Anne Elizabeth Ramsay's old friends back in La Habra are relieved to see her acting in a comedy for a change. "They saw me doing all this serious stuff and called me and said, 'When are you going to run around and be crazy?' Because that's the way I've always been, I guess."
Having played dramatic roles on "Booker," "Wolf" and "Star Trek, the Next Generation" and in the upcoming film "Class Action," the 30-year-old actress is enjoying the chance to be funny as Dr. Leona Linowitz, a neurotic psychiatrist on the CBS series "Doctor, Doctor."
Meanwhile--as if a regular role on TV weren't enough--she's about to see "Waiting," her first playwrighting effort, produced in her native Orange County. Written in collaboration with fellow acting students at UCLA, the play will be performed next month at Cal State Fullerton.
But for now, there's "Doctor, Doctor" and Leona, who was introduced earlier this season as a potential love interest for Dr. Mike Stratford, played by Matt Frewer.
"Leona's kind of a geek, and I've always wanted to play a geek," Ramsay says. "She tries too hard and she's insecure."
"Anne is unpredictable and offbeat, which is exactly what we were looking for," says the show's creator and executive producer, Norman Steinberg. "She's got a great sense of timing, and she's so attractive, too. She fits right in with an unconventional cast of characters. And she's a pretty good softball player."
Actually, softball was one of the few sports Ramsay didn't play at La Habra High, where she was a member of the top-ranked girls volleyball team at the same time she was beginning her performing career in the music department.
"I'd take a whole choir full of Annie Ramsays," says Bill Dunton, the school's longtime vocal music director. "She always got the job done. I never dreamt that she wanted to (perform) professionally, but who knows what beast lurks? I've always been astounded by her ability and her competitiveness."
But Ramsay found her UCLA professors to be a good deal less enthusiastic. "I wasn't even admitted to the theater department," she recalls ruefully. "I expected a lot, and no one was impressed with me at all. I would go to auditions and not even get called back. I was miserable."
She was on the verge of switching her major to psychology when Jane Fonda intervened. Sort of.
"I know this sounds hokey but she came to speak at school and something she said really got to me. She said she's going to her deathbed doing everything she has ever wanted to do. Right there I decided that I wasn't going to settle for less."
Her ambition reinstated, she joined the intensive acting workshop that produced "Waiting." Ramsay describes the play as "about waiting tables, but really about waiting for life to begin." It originally was produced in Los Angeles in 1987 with the authors doubling as cast.
The group still writes together and provides mutual moral support. "We talk ourselves out of the post-audition shakes, which can get pretty horrible. Once, when one of us had a TV spot, we sat and fired those little cap guns at the set. With friends like that, things stay in perspective nicely.
"It's great to see the whole thing coming together," Ramsay says of her career. "I bought a car, you know? I went out with money I earned from acting and bought a car. That's important to me. But not as important as being consistently happy with my work. That's my real goal.
"I don't pat myself on the back. I can't. After I got the show, my first thought was, 'Now I have to deliver the goods. People are depending on me. I have to live up to other people's expectations.' But they're never higher than my own. I want to be better than I was five minutes ago."
"Doctor, Doctor" is shown Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.