Alexondra Lee

Alexondra Lee Spoiled rotten as a child - the youngest by far - cute little Alexondra Lee was allowed to bore her brother and four sisters to tears with lots of dopey plays and silly dances. They all loved her enough to postpone serious fights until she reached her teens.

"There were nine years between the youngest sibling and me, which also means I spent a lot of time alone to play make-believe characters," says Lee, now a very shapely 26. "But, with so many adults around, I also grew up very, very fast. I auditioned for and joined the New York City Ballet at the age of 7 and spent the next five years doing `The Nutcracker` at Lincoln Center during the holiday season. Working with strict Russian teachers helped my maturity level."

At 13, she simply stopped dancing, considered herself an actress and signed on with a respected agent.

"I tried to get parts in television `After School Specials,` but nobody would buy it," she recalls painfully. "I wasn`t perky, I wasn`t chipper. Instead, I was smart and on it. When I was about 14, my mom and I moved to Los Angeles and I started auditioning. Two years later, I got my first real job, a guest shot on `L.A. Law.`"

Having laid the foundation for a potentially rewarding acting career one decade ago, the sensuous Lee is suddenly all over the place. She plays the comely female who Mel Gibson spills coffee on in the recent feature film, "What Women Want," a talentless standup comedian in Camryn Manheim`s TV movie "Kiss My Act" and stars - along with Michael Landes - in the faux sci-fi detective series "Special Unit 2" (Wed., 8-9 p.m., UPN). She portrays Kate Benson, a hot Chicago Police Department detective with a built-in detector for "Links" - mutant entities who stay alive by sucking the life out of unsuspecting human beings.

A cross between "Men In Black" and "The X-Files," the show lives and dies by its tongue-in-cheek style.

"We definitely don`t take ourselves seriously, so hopefully no one else will," quips Lee. "As an actress, the whole thing is preposterous and plain fun."

Kate Benson sees monster creatures that no one else sees and thinks she`s going crazy until dragged into Special Unit 2, an underground police unit full of Link-killers headquartered in an abandoned subway station. The entrance to SU2`s offices is hidden behind racks of clothes obscuring the front of a secret elevator in a modest dry cleaner shop. Teamed up with Nick O`Malley (Landes) and Carl (Danny Woodburn), their gnome-like kleptomaniac Link snitch, Benson scours the Windy City for flesh-eating Gargoyles, Thropes (yuppies by day, werewolves by night), the Samurai Mummy and the starving Merman (who extracts the souls from virgins).

All interiors were shot in downtown Los Angeles at the mothballed Herald-Examiner newspaper building, known in its day for sucking the life out of thousands of journalists.

"I absolutely believe that the building is haunted - people who worked there 40 years ago are still walking down the hallways," says Lee. "And some of the people you find roaming the streets in downtown L.A. at 2 o`clock in the morning make the Links seem perfectly normal."

Born in the tiny Pennsylvania tourist hamlet of Stroudsburg, a mere 75-minute drive from New York City, Lee is the link between a homemaker and a lawyer. Before they split up, neither parent was enamored with the idea of schlepping their 7-year-old daughter to ballet classes in Manhattan.

"The Russian teachers meant business," she recalls. "If you were goofing off, they would yell at you. They knew how to scare an 8-year-old pretty badly."

After the divorce, Lee`s mother took her to the West Coast for four years of high school and lots of auditions. Hardly setting Hollywood on fire, she returned to the East Coast at the age of 18 and spent the next three years as a drama and film major at New York University. Ultimately bored, she dropped out and returned to L.A. in time to be cast as Callie Martel on "Party Of Five" during the 1996-97 season. Not nice, she enabled Scott Wolf`s heartthrob Bailey Salinger character to become a full-fledged alcoholic.

Supported by generous parents, Lee paid her dues while crawling up the ladder with guest appearances on such episodics as "Early Edition," "Working," "Providence, "Secret Agent Man" and "Boston Public." She also paid the rent with supporting roles in a handful of motion pictures, including "The Road Killers," "My Teacher`s Wife," "Rag And Bone," "What I Did For Love" and "The Last Laugh." But it was sheer luck that propelled Lee into the female lead on "Special Unit 2," a series that sat on its original pilot episode for a year. When the series was finally picked up, there was a mad, last-minute scramble to replace the actress initially signed for the Kate Benson part.

"I was called in for my first audition, which didn`t go well, right after returning from shooting `Kiss My Act` in Toronto,` she says. "I went from a flighty, blond Billie Hollidayesque character to a kick-ass cop in a matter of hours. But both are essentially comic roles, new to me."

She didn`t mind the 14 to 16 hours on the downtown set of "SU2," just the two hours some nights to get home on L.A.`s Westside.

"It should have taken me 30 minutes late at night without traffic, but like most people in L.A., I know nothing about downtown L.A. - it`s a place we usually pass through going somewhere else. Driving down endless one-way surface streets, I couldn`t find the freeway on-ramps half the time. I met people speaking languages I thought were extinct."

She shares a home in Brentwood (a fashionable section of town made famous a few years ago by the 30-mph chase of O.J. Simpson) with actor Stephen Dunham, a recent star of the sitcom "Oh, Grow Up," who currently appears on the comedic series "DAG" as the good-looking and not overly bright Secret Service agent, Edward Pillows. He is awaiting pickup on a new husband-and-wife comedy series slated for fall.

"He is such a sweetie," she laughs, "and nothing makes me happier than hanging out together. When we`re not running around town for professional reasons, we love staying home watching `Blind Date` and `Survivor` - it`s a sickness. Besides that, I`m busy with my really cool Web site, celebrityboulevard.com." No, it does not feature her nude photos. Never did and never will.

(c) Copley News Service

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