She may be known for her gorgeous looks, her rambunctious sense of humor, her commitment to faith and family and her steadfast refusal to change her politics to fit the local fashion. But one of Angie Harmon’s strengths—her dedication to her profession—may have been underestimated: For the past few weeks, she has been filming her TNT crime series Rizzoli & Isles while walking around (and nabbing bad guys) on a badly injured ankle.
“I tripped over a C-stand [a piece of lighting equipment] on the set,” she explains when we meet for dinner in a noisy L.A. bistro. “To save face, I kept saying, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine,’ but inside I’m thinking, It’s bad, it’s -really bad. You know when you’re so hurt, you feel like you’re going to throw up? But they just said it was a sprain—until the seventh doctor, the one I just saw. He said, ‘We’re looking for a break or a bruise or a tear.’ Then he pulled up my X-ray and said, ‘You have all three.’ ”
It’s a development that could have been scripted for the sassy, self--assured detective she plays on one of cable TV’s highest-rated shows—and soon was. While another actress might have been down for the season, Harmon returned to production, with her character, the admirably athletic Jane Rizzoli, simply pausing to ice her ankle.
The series is based on Tess Gerritsen’s novels about Rizzoli, a tough Boston-based police detective, and her best friend, Dr. Maura Isles, a know-it-all medical examiner. Harmon’s goofball irreverence, folksy delivery and loose-limbed swagger make Rizzoli seem like a homicide cop who could actually exist. On the show, she’s the straight-up jock to the ultrafeminine Isles, played by Sasha Alexander.
When critics write about Rizzoli’s success, they often mention its stars’ winning chemistry—a rapport Alexander felt in her first audition with Harmon, who had already been cast. “Our humor completely clicked,” she says of a read-through that was so spot-on that she was dumbfounded when Harmon later came to her in the waiting room and solemnly announced that the powers that be wanted them to give it another try. “I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t think it can get much better than that.’ ”
But when the two actresses returned to the audition room, Alexander was greeted with a standing ovation—and a job offer. “She’d already played a joke on me, and we hadn’t even worked together yet,” says Alexander, who loves how her friendship with Harmon, just like Isles’s with Rizzoli, has gotten loopier over time. “We’ve had a lot of laughs over the cadavers,” she adds, explaining that the dead bodies on the series are played by real people. “They’ll fall asleep or start snoring, and Angie will go over and poke them.” As for the male crew members, they’re still unaccustomed to Harmon and Alexander’s playful way of punctuating a sentence—which the actresses refer to as “boob slapping.” “It’s girly humor—we’re very touchy-feely,” says Alexander. “We’ll make a joke or something, and I’ll just slap her boob. And the guys will be like, ‘Really?’ ”
A side effect of such fun-loving camaraderie is that a big part of the series’ fan base believes these two attractive women are friends with benefits. Last season the lesbian website After Ellen even ran a countdown of “The Top 10 Gayzzoliest Moments on Rizzoli & Isles.” Although both stars were initially taken aback when some of those admirers aggressively pushed for them to take their relationship to the next level—“It was like, ‘We’re not going to watch your show, because you won’t write them making out,’ ” Harmon says—these days they welcome and occasionally wink at their lesbian following, looking deep into each other’s eyes or brushing up against each other for no reason.