“Whether we’re gay or straight, it doesn’t matter,” Harmon says. “We’re all women. We all have the same wonderful situations happen to us, the same horrific situations. We all get our hearts broken. It’s a show about friendship. It’s a show about women holding their own and being amazing in their careers.”
If she prizes Rizzoli’s independent streak, perhaps it’s because Harmon is from the Lone Star State. The only child of Dallas models Larry Harmon and Daphne Caravageli, she was raised to be comfortable around firearms (“Everyone in my family had guns”), to reflexively say please and thank you and to believe calorie counting is for sissies. Today, after polishing off a big bowl of littleneck clams, Harmon goes to work on the contents of the bread basket, orders a second Bloody Mary, then wants to know more about the special of the day, smoked duck linguine. “Did she just say ‘duckling weenie?’ ” she whispers as the server walks away. “It must be a very small portion.”
“She’s got a Texas girl’s appetite,” says Harmon’s first cousin, novelist Kim Gatlin (her book Good Christian Bitches was adapted into ABC’s 2012 comedy GCB). “She will go to Snuffer’s with you,” Gatlin adds, referring to a Dallas joint famous for burgers and artery-clogging cheese fries.
Harmon’s parents divorced when she was 13 months old. She was following in their career footsteps before she could speak. “My grandmother had a clipping of me [modeling] in a car seat,” she says. At 15, she beat out 63,000 other girls to appear on the cover of Seventeen. “Everyone knew that there was something special about Angie,” says Gatlin, adding that genetics—Harmon’s mother is of Greek descent; her father’s ancestry includes Cherokee—played their part. “Her dad and mom are the most beautiful people you’ll ever see. They’re freaks of nature.” But Harmon set her sights on being in front of a different sort of camera early on. “She modeled by default; that was the family business. Modeling chose her—but she chose acting,” Gatlin explains.
“I wanted to go to Juilliard desperately,” says Harmon, who didn’t have enough money to pay for the acting program that helped mold such stars as Jessica Chastain. So after spending her teen years with her father and graduating from Highland Park High, she headed not for college but for her mother’s one-room apartment in Manhattan. For the next few years, she traveled the world, walking down runways for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani. “I loved every moment of it,” she says. “It was glamorous and exciting and fun. I mean, I’m in Azzedine Alaïa’s factory and doing fittings and [talking to] Giorgio Armani—he was so interesting. I do wonder now,” she says somewhat wistfully, “if Karl [Lagerfeld] or Giorgio would remember me, because they’ve seen so many faces since mine.” But she’s happy that models in the ’90s weren’t as scrutinized as they are today. “You didn’t have to worry if you stumbled out of a club that the paparazzi were going to print horrible pictures of you.”
She was on a plane when she was spotted by David Hasselhoff, who offered her a role as Ryan McBride, a detective on Baywatch Nights, a spinoff of his global juggernaut Baywatch. That the show was deemed preposterous by critics didn’t matter to Harmon, who saw it as a training ground. The series ran for two cheese-filled seasons. But by the fall of 1998, when she made her debut as Abbie Carmichael, a hard-nosed, conservative assistant district attorney on Law & Order, she was ready to hit her mark alongside such esteemed actors as Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston.