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October 20, 2002
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SJP


Margulies goes to sea in new film
By LOUIS B. HOBSON


HOLLYWOOD -- The sandy beaches and azure-blue waters of Australia's Gold Coast attract millions of visitors each year. For Julianna Margulies, they held little allure.

Margulies was in Australia last year at this time filming Ghost Ship, a terror-at-sea thriller that opens Friday. She plays the leader of a salvage crew that stumbles on an abandoned Italian ocean liner that has been lost for more than 45 years.

When her crew begins repairing the leaks to tow the ship to shore and claim its riches, the vessel seems to come to life.

"I was so into water for that movie, there was no way I was going to go swimming or diving on my days off," Margulies says. "Most of my scenes required me to be waist deep, or deeper, in water."

It didn't help that there were daily shark scares.

"From our hotel balconies, we watched sharks feeding on schools of tuna. They had built huge shark nets around our sets, so there was no actual danger for us, but the thought of that being us instead of tuna was pretty chilling."

The biggest perk for Margulies in filming Ghost Ship wasn't Australia's natural beauty. Her longtime companion, Ron Eldard, plays one of her salvage mates.

"It was certainly not a condition of mine that Ron be part of the package, but it was a great incentive to say yes," she says. "The producers had actually talked to Ron separately. It was so pleasant having him in Australia. Just before that, I'd been in Ireland filming Evelyn with Pierce Brosnan, and he'd been in Morocco filming Black Hawk Down. We try never to be apart for more than three weeks, so that had proved a scheduling nightmare."

Margulies met Eldard when she was a struggling actress in New York, or as she puts it, "a struggling bartender because I was never a great bartender or waitress.

"Ron was already the toast of New York. He was starring in the off-Broadway play Servy 'n' Bernice Forever.

"The buzz was everywhere. Everyone was going out to see this handsome new actor. Madonna was going to the show four times a week, she was so smitten with Ron."

Eldard, it turned out, only had eyes for Margulies.

"I had an advantage. Ron and I had met in acting class in 1991. We were great friends. Ron has seen me at my worst and most dejected. He continued to do Broadway while I was off doing regional theatre plays."

That all changed in 1994 when Margulies was cast as Carol Hathaway, the nurse who eventually stole the heart of Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) on NBC's instant hit series, ER.

Eldard appeared on the series during the third season for a brief stint, playing Shep, a paramedic and temporary love interest for Hathaway.

"ER didn't change Ron and my personal dynamic but it did change our lives," Margulies says. "It made them simultaneously more comfortable and more hectic."

Margulies left ER in 2000 after six seasons. "It wasn't difficult creatively to leave ER, but it certainly was financially."

She declined an offer of $27 million U.S. to renew for two more seasons.

"I have no regrets. It was time for me to move on, and I've had incredible experiences these past two years. I've worked in five countries and was back on stage."

She says she and Eldard are looking for a play they can do together in New York. He starred in the 1999 revival of Death Of A Salesman.

"Doing movies together is a no-brainer, but the thought of acting opposite Ron on stage is intimidating," Margulies says. "He's so breathtaking on stage, but I want to give it a try. Ron says he wants to direct me in a play."

She says should this become a reality, she will take a cue from Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, another longtime couple who refuse to marry.

"Susan says when she and Tim work together, one of them moves out of the house and lives in a hotel," Margulies says. "It prevents the kind of strain that could damage a relationship."

Although audiences eventually learn that Eldard's character in Ghost Ship has a crush on Margulies, there is no overt romance.

"It gets tricky for me when I watch real-life couples playing couples on screen. I'm always thinking: 'So that's how they kiss. That's how they hold each other.' For this reason I'd rather not have Ron and myself play a couple on screen."

Margulies also has shied away from offers to star in a Clooney vehicle, for similar reasons.

"We were too much of a couple on ER, so we have to wait a while before we do something together on screen, but we really want to," she says.

"I just sent him a script I'd like to do with him, so maybe we'll be acting opposite each other again in two or three years, given how long it takes to get a movie from script to screen."

Margulies' first film was the 1991 actioner Out For Justice, which starred Steven Seagal -- someone who won't ever replace Eldard in Margulies' heart.

"I played Rica, the hooker with a heart of gold," she says.

"It was not a pleasant experience. Mr. Seagal is not the kind of person I'd ever keep in touch with."


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