Can you believe it’s been more than 20 years since the sexed-up legal dramedy made its television debut? It all started when FOX tasked David E. Kelley with creating a hit show that could piggy-back off of Melrose Place’s high ratings with the young female demo – and considering Kelley was the brains behind Chicago Hope and The Practice (not to mention a Boston University law school grad!) it’s really no surprise that Ally McBeal struck small-screen gold in 1997.
With an office jam-packed with quirky characters, a slick single-camera style, and bizarro fantasy sequences, the innovative show seemed like it was ahead of its time (gender neutral bathrooms, anyone?) and was an instant hit with viewers. Ally McBeal was such a pop culture phenomenon, in fact, that it even landed on the cover of Time magazine in 1998, sparking conversations about the current state of feminism.
Show creator Kelley wrote all but one of the 112 episodes for the Boston-based series that racked up two Golden Globes and an Emmy during its five-season run – not to mention made a star of a certain dancing baby that became one of the earliest Internet memes. And while he may have gone on to create more hit shows, including the massively successful Big Little Lies, we have to ask: what have the stars of the show been up to?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal)
There’s no doubt that the famously waifish actress came into the title role with some powerhouse acting skill (and fun fact alert: she actually met Ally McBeal castmate Jane Krakowski back when they were both honing their craft as undergrads at Rutgers University in New Jersey!) Though David E. Kelley originally wanted Bridget Fonda for the part, Calista was serving up such impressive stage performances in New York that she was called on to duke it out against hundreds of other actresses. As the story goes, when she walked into the casting office, she was the epitome of Ally – and the rest is flighty, lovesick, iconic TV history.
After the show, Calista was a hot acting commodity – she was even offered Teri Hatcher’s role in Desperate Housewives, which she turned down, and instead went on to play Kitty Walker on the ABC drama Brothers an Sisters. She has committed herself to feminist causes, accompanying The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler on a trip to Africa to raise awareness of violence against women – and even served for 10 years as the national spokesperson for Peace Over Violence. She’s been married to megastar/Han Solo/daredevil pilot Harrison Ford since 2010 and is often snapped enjoying her time with the couple’s adopted son Liam. Most recently, she’s wowed audiences with her portrayal of CatCo mogul Cat Grant on fan-favorite Supergirl, and is returning for its third season as a recurring character.
Greg Germann (Richard Fish)
Long before his two-time Emmy-nominated breakout role as the neurotic partner at Cage and Fish, Houston native Greg Germann was a fierce stage actor, working his chops in New York City on the Great White Way. After gaining rave reviews in the 1994 film Clear and Present Danger and on the sitcom Ned and Stacey, he caught the eye of Kelley and landed the part of the “fishism”-spouting law firm boss – even beating out Stephen Colbert! He went on to play the role in all of the show’s five seasons – and got a chance to sneak behind the camera to direct some of the episodes.
Since hanging up his B-town law firm shingle, Greg has continued as a working actor, including guest-starring on The Bernie Mac Show and Desperate Housewives. He also turned in a memorable silver screen performance as Larry Dennit Jr. in the 2006 Will Ferrell vehicle Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby – though he is probably best known for playing Hades, Lord of the Underworld, on the popular ABC series Once Upon A Time. He still loves working on the stage and starred in the world premiere of Steve Martin’s play Meteor Shower. He is active with charity organizations, co-hosting the Literacy for All Gala and serving on the board of social services organization The People Concern – and loves taking to Instagram pics with his wife Martha and his son Asa from a previous marriage.
Jane Krakowski (Elaine Vassal)
Jane’s triple-threat talent was recognized at an early age – and she was rewarded with a plum Broadway role in Starlight Express when she was just 18 years old. After making her mark on the stage with a series of stellar performances, she gained valuable TV-acting experience in the daytime soap world before being tapped to play sassy secretary/resident office gossip Elaine, alongside her former college classmate Calista.
