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A Heavenly Role

“Introducing Cheryl Paris as Heavenly,” the credits read 48 seconds into Sunday’s airing of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” on NBC. Not a bad introduction, considering the preceding names on the bill include Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Harmon and Valerie Perrine. “It looks kind of nice,” the 30-year-old Paris says with a bright smile.

In her first audition for the part of the love-torn Heavenly Finley, Paris admits she wasn’t so cheery. Reading in front of director Nicolas Roeg, the strain from Paris’ divorce helped the tears rush forth. “When I finished, he had one of those looks that I really wasn’t sure of. I thought, ‘Either I did really well or I’m in really big trouble.’ ”

In dark slacks, white blazer and cowboy boots, Paris sits comfortably, anything but a wreck. “I’m a single parent and I believe I’ll work,” Paris says about her acting, but points out that providing for her 6-year-old daughter is her first priority. “I don’t want to ever say to my daughter, ‘No you can’t have that.’ ”

Paris isn’t entirely new to the camera. A fashion model for three years in New York, she landed her first acting role in a 1981 movie for television and then another in 1982.

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Soon after, Paris moved to Los Angeles, where she began formal acting lessons. “I got with someone in the beginning that really messed me up. When you get with a coach that says, ‘You can’t use that technique because it won’t sustain that moment,’ you believe it.” She remembers it took her a long time to recapture her natural abilities.

Paris now sees her work coming into focus. “I walk away from a day of shooting and say ‘Geez, I could have done this,’ and I guess that’s what the joy of acting is about,” she says with a smile. “I’m having fun for the first time.”

Paris knows the realities of parenthood and the uncertainties of the business. “It is tremendously overwhelming,” she says. Having just finished shooting the feature film “So Cool” with Miles O’Keefe, Paris is back auditioning and looking for that next part.

“Or it’s back to real estate school,” she says, half joking.

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