''A lot of times, when people don't know me, they'll talk to me ver-r-r-y slow-ly,'' says Beth Broderick. But don't be misled by her Marilyn-esque tresses or by Delilah, the breathy, flirty character Broderick plays on CBS' The Five Mrs. Buchanans. Her smart, sharp conversation belies the image. ''My agents are like, 'Don't go having intellectual discussions with people,' '' Broderick says. ''Directors feel they won't be able to direct [a brainy actress]. There are brilliant women in Hollywood you just don't lead with it. You lead with your legs.''
It's easy to see how someone might get the wrong impression. Broderick, 35, played a ditsy secretary on Hearts Afire (before it was retooled and the character was written out), and now sports crop-tops and minis as Delilah, a former cocktail waitress and stripper who has married into a toocloseknit Indiana family. ''I'm not exactly typecast in this role,'' Broderick says. ''You've got to go a long way to get me in earrings.'' This time, she intends ''to deconstruct that (dumb blond) stereotype. It's so easy to go, 'Oh, Broderick's playing the bimbo.' ''
Typecasting it ain't: Broderick is a classically trained actress who comes by her slight drawl honestly (she's Kentucky-born). Acting school, Off Broadway shows, and regional theater in New York and Los Angeles led up to a role in Bonfire of the Vanities, which sparked a year-long romance with the director, Brian De Palma (''I was very much in love, but it didn't work out,'' she says). No slacker, Broderick also cofounded Momentum, an AIDS relief program in New York, and now works for City Light, a rehabilitation program for homeless women in L.A.
Helping others means Broderick doesn't always have to lead with her legs. ''There's a danger in Hollywood of becoming self-obsessed,'' she says. ''Outside the industry, no one knows who I am.'' At least not yet.