Brian M. Raftery
October 13, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sara Gilbert pretty much had but a New York minute to decide whether or not to join the cast of Welcome to New York.

”There was this big rush to cast the show, and I was consumed with this play I was doing [Lanford Wilson’s The Hot L Baltimore],” says the 25-year-old actress (and recent Big Apple transplant). ”I thought, ‘I’ll never want to do a TV show right now. It’s not where my head is.”’ After all, Gilbert’s 1998 development deal with CBS went nowhere, and she was already working on a supporting role in an upcoming Drew Barrymore flick, Riding in Cars With Boys. But after screening an early New York pilot, she soon found herself flying to L.A. to meet with the producers. ”We had to work around her movie schedule, but it was worth it,” says coexec producer Barbara Wallace. ”She’s funny and real, and we love her laconic approach.”

Gilbert’s television homecoming finds her playing Amy Manning, the lackadaisical personal assistant to Christine Baranski’s harried television producer. ”I really like having that live audience and having a place that feels like a regular workplace,” Gilbert says. Regular workplace? That’s not a phrase usually associated with Roseanne — the oft-touching and oft-tumultuous family sitcom on which Gilbert starred for nine years as sarcastic sibling Darlene Conner. Though the role made her famous at the age of 13, it also led some to associate her permanently with the A-word: Angsty.

”It’s OK with me,” she says. ”The older I get the more I realize that [being a child actor] is a real specific way to grow up. A lot of your identity is dictated by what people project upon you, and you’re not really strong enough to define that on your own terms.”

Since she hung up Darlene’s hang-ups to attend Yale (she graduated in 1997), Gilbert has nabbed small supporting film roles, playing a pregnant teen in 1999’s Light It Up and a punk music fan in this year’s High Fidelity. But perhaps because she grew up on television, the small screen feels cozier: ”It’s sad when you do movies and a few months later say goodbye to everybody,” she says. ”Not that that couldn’t happen with this show, but at least there’s a chance you’ll be together for a few years.” From her lips to Nielsen’s ears.

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