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Veggie Burgers to the ER, Stat!

Whether you realize it or not, my hometown of Palo Alto, California is taking over the airwaves. Bill Pidto and Dave Feldman on ESPN? Both Palo Alto High School graduates. As is Brian, the Magic: The Gathering World Championship announcer. Plucky San Diego Chargers quarterback Jim Harbaugh wore the green and white as well.

Even Felicity her own bad self is a former Viking. (Note to Keri Russell: Should you decide to research your role further and decide to check out your character's Palo Alto hangouts, I'd be more than happy to help out. Especially if you need to research the area's intimate, candlelit restaurants.)

Now add Amy Stewart, destined to dwarf all other Midpeninsula television personalities, to that list. Sure, ESPN is nice, but basic cable? Bah. And the WB? It's cable through your rabbit ears.

Stewart can pooh-pooh her fellow Palo Altans because she landed a plum role on the biggest television show on the continent. That childhood spent singing "Annie" tunes in audition after audition has finally paid off with a recurring part on ER.

You saw her last week as Lindsey Cordova, the sister of a woman murdered by Dean Rawlins, a patient in County General's lockup ward. Lindsey was the one who went in to face Rawlins in order to find out where he disposed of her body, only to have the scumbucket fantasize about killing her instead. Stewart returns as Lindsey in Thursday night's episode with another big scene between her and Dr. Elizabeth Corday, played by Alex Kingston.

Despite the fact that Stewart attended cross-town nemesis Gunn High School, I decided my journalistic duty transcended petty alma matter rivalries. We did, after all, attend Walter Hays Elementary School together, where her acting career was already in full swing at the age of five.

By the time sixth grade rolled around, she was entrusted with directing the annual school play. Tryouts were held, with yours truly competing for the role of the villain with another, much more popular fellow. Roles were given based on class vote. Needless to say, I didn't get the part, yet Amy insisted I was the better actor and had lost out only because the selection process was a pure popularity contest.

It's still the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

Stewart continued down the path to being rich and famous throughout high school. and has racked up quite a resumé of commercials, including Quaker Oats, Century 21 and Washington Apples. And in the past couple years, she's begin to try her hand at stand-up comedy. If you're in Los Angeles, you can catch her at the Comedy Store or Luna Park once or twice a month.

Since network execs seem to be giving sitcoms to anyone with a heartbeat and a "What's the deal with airline peanuts?" joke, is there a Stewart or The Amy Stewart Show in the near future?

"I don't think so. I'm more of a serious actor -- comedy is just something fun to do," she says. "Besides, too often stand-ups meet with development people who try and build a show around them. I think you should have the show in place with good writers and good scripts and then bring the star in as the last piece."

Hear that, Sue Costello? Are you listening, Mike O'Malley?

This ER gig isn't Stewart's first brush with TV greatness. After graduating high school, she was called into a screen test against a couple other actresses for an upcoming series. She went to the audition, despite leaning toward taking a break from acting to attend college. Stewart didn't get the part and enrolled at UC San Diego.

In the meantime, Shannen Doherty ended up as Brenda Walsh on <i>Beverly Hills 90210. Doherty also married a Hamilton, posed nude in Playboy and acquired a reputation as something of a bitch. Stewart got a college degree. Sounds like a fair trade.

Last week's ER was directed by leading man Anthony Edwards, the regular Joe who just keeps plugging along as the heart and soul of TV's number one show while pretty boys Noah Wyle and George Clooney get all the press. According to Stewart, Edwards is a lot like his character, "warm and sensitive, a real kick-ass human being."

Yeah, sure, but I bet he spent all day bragging about being Goose in "Top Gun," right? Not even a passing mention about "Revenge of the Nerds?" What about "Fast Times at Ridgemont High?"

"Nope, he never mentioned it," she says.

Despite the fact it was her first appearance on big-time TV, Stewart was the focus of the most intense scene of the entire episode. Compounding the drama was the fact the shoot that day was running three hours behind schedule. But the waiting was no problem and she credits her acting coach, Julie Arilla, with keeping her nerves settled.

"She really taught me how to be prepared. The whole time I was waiting, I just wrote, asked myself questions about my character and listened to music that affected me emotionally. Lawrence Monoson (the actor who portrays Dean Rawlins) and I stayed in our trailers and didn't see each other until the shooting started."

Hold on a minute -- she got her own trailer? One with a shower, TV, VCR and refrigerator?

"It's nicer than my place," Stewart says. "I asked how much they would charge in rent."

This is what $13 million an episode buys these days. Trailers and really nice catering. Anyone who's ever worked in low-budget TV or film knows that the food set aside for cast and crew usually looks like it was purchased by someone holding a $100 Price Club gift certificate.

But the people who work on ER don't have to settle for the Tub o' Red Vines. "They said anything I wanted, they'd get for me. Veggie burgers, scrambled eggs, even smoked salmon," Stewart reported.

Excuse me, Mr. Crichton... have I mentioned my extensive acting experience?

Eventually, the shooting of Stewart's scenes intruded upon the non-stop gorging sessions. The first one, a quick snippet of dialogue between Lindsey, Corday and Lindsey's mom only took an hour. The second one, the showdown between Lindsey and Rawlins, took a few hours plus some rehearsal time.

Helping out the actors are a number of medical consultants, real doctors and nurses who make sure Edwards, Wyle, Kellie Martin and the rest of the stars aren't using the liposuction hose to give someone a tracheotomy. Apparently, being the most famous MD's on the planet hasn't given the cast any ideas. "I figure Anthony Edwards could probably do a good Heimlich, but I wouldn't want him cracking my chest open," Stewart says.

With a whole career to look forward to, she wasn't about to let me in on any of the real juicy stories. "Working with some of my heroes like this was incredible. The whole cast was very nice -- they've got no egos. They take their work seriously, but they don't take themselves seriously."

While she won't clue us in to what happens to the Rawlins-begging-for-death storyline Thursday night ("I've got a scene with Dr. Corday, but that's all I can tell you"), Stewart's acting future is looking pretty bright.

She's got a lead role in "Maid of Honor," an independent film that has been raking in the awards at 40 film festivals around the country and is an entry at the upcoming Sundance Festival.

"I play a closeted bisexual wife who just got married but wants it both ways," she says.

Not bad for someone who, while putting the finishing touches on our sixth grade play, gave a bunch of the girls giant frog heads and told them to dance.


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