannon, one of the stars of the NBC sitcom "Three Sisters," is wearing a deep lilac sweater and sleek purple leather pants. Her glittery Los Angeles Lakers belt buckle signals that she´ll be attending that night´s basketball game.

Both Miss Cannon and her dog exude energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. They did a slew of satellite TV interviews earlier in the day before arriving at Miss Cannon´s dressing room on the Universal Studio lot, but they both still have plenty to say.

Miss Cannon is completing the 16th episode of "Three Sisters" (Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on WRC Channel 4), which was introduced at midseason and is set to run through May. She plays Honey Bernstein-Flynn, mom to married Bess, divorced Nora and single Annie.

"We wanted a mom who was fun," says co-creator and executive producer Eileen Heisler, explaining that the comedy´s "kicky California family" didn´t need a traditional homemaker.

"Dyan is just such a youthful spirit. She doesn´t look like a regular mom, but there´s a great calm about her. She´s not trivial, not silly; she has emotional weight."

Miss Cannon was tied up on Fox´s "Ally McBeal" with her recurring role as the sexy, smart Judge Jennifer "Whipper" Cone (an appearance option that remains open) when the pilot was shot.

When the series was ordered, Miss Cannon was approached again about playing the role.

"I was available, and I said, 'I don´t know. I don´t know.´ I was hesitant about doing a weekly show, " says Miss Cannon, who admits it took several meetings and phone calls to get her to agree.

She feels right at home doing comedy, though.

"I don´t do very much of the heavy stuff. I find it depressing," says Miss Cannon, who was nominated for Oscars for 1969´s "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" and 1978´s "Heaven Can Wait."

"In drama, you just play the reality of it; in comedy, you go to the reality and then you lift up that reality to make whatever it is fun," she says.

Is Miss Cannon the same sort of mother in real life as the vivacious Honey?

"Very similar" she says. "The word that comes to mind is "authentic, " meaning true to my own convictions. I´m not persuaded by the thoughts of those around me. I like to come to my own conclusions, keeping in mind that integrity and being true to one´s own higher sense of right is the important thing in life."

Miss Cannon, who is listed as 64 in most Hollywood references, refuses to talk about her age, see limitations or be confined by boundaries. Why should she? Her beauty and vitality certainly offer proof of the irrelevance of the numbers game.

Twice married and divorced, including to Cary Grant in the 1960s, she says she still believes in true love. "I´d like to have a heartthrob," she admits, though she says she has no one in mind. "This is the first time that I´ve ever been ready for marriage, because I´m more myself than I´ve ever been, " she says.

She theorizes that both in reality and in this sitcom, the mother has the tough assignment of being both warden and best friend.

"That´s a balancing act, " she says.

The actress admits that she has been a seeker much of her life, but she says she finally has found a balance.

"I looked into everything, including drugs and men, that I thought would promise a moment´s relief, " she says.

She doesn´t like to designate her belief as "religion" but says she has reached an understanding of God´s love. She organizes GPDC&U (God´s Party, Dyan Cannon and you), a musical celebration providing spiritual outreach, which is held every other Saturday night on a studio lot.

Miss Cannon, whose birth name is Friesen, grew up in Seattle with a Jewish mother and Christian father, trying to understand both religions because she wanted the love of both parents. "I do think that one of the reasons that I was an actress was because I could be anybody anybody wanted if they loved me, " she says.

She also knows that acting is "in my bones."

As a child, she staged plays in her back yard. "I played all the parts, made the tickets, made the chairs. I was the director, the producer, the writer and I would write music to go with the plays."

Not surprisingly, she wrote "torchy" songs.

She has written and directed ever since, winning an Oscar nomination in 1976 for best short film for "Number One, " a charming dissertation about children going to the bathroom.

Miss Cannon hopes to direct again.

Meanwhile, she´s happy with her God´s Party work; her friends; her daughter, actress Jennifer Grant; and her pets. Besides J.C., she has two cats, Kitty and Puppy. She also enjoys working out, hiking and "walking to the frozen-yogurt stand."

"What I really love is work. I´m a workaholic, " says Miss Cannon, who now heads off to Australia to play Christopher Walken´s wife in the action comedy "Down and Under."

"We come to these stages and phases of our lives when people say, 'Can´t do that.´ 'It´s too late. ´ It´s never too late. If you want four words, those are mine: 'It´s never too late.´ I don´t ever want to retire. I´m just beginning. There will always be a demand for what I have. It would bother me more than anything to lose my joy or the light in my eyes or my energy or my zest for life. That´s what´s fresh in me, and there´s always a demand for that."

By Bridget Byrne

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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