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HOLLY’S YEAR OF LIVING FAMOUSLY

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Lauren Holly has led the typical life of a struggling young actress except for one small difference: Everything has worked out for her.

She did her time waiting tables at the usual Manhattan haunts like Ernie's and Manhattan Cafe. She modeled; she once made the cover of Knitting World. She studied abroad, did some commercials and worked the soaps. She had her share of not very good films. And she had a lot of down time.But then, click. In a two-month period, Holly landed the roles of Bruce Lee's wife in the film "Dragon" and of feisty rookie cop Maxine Stewart in the critically acclaimed television series "Picket Fences."

The woman who a year ago was just another pretty face struggling for recognition is now a bankable actress talking about maybe one day starting a development company of her own.

"I feel very lucky," Holly says. "Many women in the business complain that there are no great women's roles and I am sitting here with two of them."

And luck - both good and bad - indeed played a significant role in Holly's career. "Timing is often everything," she says, "and it was for me. I was supposed to start filming `Dragon' when (director) Rob Cohen had a heart attack. It looked for a while like the film might not be made. But in the interim I was offered the pilot for `Picket Fences.' "

"Dragon" went on to be made; "Picket Fences" was picked up. The only thing that complicated matters for lucky Holly was a month's overlap in shooting "Dragon" and "Picket Fences."

"I never slept more than four hours and the only way I could tell what character I was going to play was by the color of my hair," she says. But, hey, what's a little lost sleep.

This day she is looking like Max the cop, flaming red hair swirling about a peaches-and-cream complexion and sparkling, but very focused, large blue eyes. The role, however, she is anxious to discuss is that of the blond Linda Lee in "Dragon." Linda is the role that will determine whether Holly will be seen in the immediate future as a female lead in Hollywood.

Before Cohen offered her the part, Holly had never seen a Bruce Lee movie. And her initial reaction to the project, she recalls, was less than enthusiastic.

"I said, `Well, OK.' But this idea didn't really excite me at all," she says. "That was before I saw the script and realized that this was not just the role of Bruce Lee's wife that he was offering. This was the role of the film's narrator, of Bruce Lee's partner, professionally and personally."

Based on a book by Linda Lee Caldwell, "Dragon" documents the very short life - he died mysteriously at 32 - of the martial arts star. But the film's focus is the love story between the Caucasian Linda and Asian Bruce.

"What I quickly saw after meeting Linda was how much of a match she was for him in energy and charisma," Holly says. "In the same way, he became the centerpiece of every room he entered, so, too, did she."

Holly herself doesn't have that kind of presence, at least not in a casual meeting; she is, in fact, very much the girl-next-door, hometown cheerleader type. Smart, diligent, sincere and very sweet.

Holly, who uses her real name professionally, grew up in Geneva, a small town near New York's Finger Lakes, and she shows up for this interview with her mom, a professor at the University of Rochester who sits grading term papers in the corner of the Universal Pictures conference room.

At one point in the interview, Holly talks vaguely about acting advice from her father-in-law, screen legend Anthony Quinn.

But Holly is understated to say the least.

She met her husband, actor-producer Danny Quinn, during the filming of an unremarkable movie "Band of the Hand."

The two now live in Los Angeles with a menagerie of three dogs and a dapple-gray show horse, Lace Valentine.

"Danny acts a lot in Europe," she says. His newest venture, "Space Rangers," was not picked up by any of the networks.

"That's OK," Holly concludes. "It's giving us a chance to spend some time together."