Jane’s star has undoubtedly continued to rise since wrapping the show – she’s released a debut solo album of cover songs, earned four Emmy nominations for her role as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock, and has appeared as a series regular on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She’s even made time to return to her theater roots, racking up a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway musical Nine and a Laurence Olivier Award for her starring role in Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor on London’s West End. She’s also lent her song-and-dance skill to humanitarian causes, headlining the 20th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards that honored those who have contributed in the fight against AIDS. She has a son, Bennett, with her ex, British men’s clothing designer Robert Godley.
Peter MacNicol (John Cage)
Yet another acting heavyweight with off-Broadway and Broadway credits under his belt, Peter was an accomplished Shakespearean actor before joining the cast – and had been scouted from the stage earlier for a role in Sophie’s Choice. Peter actually appeared as attorney Alan Birch on David E. Kelley’s medical drama Chicago Hope before earning an Emmy as Ally’s adorably weird boss John “The Biscuit” Cage.
Since his time on Ally McBeal, he’s scored numerous TV and film credits, including roles on 24, Grey’s Anatomy, and, most notably, guest-starring as power broker Jeff Kane on Veep. A prolific voiceover actor, he’s voiced many comic book villains – and parents of little ones may recognize him as Nigel the Advisor on Disney Channel’s Tangled: The Series. Peter has been married to his wife, non-profit head Martha Sue “Marsue” Cumming, for over 30 years – and the longtime offbeat actor has also had a longtime offbeat hobby: playing the bagpipes (diehard McBeal fans may even remember him playing them on the show!).
Portia de Rossi (Nelle Porter)
The blonde beauty was actually studying law in her native Australia when she was bitten by the acting bug – and her career began in earnest when she played the role of a young model in the erotic movie Sirens. Hearing the “siren” call of Los Angeles, she headed for America and quickly grabbed guest-starring parts on a number of television shows before landing the gig playing the sarcastic and ambitious Nelle in the show’s second season.
Portia has definitely kept herself busy since Ally McBeal – she starred as Lindsay Bluth Funke in the critical darling Arrested Development and played Elizabeth North in Scandal, a role she eventually left for an art curation and publishing business (creator Shonda Rhimes wished her the best, and even described herself as a fan of Portia’s!) She has also taken a turn as author, penning Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, a deeply personal autobiography about her struggle with eating disorders. After keeping her sexuality a secret from her Ally McBeal castmates throughout the show’s run, she famously tied the knot with TV talker Ellen DeGeneres at their Beverly Hills home in 2008. The couple are vegans and are actively involved with animal organizations, including the Los Angeles-based animal rescue The Gentle Barn, a more recently, Portia created the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund to help protect wild gorillas in Rwanda in honor of her wife's 60th birthday.
Lucy Liu (Ling Woo)
Relative unknown Lucy originally auditioned to play Nelle Porter – and while she didn’t score that role, she made such an impression on David E. Kelley that in the second season he created the character of Ling Woo just for her (four seasons later, we could still hear the Wicked Witch of the West theme that played in Ally’s head when Ling entered!)
Since Ally McBeal, Lucy has become a bona fide star. Not only did she continue as one of Charlie’s Angels alongside Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz, she played an unforgettable deadly assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1. She’s also a successful voiceover actor, most notably voicing Master Viper in the Kung Fu Panda movies and TV series – and can currently be seen starring as Joan Watson on the Sherlock Holmes series Elementary. Her McBeal alter-ego Ling may have perfected the “death stare,” but Lucy has dedicated herself to humanitarian causes, serving as ambassador for U.S. Fund for UNICEF and as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. Lucy is also an accomplished artist, showing her work in many exhibits under her Chinese name, Yu Ling. She is a proud mom to son Rockwell, who was born in 2015 through a surrogate.
Courtney Thorne-Smith (Georgia Thomas)
If you grew up in the ’80s, chances are you know Courtney Thorne-Smith as a sort of “it girl.” She starred in Lucas, Summer School, and Welcome to 18 – and by the time she joined Ally McBeal, she was a full-blown ’90s star from her portrayal of Allison Parker on the nighttime soap Melrose Place. Though she originally auditioned for the title role, she ended up as Ally’s “relatively sane” nemesis-turned-friend – and Courtney’s departure from the show caused a stir when she revealed publicly that she had left because of the overwhelming pressure to be thin.
