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At the age of 20, Heather Locklear already had the world on a string.

By 1982, she was starring in not one but two television series - "Dynasty" and "T.J. Hooker." She was rich, famous and beautiful.But Locklear, like a lot of her critics, had some doubt about whether she actually had talent.

"It was very hard for me, being put in these situations and suddenly saying, `Oh, now I'm an actress,' " Locklear said in a recent telephone interview. "I thought that was very false. I didn't study for years and didn't go to London and didn't go to New York and all that. I thought, `I don't want to be presumptuous and say I'm an actress just because I'm being paid to be on television.' "

Following the demise of her first two series, Locklear's star dimmed considerably. She starred in the schlocky cable series "Return of the Swamp Thing" and was part of the ensemble cast in the failed ABC sitcom "Going Places."

It took her second Aaron Spelling prime-time soap opera, "Melrose Place," to make her a star again at 30. Locklear star power is widely credited with saving the series from extinction.

But despite newfound fame, that question about talent remained. She got some pretty good reviews for her role in the miniseries "Texas Justice" last season, but Locklear remained tagged as a pretty face/light-weight.

However, that may just change with tonight's NBC movie "Shattered Mind" (8 p.m., Ch. 5), in which Locklear plays a woman with multiple personalities. It's already changed her opinion of herself.

"I don't think I thought of myself as an actress probably until I've just done this movie. But I did know there was a lot more I could do, given the opportunity," Locklear said. "With this last movie, I think I can say I'm an actress."

Indeed. Like Sally Field in "Sybil" before her, Locklear may just found a way to convince her critics - and the people handing out more challenging TV and movie roles - that she's up to the task.

And it's a demanding role. "Shattered Mind" is based on the true story of a woman who was abused by her father as a child and compensates by creating multiple personalities. And Suzie - her "main" personality of wife and mother - is not aware of the existence of the others. All she knows is that she can't remember anything before her oldest daughter was born nine years earlier, and that she suffers from blackouts when the other personalities take over.

It was a wrenching experience for Locklear.

"I was scared and nervous and not really sure of what I was doing," she said, adding that she wasn't sure whether she should accept the role, even when she did. "Two hours later, I'm thinking, `What have I gotten myself into?' "

But she did take the part, largely because the movie was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. In addition to the three weeks she spent shooting the telefilm during her Christmas hiatus, she spent two weeks rehearsing with Gyllenhaal while still working on "Melrose."

"Every time I would go to this building to work with Steven I would get this dread in my stomach knowing that I had to go down to the deep places that aren't always the most comfortable," Locklear said.

Among the personalities she played were Ginger, the hooker (there are some scenes with strong sexual content in the movie); DJ, the teenage boy; and Bonnie, the small child.

"It had to be treated very carefully so it wouldn't look like `Here's Heather Locklear as a hooker,' `Here's Heather Locklear as a guy' - so it wasn't just costume changes," Locklear said, "so it was coming from one single personality that split off in all of these."

And, while there are similarities between "Shattered Mind" and "Sybil," this is not a carbon copy. For one thing, "Shattered" explores the effects of this multiple personality on her family - her husband, her daughters, her mother.

And it wasn't easy just to leave these characters behind at the end of the day or even at the end of shooting the movie.

"My husband kept going, `It's just a job, Heather,' " Locklear said. "But, definitely, all those emotions and those characters stayed with me and I know each one of them so well. Now, finally, I think they're gone, but for a couple months after I did a lot of thinking and it was kind of scary."

Not that her husband, guitarist Richie Sambora, was less than supportive about her work.

"I have the most supportive husband, even though this movie took time away from us and also because I was kind of kooky for a couple of months afterward," Locklear said. "But he was very supportive and knows there things that I need to do."

As to being "kooky," she said, "I think I was kind of out of balance and wasn't going back to the Heather who is very light-hearted. Everything was a little more serious and a little deeper, more thoughtful. Which is sometimes good, but not all the time. . . . I had to deal with that and let those other characters go."

She's definitely not the glamourous figure of "Melrose" or "Dynasty." While it would be pretty much impossible to make Locklear look ugly, she does look plain and often haggard, with darker hair and a much darker outlook.

But, for Locklear, that was one of the bonuses of playing the part.

"It was nice working with different people, to have a story that had a beginning, middle and end. And to really not to have hair and make-up except for darkening my hair," she said. "And I could sit any way I wanted because my skirts were really long or I had ugly pants on. And that was a real relief."

Unlike "Melrose," where enormous amounts of time are spent making sure everyone looks perfect, Locklear spent about five minutes in make-up for "Shattered Mind."

"They added just a few things. They put some makeup on. It really didn't take long at all," she said. "It was my favorite thing."

As to the show that's made her a star a second time, Locklear isn't looking past the coming season of "Melrose Place."

"I have one more year on my contract. I don't know after that. I'll see," she said. "I don't know. I really have to see how the season goes, and if I'm burned out. You know, we do 34 episodes."

That's 12 more than most network dramas do in the course of a season.

But it's not just the workload that may keep Locklear from returning after the end of next season, it's the quality of the work. She's not shy about talking about her unhappiness with the direction "Melrose" has taken in the past year. She readily admits that she's bother by how "ridiculous" the show has become.

"I think it bothers a lot of us (in the cast)," Locklear said. "It bothers the producers and the writers and the people on the writing staff. It's fun to be over the top but not way, way over the top.

"So they're going to try to get back to a little more the original. . . . Hopefully, they're going to get back to that. And we'll see."

However, it's not like Locklear doesn't have other options. She has a part in the upcoming film "Second Wives Club" - a supporting role to Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. And she's hoping that "Shattered Mind" will demonstrate she's capable of doing more than just being Amanda Wood-ward on "Melrose Place."

"I know that there's more there," she said. "When you've always been given very one-dimensional characters that you try and make more multidimensional, but you can't always do that."

RATHER DISAPPOINTING: "Hostile Advances: The Kerry Ellison Story" (7 p.m., Lifetime) tackles an important subject - sexual har-assment - and employs the talents of the very appealing Rena Sofer ("General Hospital") in the title role. Too bad it's such an average movie.

Ellison's story is not your average sexual harassment case because of the legal precedent it set. She was an IRS employee whose co-worker made his interest in her abundantly clear. Ellison made it even more clear that she wasn't interested. But the man refused to leave her alone.

But this was not one of your more obvious cases. The man didn't assault her or physically threaten her or use threats of punishment or promise of reward. But he did make the workplace decidedly uncomfortable for Ellison.

She took the problem to her superiors and to the EEOC, but didn't get the help she needed in either case. And when she finally went to court, the case was tossed out by an old fogey of a judge.

But, on appeal, Ellison's case set a legal precedent that has influenced literally thousands of other sexual harassment cases in the past eight years.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is the celluloid equivalent of painting by numbers. It's formula stuff that never really catches fire - it just smolders a bit. It's OK, but nothing special.

The subject is important enough that it deserved better.

CHANGE OF PLANS: When Jane Clayson left KSL-Ch. 5 recently for a job with ABC News, among her new duties was supposed to be anchoring chores on ABC's upcoming 24-hour-news cable channel.

Not going to happen. Citing the difficulty of having its channel carried on most cable systems, ABC has dropped its cable plans.

Clayson will still be reporting for various ABC broadcasts, however.