As NYPD Blue shoots a scene in Manhattan's jewelry district, a stooped-shouldered passerby accosts Kim Delaney. ''Accept his ring!'' the old lady shouts, motioning at Jimmy Smits. ''You're making me very angry!''
''I hear that every f ing place I go,'' Delaney says later, taking a taxi to lunch at a Hell's Kitchen cafe. Ever since her NYPD character, Det. Diane Russell, told Smits' Det. Bobby Simone she needed more time to consider his marriage proposal, Delaney, 32, has been getting an earful from fans. ''All the guys say, 'Stop torturing him!''' she explains. ''And the women say, 'Send him over to me if you don't want him!'''
It doesn't look like fans will get relief any time soon. ''It's not going to be a neat deal,'' says Smits. ''There's going to be a lot of heads bumping. It's kind of indicative of how the job is, the stress they're under, and the baggage they bring from their pasts.'' Adds Delaney, of the commitment-shy Russell: ''Relationships have peaks and valleys, and the way they write our characters is very realistic. But there's love underneath everything, even when we don't want to look at each other.''
Fear of commitment has long been a problem for Delaney at least until NYPD came along. A Philadelphia-bred model-turned-teen star as Jenny on All My Children, she quit the ABC soap at the apex of her popularity in 1984. ''I just didn't want to get tied in,'' she says. She bagged out of her first prime-time series, CBS' Vietnam drama Tour of Duty, when she became pregnant (she's now divorced from actor Joe Cortese; their son, Jack, is 6). But when a four-episode stint as an alcoholic NYPD cop turned into a regular gig, Delaney was thrilled: ''I've been waiting for years to play a character like this.''
She's not joking. Delaney's resume is spotted with ridiculous roles that range from a nun in the Chuck Norris action movie The Delta Force to a possessed nymphomaniac in the soft-core horror flick Temptress. ''There's a lot of things I did to pay the mortgage,'' Delaney says resignedly.
The Irish-American actress' luck changed on St. Patrick's Day, 1995, when she auditioned for the role of Russell. ''She has a very rare combination,'' cocreator David Milch says of Delaney. ''A comfort with her identity as a cop that doesn't exclude her femininity.'' ''She knows how to be one of the fellas,'' adds Smits, who previously costarred with Delaney in the 1992 TV movie The Broken Cord. ''And that plays big time here, as it does for a female cop in a real squad. It's a boys' club.''
Delaney's proud to be a member. ''They're always respectful, but they don't have to not say something because I'm sitting there,'' she says of her male coworkers. ''I have four brothers, so I'm used to hanging with guys. I like guys.'' The feeling is mutual.