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Never mind that she was born in California, raised in Idaho and has the broad-shouldered, outdoorsy good looks that are more likely to summon up visions of hiking in the Tetons than shoving into the subway. Mariel Hemingway considers herself a New Yorker.

Certainly, she looks like one in her pin-stripe Donna Karan power dress, seated behind a large desk on the elegant set of "Central Park West," the prime-time soap opera about rich, hip, beautiful overachievers colliding in the city's toniest orbits. The CBS series is being shot on location in New York."I really think of myself as a New York person, although I have to get to the mountains because that's also what I'm about," says the actress, who has lived in Manhattan for various stretches over the last 16 years. "I've always felt comfortable here. I walk everywhere. I use the subway. I take my kids to the park. My husband and I met here and got married here. I got pregnant here. Hey, what more basic stuff is there?"

Hemingway's professed infatuation with the city will no doubt come in handy in her role as Stephanie Wells, a magazine editor from Seattle who arrives in town to run Communique, a glossy weekly that's a cross between Vanity Fair and New York magazines.

Since the series looks at New York through rose-tinted Ray Bans that filter out reality, Hemingway's spacious Communique office is a symphony in blond and beige, spotlessly neat and without one pile of papers, book or Evian bottle in sight. The only real-life touch is the wedding photographs taken 10 years ago when she married Stephen Crisman, a documentary producer, at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue.

Next door to her office is the company cappuccino bar. A company cappuccino bar?

"We have to take some poetic license," Hemingway says, laughing. "When I was doing research for the role, I visited the offices of Vanity Fair, Allure, Mirabella and Elle. The editors were adamant about certain things, like never having coffee mugs because you don't want your assistant to have to clean them, since they were all assistants once. But we have to break that rule because we have our own coffee bar with real cups."

Hemingway, who readily admits to being 33 ("I'm neurotic about a lot of things, but age isn't one of them," she says), is tall and leggy, with huge blue eyes, perfect teeth and killer cheekbones.

When she arrives on the set, she is wearing a loose flowered dress and Birkenstocks. Not exactly the attire for power lunches at the Royalton.

Hemingway concedes she's no clothes horse but says she relished helping revamp her character from bumpkinish out-of-towner to soignee Armani-suited Manhattanite.

"In the first couple of episodes, I'm kind of a dork with goofy hair and nowhere clothes," she says, recalling Stephanie's raspberry suit and gold heart pin in the series debut. "But by the seventh episode, I'm starting to get more sophisticated. Dark suits. Lots of black, but not total, because it's boring on camera. I told wardrobe Stephanie has to have a Prada bag, but they told me that's a little over budget."

Hemingway talks at a gallop with a flip, self-deprecating humor, exuding a breezy candor. She cracks up laughing as she describes how, in one scene, Carrie, the nightlife columnist, says to her, "I know my column isn't exactly Hemingway ... "

"I love it!" she yelps. "This is the kind of genre where you can do these double-entendres. I say, `Go for it."'

The anecdote brings up the subject of what it's like to possess one of America's most venerated names. Is it a blessing or a curse?

"A total blessing," replies Hemingway, whose famous grandfather, Ernest, committed suicide a few months before she was born.

"Of course, I've never had a different name, so I don't know what it's like to be Jane Smith. But I know when I try making a reservation using the name Mrs. Crisman, they say, `Come by in two months.' If I say the name Hemingway, they say, `Of course, right away.' It's unbelievable. With my career, I think that initially my name was incredibly helpful. I was a kid and it got me in the door."

Hemingway was a gangly tomboy growing up in Ketchum, Idaho, when at 13 she landed her first film role, in the 1975 movie "Lipstick." She was perfectly typecast as the kid sister of her real-life sister, the model and actress Margaux Hemingway. Three years later, Woody Allen cast her as the girlfriend with homework in "Manhattan," for which she received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. By 17, she had dropped out of high school and had moved to New York to pursue her career.

"To be alone in New York at that age - I'd never let my daughters do that," says Hemingway, the mother of Langley, 6, and Dree, 7.

