Tricia Johnson
March 24, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Here are the life lessons The Practice‘s ingenue, Marla Sokoloff, has learned from her more experienced cast mates: Camryn Manheim has instructed the 19-year-old to lock her bedroom door. Michael Badalucco explained the art of writing love poems. And fashion plate Lara Flynn Boyle has taught her that when in need of a little glamour, a girl should apply fake gems. ”It’s great working with older people,” explains Sokoloff, ”because you get lots of free advice.”

Not the stuff of Strasberg, maybe, but Sokoloff’s learning curve isn’t that of an ordinary young actress. She’s got a sweet gig on one of TV’s hottest shows and the respect of her elders. ”Don’t be fooled by her age,” says costar Manheim. ”She is wise beyond her years and very sensitive about what’s going on around her.”

The same can’t be said of Sokoloff’s character, the ever-feisty receptionist Lucy Hatcher. ”She’s crazy,” says Sokoloff, munching on a mozzarella sandwich at L.A.’s chic Fred Segal cafe. ”Lucy says whatever she feels at that moment and doesn’t care who she’s going to insult.” Those tact-free comebacks may be just the dose of levity the heavy legal drama needs, but being the scapegoat can get a girl down. ”I used to get mail from people who said they were never watching the show again because of Lucy,” says Sokoloff. ”Then I heard David [E. Kelley, The Practice‘s exec producer] explain to a panel of journalists that he brought Lucy on to annoy the audience and create controversy. I realized I must be doing my job right.”

As a reward, Sokoloff gets some of the ABC series’ most out-there story lines, like the voyeuristic landlord who videotaped Lucy’s showers, and the dentist who nibbled on her breast. At least, says the actress, ”it gave people a chance to feel sorry for my character.”

Sokoloff needs no one’s pity, though. She landed The Practice about three years after moving to L.A. from San Francisco to pursue acting, and she’s just graduated to starring on the big screen: first in Columbia’s teen romp Whatever It Takes (out March 24), followed by the dark cheerleading comedy Sugar and Spice later this year. And she’s branching out in other ways, too: She’s now living without her mom for the first time. ”It’s so scary,” Sokoloff admits. ”I never thought I would live alone. I’m a total baby.” Just follow Aunt Camryn’s advice: Keep those doors bolted.

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