In The Driver’s Seat
Michael Michele is back on the streets, with a newfound curiosity about our central city. “Downtown L.A. represents change, and I gravitate toward that,” she says. “It’s still very raw and true.” Michele, who recently left the cast of TV’s “ER,” has just finished filming Ron Shelton’s upcoming thriller “Dark Blue,” in which she portrays an LAPD sergeant in South-Central in the midst of the 1992 L.A. riots. Filming on location “gave me a chance to discover a part of L.A. I didn’t know,” says the actress, who lives in New York but keeps a West Hollywood apartment. “You can’t capture the essence of a city in a closed room on a set--and I needed to understand the rhythm of downtown, to be on the streets and hear its sounds.”
It’s not the first time we’ve seen her in uniform--first as Detective Rene Sheppard on the TV cop series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” followed by a two-year stint in scrubs as Dr. Cleo Finch on “ER.” “I’m not typically attracted to glamorous roles,” she says, although she did “Central Park West” early in her career “because I needed the work. But now that there are more choices, I find the antithesis more interesting.”
Of course, her looks are hard to ignore and certainly played a part in her landing the role of supermodel Veronica Porsche in Michael Mann’s “Ali.” But “Veronica Porsche is a very silently strong, intellectual woman.” And, like other dynamic women, “they wore the clothes, the clothes didn’t wear them,” she adds, naming Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis. “Those women represent great intellect, great strength” and, yes, “great glamour.”
Michele says she takes her cues from the silver-screen greats. “I would wear anything today that Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn was wearing in the ‘30s or ‘40s--when women really dressed.” She has remained on the fashion radar by operating slightly below it, opting for subtlety where others go for splash. “I’ve never worked with a stylist. I don’t wear ‘costumes.’ My father’s a businessman and he taught me that you buy the classics and you’ll have them forever. I got my conservativeness from my father and my flair from my mother. I love tailored men’s suits, which is why I love Helmut Lang. But I have to have a feminine shoe.” Or many pairs, as the case may be. She has a collection of Manolos that would give Carrie Bradshaw pause. “I never throw shoes away,” she confesses. “I still have Manolos from ’87.”
Stilettos notwithstanding, Michele is devoted to her family and her adopted city. She’s active in the Harvard Mentoring Project (a nationwide program founded by the Harvard School of Public Health), volunteering to help underprivileged youth, and considers Manhattan a better base than L.A. for visiting her parents and sister in her native Indiana. “I have all I need,” she says. “At the moment, there is nothing that can replace the need for family.”
Heather John is a senior Style editor at the magazine.