Courtney has had an amazing acting career since Ally McBeal, starring opposite Jim Belushi on the popular CBS sitcom According to Jim from 2001-2009, then immediately going on to play Jon Cryer’s girlfriend on Two and a Half Men. The multi-talented actress even wrote a book in 2007, Outside In, described as “a comedic novel about the flipside of fame.” Though she has kept a lower acting profile since her sitcom success, she has lent her star wattage as a spokesperson for the Atkins diet. She is married to marketing company exec Roger Fishman, and their son Jacob was born in 2008.
Gil Bellows (Billy Thomas)
The Canadian actor actually met Calista years before playing her ex Billy, when they were doing play readings together in New York. Gil would go on to make a big Hollywood splash with his breakout performance in The Shawshank Redemption, playing the part of inmate Tommy Williams that had been turned down by Brad Pitt. Three years later, he would make his “Ally McBeal” debut – and although Billy was killed off in season three, the character appeared later in dream sequences.
After leaving the show, Gil went on to a successful role on CBS’s The Agency – and while he may not exactly be a household name, he’s had a long, solid career as a working actor, snagging parts in over 70 films and TV shows, including meaty roles in the Amazon Original Patriot and the USA drama Eyewitness. Chances are that if you’ve seen anything over the last 20 years, you may just have called him “that guy.” He’s married to “that girl” actress Rya Kihlstedt (Google it!) and the couple has two children, Ava and Giovanni. Gil is also a music enthusiast, and describes himself in his Twitter profile as a “storyteller” – oh, the stories we bet he could tell!
Lisa Nicole Carson (Renee Raddick)
Before taking on the role of Ally’s criminal prosecutor BFF/roomie on Ally McBeal, the Brooklyn-born actress cut her teeth working on After School Specials. She played Eriq La Salle’s girlfriend on the NBC hit ER starting in 1996 and continued on the hospital drama after being cast in Ally McBeal, until she was unfortunately let go from both shows because of her erratic behavior.
After her departure, she revealed she was struggling with bipolar disorder – and opened up about her mental illness in 2015 issues of Essence and People magazine. The illness had taken its toll, costing her jobs, landing her in the hospital, and even led to an arrest after a disorderly conduct incident. Lisa finally made her way back to acting in 2012, reprising her role as Renee Raddick in the final episode of Kelley’s legal drama Harry’s Law – and she most recently turned in a critically-acclaimed performance in the 2017 BET miniseries The New Edition Story, co-produced by all six members of the R&B boy band.
Vonda Shepard (Vonda Shepard)
While she may not have been the show’s biggest star, Vonda’s appearances as her musician self at the crew’s post-work bar always hit the right notes with viewers. Vonda’s music for Ally McBeal was pretty much the ’90s soundtrack of our lives – not only did she co-write the theme song “Searchin’ My Soul,” she served as the show’s music producer of over 500 songs with some of the biggest artists, including Gladys Knight, Sting, Chubby Checker, and Jon Bon Jovi. Vonda undoubtedly helped put Ally McBeal into the pop culture zeitgeist – and the show earned a Billboard award for selling the most TV soundtrack records in history.
Vonda has continued to impress since her Ally McBeal tenure, and was thrilled to have her stage actress debut in Randy Newman’s version of Faust at New York City Center, with critics calling her “the find of the evening.” She has largely left acting behind, however, to fully embrace her musician roots – and the supremely gifted singer/songwriter, pianist, bassist, and guitarist has spent her time in the studio recording a number of popular Ally McBeal compilation soundtracks, as well as other albums. Vonda is often on the road playing her music, and is currently on a world tour. She married fellow musician and record producer (and former Mr. Suzanne Vega) Mitchell Froom in 2004 and their son Jack was born in 2006.
From the Bio Archives: This article was originally published on September 7, 2017.