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NEW YORK — When smart, sexy girls talk to guys in their own language, that’s compelling TV. Take ABC’s “Monday Night Football” sideline reporter Melissa Stark, for example, or CNN’s business anchor Claire Leka.
San Francisco-based cable network Tech TV has given the formula a techy twist with 24-year-old Morgan Webb, cohost of “X-Play,” a show about video games launched this spring. Not only is Webb a major brain — she majored in rhetoric at UC Berkeley and builds computers for fun — she’s a bombshell who boasts an uncannily appropriate surname. And she loves playing Unreal Tournament 2K3 and Golden Sun: The Lost Age.
Still, for Webb, who joined the station’s staff as a researcher in 2001, the move on-air presented a challenge. She worried that the channel’s young — and 75 percent male — viewers might not take her seriously. So she decided to tone down her funky off-screen style when making appearances on “The Screen Savers,” another tech program on the same channel.
“I’m a young woman in a field that’s completely dominated by men, and I think people had their doubts about whether I actually knew anything about computers at all,” she sighs, noting that her fan mail confirms admirers don’t always have digital matters on their minds while watching Webb.
The result of Webb’s initial conservatism, however, was a real bore. She wore dark colors to mute her impact and shied away from tight-fitting clothes — until, mercifully, Los Angeles-based image consultant Mary Kay Harrison intervened, just in time for the launch of “X-Play.”
“Mary Kay saved me from myself,” Webb giggles. The pair shopped in Los Angeles and San Francisco to create the new look. They picked up jeans by Seven and Diesel, and brightly colored Juicy Couture and Marc Jacobs pieces. Webb’s favorite wardrobe additions are futuristic and asymmetric, evoking an anime feeling.
While Webb’s new style is rooted in “Matrix”-inspired fashion, it’s meant to be a gentler, more inviting version of the Hollywood prototype. Sometimes, of course, Webb’s look is a little too inviting — her digital diva routine inspiring precisely the kind of attention she was trying to avoid. In April, an anonymous hacker broke into Madonna.com and inserted his own message on the home page: “Morgan Webb, will you marry me?”
When the buzz about the break-in died down, Webb decided that unwanted attention, while probably unavoidable, shouldn’t be encouraged. She invites fans to post messages on her own Web site, MorganWebb.com, but admonishes, “I am not interested in long, panting comments about my anatomy.”
“You put yourself out there for everyone with a cable box,” says Webb. “People are critical, but they’re also kind. You just learn to take the lechery with a grain of salt.”
— Alesandra Dubin
NEW YORK — Olivia Williams is one of those classy English dames, a thirtysomething actress with that vaguely Euro accent that makes American moviegoers swoon.
Throughout her career, she’s hopscotched her way from theater to television to film, playing Hollywood blockbusters like “The Sixth Sense,” American indies like “Rushmore” and British indies. She even got to snog Joey during a bit part as Emily’s bridesmaid on an episode of “Friends.”
But this pretty Londoner’s career path, as crooked as the old streets of her home town, has meant that Williams’ low profile has remained intact. She’s an actor’s actor, enjoying “the work” far more than a star’s lifestyle.
“I pass unnoticed through a crowd,” she said one afternoon at the Mercer Hotel. “I can go about my life and people don’t seem to mind who I’m going out with or what I’m buying when I go out shopping.”
And she’s reluctant to take on stardom at the cost of her freedom. “It’s not that I’ve gone to the front of the queue, and I’m at the cashier and withdrawing the million-dollar prize. I’m just in a different queue,” she explains. “But I really like my queue, and I think as I stand in it, I have a nice time.”
Yet, this year, she’s flying awfully close to the radar. This spring, she starred in London’s Royal National Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” with Joseph Fiennes, and last month her period drama, “The Heart of Me,” opened in New York and Los Angeles. Come Christmas, she’ll dote on three precocious flyaways as Mrs. Darling in the film, “Peter Pan.”
“The Heart of Me” is a World War II-era story, a cross between “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Hilary & Jackie.” Its dark, measured plot whizzes back and forth between pre- and postwar scenarios. Williams plays “the socially ambitious, uptight, neither sensuous nor sexual, and in need of a good shag” sister to Helena Bonham Carter’s bohemian seductress, Dinah, she says. “I get a little tired of always playing the one who suffers in silence. I have made that my specialty.”
Of course, in her own life Williams seems hardly one to cause her own suffering, as she imagines most movie stars do. “I generally don’t go to events that I have no reason to be at,” she says. “I haven’t dated people strategically. And I haven’t the willpower to do the amount of maintenance that I learned it’s possible to do. It’s a failure in my own personality. I like my food too much. I get bored having a facial.”
— Amy Prince