LOS ANGELES — “I should listen to myself more,” says actress Sela Ward, sitting in her freezing trailer on the otherwise-baking Twentieth Century Fox lot where the TV show “House, M.D.” is filming.

She’s not talking about a new self-help philosophy, but her red-carpet appearances, which might increase now that she’s joining the cast of the hit Fox drama as title character Hugh Laurie’s long-lost love, Stacy, a lawyer. While her character generally wears suits, Ward prefers to dress “out of the box,” and that’s gotten her into trouble in the past with the fashion pundits.

“If you wrote anything, you were probably trashing me,” laughs Ward, who’s casually dressed in a blue sweater and Citizens of Humanity jeans. “That’s why I don’t go to half the things I get invited to, because I have to get dressed and be scrutinized, which takes all the fun out of it. When you don’t have time, you have to hire a stylist, and I hired two bad stylists in a row. Really bad. And there the press would be: ‘What was she thinking?’”

Now, she realizes that, “as long as I trust my instincts and stick with my aesthetic, I’ll be okay.”

Ward, a native of Meridien, Miss., lives in Bel-Air with husband Howard Sherman and their two children, Austin and Anabella, ages 11 and six. “We move a lot because I’m a serial decorator and I love remodeling. This house I’m going to turn into romantic countryside,” she muses between bites of a tossed chicken salad from Houston’s.

Ward has been absent from the small screen since her Emmy-winning turn on “Once and Again.” Now she’ll make her cliff-hanging debut on “House” in the last two episodes, an ideal way to keep people talking over the summer, says Ward.

“It’s a titillating story line because they’re clearly still in love. There’s just a lot of sexual tension, yet she’s married and her husband is dying. No one knows what will happen, including me,” she says in a soft, deliberate voice that once took 20 lessons to transform from her original high-pitched Southern drawl.

This story first appeared in the May 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I’m at that point where it’s not a novelty any longer,” she says of working on an 18-hour-a-day series, “but I’m having a blast. I never thought I’d say that because I was so burned out. But I love having a job where I can go home, sleep in my own bed and hug my kids in the morning.”

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