SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Dana Delany is happy to describe her life as containing "no pets, no plants, no children."
But, she says, "Don't get me wrong, I like babies."
Good thing, because she had to spend time with an especially cute one in "Baby for Sale," a Lifetime original movie airing Monday at 7 p.m. MDT.
Actually, two babies portrayed little Gitta, who is offered for adoption to more than one family by an unscrupulous baby broker.
"We had no problem with the crying scenes," says Delany, noting that 4- to 5-months-old is a "bad age . . . because they are teething, they are still attached to their mothers, and they are aware that you are not their mother."
Director Peter Svatek, whose credits include "The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon," acknowledges working with babies is "more of a challenge" than working with animals.
All tears aside, the baby had to be irresistible, especially at the moment when Delany's character falls for her at first sight.
But, Svatek says, "The magic in that scene really belongs to Dana. . . . When you are doing something based on a true story you don't want it to be oversentimentalized, you don't want it to be melodramatic. I knew she wouldn't go there. She would keep the right emotional pitch all the time."
The script was inspired by the experience of Lauren and Bill Schneider, who discovered in 1999 that the baby they were trying to adopt was being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
They agreed to help the FBI in a sting operation, even though there was no guarantee they would eventually be able to adopt the child. At that time, baby brokering was only a misdemeanor in New York state, but their actions prompted a law making it a felony.
Delany says two things attracted her to the role: She found it "shocking" that there's no federal statute against charging excessive fees for adoption, and she was "really impressed with this woman — I always admire somebody that has conviction, and acts on it."
The actress chose not to talk with Lauren Schneider beforehand "because I usually get frustrated when I find out facts that can't be included, because I want to put them all in. So I just decided to play her as a fictional character. I find if you do that, and if you are true to the essence of the character, it's amazing how similar you are to the person."
The Schneiders visited the Montreal set during final days of filming to watch some of the emotional scenes between Delany's character and her husband, played by Hart Bochner.
Although the story is often heart-wrenching, Delany said "playing this woman whose concern for the baby's welfare was more important than anything . . . got to be kind of fun, because there's a little aspect of Nancy Drew that came in, because this person is going to accomplish her goals no matter what."
Delany is talking in a Santa Monica hotel near her home, having just returned from shooting an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit" in New York.
"I played a Republican, which was hard for me," she laughs. The character is someone who shoots a radio shock jock, an action that raises an "interesting dialogue on the First Amendment."
Delany won two Emmys as Vietnam War Army nurse Colleen McMurphy on "China Beach," which aired on ABC from 1988-91.
Now 48, her auburn hair is styled in the classic bob that made her appear so fetching in fatigues, and she looks just as alluring on this day in a pleated printed skirt, black top and sparkly sandals.
Her series choices since "China Beach" have been less successful. Fox's lush melodrama "Pasadena" aired for only four episodes in 2001. In 2002, the CBS female doctor drama "Presidio Med" lasted only 11 episodes.
Other television work has included the title role as the birth control advocate in "Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story" and a daughter coping with a mother's Alzheimer's disease in "A Time to Remember."
Last summer, she played Beatrice in a production of "Much Ado About Nothing," with Billy Campbell ("Once & Again") as her Benedick. It was the first Shakespearean role for the New York-born, Connecticut-raised and Wesleyan-educated actress.
"I had cleaned out my basement," she recalls, "and I found this envelope I had written on in 1981 — the year my father died. I'd made a list of things I wanted to do in my life. One of them was Shakespeare. I'd done everything else on the list, so I had to do it."