"I was a potato from Idaho. But I did have a certain knowingness, which you acquire when you come from a screwed-up household where you have to play an adult role really early on."

Hemingway describes her family as "very, very dysfunctional." Her father and older sisters, Margaux and Joan, struggled with alcoholism. Through most of her adolescence, Hemingway took care of her mother, who was very sick with cancer (she died in 1989).

"I definitely was the one in the family who tried to keep everything together," she recalls.

"In alcoholic families there is usually someone like me who is the rock. Everyone used to say: `Oh, don't worry about Mariel. She's so responsible.' But for a lot of years I resented the fact that I never got to be a kid."

Wary of a gene pool with a weakness for cocktails, Hemingway is a teetotaler.

"I absolutely will not touch alcohol," she says. "I'm terrified of it, to be perfectly honest. I've seen what it has done to my family and I know that genetically I walk a fine Hemingway line that can send me straight into the toilet."

It has only been in the last few years, she says, that she has overcome the insecurities that have plagued her since childhood.

"Writing always terrified me, even though I've written poetry for years," she says.

"When I was in school and I'd hand in a creative-writing paper, they'd either say, `Holds a lot of promise,' or they'd look at it disdainfully because it wasn't as good as it should have been. Now I'm more confident, and writing doesn't seem so overwhelming. Who knows? Maybe I'll do a book of poetry."

She adds that she no longer tortures herself worrying about what other people think. "Finally, I realized it didn't matter," she says. "I'm more relaxed and comfortable with myself. Recently, I went to dinner at Gracie Mansion with all these people in different fields, and the Mayor went around the table asking us to say a few words about ourselves. I managed to whip out something funny, but 10 years ago I would have been terrified to open my mouth. I would have giggled and stammered, `Oh, you don't want to know about me."

Hemingway's lack of self-confidence may have stemmed from an uneven bevy of films - "Personal Best," "Star 80," "The Mean Season," "Superman IV" - that flattened her early promising career.

By the late 80s, she dropped out of the movies, devoted herself to her family and, with her husband, opened a string of restaurants in New York, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles called Sam's Cafe (they sold the restaurants in 1992).

A career as a restaurateur seems an odd choice for a woman who is a self-described health food nut and whose idea of a yummy breakfast is a plate of steamed broccoli.

"I eat 90 percent vegetables, no dairy, a little fruit and some fish," Hemingway says, adding that she is a terrific cook who grew up in a household that prized French cuisine.

"I used to be a big coffee freak but I drank way too much so I had to give it up. I'm also starting to eat the tiniest bit of meat because my iron level was really low."

Considering the actress's concern about what goes into her body, why did she get her much-publicized silicone breast implants at 19?

"I know, I know - I'm into natural food and health and it's the antithesis of who I am," Hemingway admits. "But I was a kid. I couldn't wait to get it done. It was dumb." She says she had the implants removed a year and a half ago. "I'm happy with my body," she says, "so for psychological and medical reasons it was stupid to keep them."

Three years ago, her acting career was reignited by "Civil Wars," the ABC drama in which she starred as a workaholic lawyer.

"Before `Civil Wars,' I was really snotty about doing television," she says. "But the series was really wonderful for me. It gave me a lot of confidence."

It also brought her a blizzard of publicity when in one episode she doffed her clothes for a steamy nude scene. "What was the big deal?" Hemingway asks. "You really couldn't see anything."

Her career - and ego - got a boost when Darren Star, the creator of "Central Park West" (as well as "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place"), chose her for the lead role, Stephanie Wells.

"He wrote it with me in mind," Hemingway says, her face lighting up. "What's great about `Central Park West' is that it's an ensemble show, so I don't have to be in every day. I have time with my kids."

"I have a normal life, boringly normal - and I love it!" adds the actress, who actually lives on Central Park West. "When I did my research and these editors told me they were always going out to every flipping event and being seen and networking, I thought, `Forget it - I'd rather be home with my family.' "

She means it. When her shooting schedule runs late, Hemingway sends word that she must take off, even though there is half an interview to finish. It's her daughter's sixth birthday, and Langley won't cut the cake without Mommy.