Emily Procter

Emily Procter "Do you mind if I move your sofa?" usually are the first words out of Emily Procter`s mouth when invited to a relative stranger`s home for cocktails or dinner. To soften the blow, she adds, "If you don`t like it, I`ll move it right back."

Though perhaps seething inside, the startled hosts have refrained from punching her out so far.

"It`s so rude, but I`ve never had anybody get mad at me," says Procter, who plays recurring GOP attorney Ainsley Hayes on "The West Wing" and supplements her income as an interior decorator.

"I tell them if I see something that I think will make them feel happier in their living space."

Procter - a relentlessly perky 31-year-old blonde, who slurs her words slightly while wearing a retainer - became a professional interior decorator quite by accident in 1995 after being introduced to a fellow guest at a dinner party who had a new home, a carpeted floor and four blank walls. Happy as an amateur with no pressures and low expectations, the client had to coerce her into taking the job. Deliriously happy with the results, the man recommended her to friends and she now has a thriving business with referrals strictly by word-of-mouth.

She is currently working on a house that must be finished before "The West Wing" resumes production in July. Procter doesn`t make more money from decorating than acting, but it does provide a steadier income.

"Interior decorating comes naturally to me, but I`ve had to struggle with acting," she says. "I`ve always looked at my decorating jobs with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, feeling as though I couldn`t have done any better. On the other hand, I`ve never looked at my acting work without feeling that I could have done better. I can honestly say that I try as hard as I can, but don`t always understand (acting) as well as other actors."

But Procter understands color, space and budgetary restrictions more than most actors.

"You want to make it feel comfortable and look great, with or without money," she explains. "I`ve had great success with items found in people`s garbage and sofas from thrift stores. The key is understanding how people live in space; if they don`t cook for themselves and prefer to eat out, maybe the dining room can be turned into more functional space, like an office, study or library.

"Another important element is color," she says, while dusting and vacuuming her living room before a magazine camera crew arrives in the early afternoon. "I always ask my clients to pick three colors they love for the overall look and feel. My living room, for example, the colors are red, green and yellow. You can buy any piece of furniture or decorative item as long as they contain those colors; one can also factor in such neutral colors as black, white and beige. As long as it contains your colors, it doesn`t make any difference if it`s floral, plaid or pinstripe."

When she isn`t rearranging furniture or putting up strong legal battles on "The West Wing," Procter usually manages to squeeze in such feature films as "Body Shots," "Kingdom Come" and "Forever Fabulous." She also co-starred with Sam Neill in the recent submarine action-thriller telefilm "Submerged," a largely pleasant job that took her to Malta last winter. At least until a local parasite inhabited her intestines. Getting there was at least half the fun.

"I have this very weird quirk - I`m obsessed with packing for trips," she laughs. "I like to take as little as possible with me because I don`t like to check bags and wait around for my luggage in strange airports. Two weeks in Malta meant one small carry-on bag, for a few clothes and some food. I have a high metabolism and eat all the time, the one thing that I share with my Ainsley character, and food isn`t always available 24 hours a day overseas."

From Raleigh, N.C., Procter and her brother were adopted as babies by a homemaker and a physician.

"I certainly love being adopted and don`t have any hangups about it, but I don`t talk too much about it yet because I want to clear everything with my family first," she explains. "I do want to know my medical history and so on, but I`m also wondering if people are going to come out of the woodwork. Sometimes it opens doors you don`t want opened yet."

When Procter`s parents divorced and remarried, she gained another homemaker, an IBM executive and three step-sisters.

"We`re all very close and refer to each other as brother and sisters," she says. "There`s no distinction between us. And our parents have such a great relationship that it was impossible for me to get away with anything when I was younger. The two families spend lots of holidays together; my father often stops by to have a beer with my stepdad."

With a strong support system, she grew up with the attitude that she could do anything - and did. Everyday life included dance classes, acting classes and piano lessons. At the age of 8, she joined a traveling children`s theatre putting on shows at elementary schools in Raleigh, then stayed with acting through high school. The drama classes were filled when Procter enrolled at East Carolina University, so she focused her attention on dance productions and TV journalism.

Procter was a junior when she landed a job as the weather anchor at WITN-TV in nearby Greenville, N.C., for the grand sum of $39 per broadcast. She was head-hunted by a couple of Kentucky TV stations and auditioned for the Oakland Ballet, but ultimately opted for a do-or-die shot at Hollywood shortly after college graduation in 1991. Her father paid for two years of acting schools, though she supplemented her allowance as a "non-union, $5-a-day background actor."

Things were tight, but the point was that she didn`t have to wait tables or sell light bulbs to make ends meet, leaving her schedule open to pounce on any opportunity. Gradually, producers bumped her up from an extra to small parts, then larger roles. Before "The West Wing," she had modest parts in the movies "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Jerry Maguire," then reached starring status in the telefilm "Breast Men."

Interior decorating paid for in-between meal snacks.

Never married and without a boyfriend at the moment, Procter is very much enjoying the single life in a beautifully decorated apartment in Beverly Hills.

"I`ve been on my own for nearly a year and soon discovered that it`s kind of nice having no one to answer to," she says, laughing. "Don`t misunderstand me, it would be great to have someone to have children with and travel through life with. But if it looks like I`m going to be on my own, I wouldn`t hesitate to adopt children as a single parent. I`m obviously a big fan of adoption - it worked for me."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Eirik Knutzen

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