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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Will a love scene be the best therapy for ‘ER’s Gloria Reuben?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What she wants is a hot love scene.

“I think it’s my time,” says Gloria Reuben, who drew increasing attention last season in her recurring role as physical therapist Jeanie Boulet on NBC’s hit hospital drama “ER.”

Reuben, who plays opposite actor Eriq La Salle (Dr. Peter Benton)--and has had an intense, if still rather chaste, growing involvement with him--starred on the big screen opposite Jean Claude Van Damme in “TimeCop” and currently is shooting the movie “Nick of Time” in and around Los Angeles with Johnny Depp. And so far, no love scenes.

“I just haven’t done one,” she says. “ ‘ER’ is good breaking ground. I haven’t had to get naked in a feature and ‘ER’ would handle a love scene in a less graphic, more gentle manner.”

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Gentle is the operative word for Jeanie, who came on the show last January to care for Benton’s mother--and to add a romantic element to the workaholic doctor’s life. “I had no expectations,” says Reuben of her character. “And it turned out pretty good.”

Of her “ER” co-star, she says, “Eriq’s a lot like Jean Claude. He has a real tough exterior but underneath, boy, he has a heart of gold.”

No one--including Reuben--knows what will happen next season. “It’s all up in the air,” even though the season finale implied Jeanie may remain with her husband.

Whatever the case, Reuben’s now busy working on the thriller “Nick of Time.”

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“It’s been great,” says the L.A. resident. “Johnny’s [Depp] such a sweetheart, a fellow Gemini.” As for his “bad boy” rep, Reuben says dryly, “Other than his throwing a chair through a window, he’s very calm.”

The actress laughs. “Anyone who’s met him would say the same thing: He’s quite gentle.”

The Toronto native--and second youngest of six children--cites her mother, a Jamaican singer, and her older half-brother Dennis Simpson, a stage actor, as her earliest influences.

Her mixed heritage--her mother is black, her father white and she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood--"was always kind of a double-edged sword for me,” she recalls. “It was always a major issue, but with having some siblings who are white, we created a universal message, even though it was a challenge for all of us, since we really didn’t fit in. Today it’s different because so many people are being interracially mixed.”

But her upbringing made her stronger: “It continues to play a part. I don’t take sides. I have brown skin because I have black and white in me. I’m not just one thing.”

And that hasn’t limited her acting roles. “I’ve been really lucky. For example, my roles in ‘TimeCop’ and “Nick of Time’ weren’t described as African-American. I think it’s great. They’re getting me out for roles no matter what the description.”

An accomplished pianist, she also dabbled in ballet and jazz, and then discovered modeling, which led to small roles in TV and commercials.

She won a role on the short-lived 1992 NBC series “The Round Table” and starred in the telefilms “Confessions: Two Faces of Evil” for NBC and “Percy and Thunder” for TNT. She also had a recurring role this season on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

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Reuben finds her “ER” character wholly appealing. “She’s very sharp on her feet and smart and funny, with a great dry sense of humor.”

During the show’s hiatus, after “Nick” wraps, she hopes to put a band together. Reuben wants to play ‘40s tunes in local venues. “I’ll hang out the rest of the summer, going to movies and seeing friends.”

While she misses Toronto--"a great, clean city"--she’s looking to settle down. “I’m thinking about investing in a place,” she says. “I’m thinking about a lot of things, marriage, all that stuff,” adds the 30-year-old Reuben.

Reuben’s also looking forward to the new season of “ER.” “It’s really caught everyone’s fancy. Even doctors and nurses watch the show. It shows how people can really work together, even though each character is very different. It’s fascinating stuff. It’s very real, a very smart show.”

And maybe even smarter if they’d throw a love scene her way?

“ER” airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC.


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