Kathy Najimy, who plays the endlessly put-upon costume designer in Soapdish, can recite the titles like a mantra: ''All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital. Every afternoon my mom and I watched,'' she says. ''All I wanted out of life was to be Susan Lucci. In fact, whenever I go to anything that requires a name tag, I am Susan Lucci.''
Of course, growing up to be Kathy Najimy hasn't been too bad either. A native San Diegan, Najimy, 34, first gained attention in her Off-Broadway play, The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives. During its one-and-a-half-year run, she and fellow performer-writer Maureen Gaffney breathed life into dozens of hilarious, poignant, and sometimes tragic characters. Now, with her zaftig grace and putty-faced expressiveness, Najimy is about to become a scene-stealing presence in three new movies: Other People's Money, The Fisher King, and Nora Ephron's directorial debut, This is My Life. So far, the roles coming her way have been small but pivotal. ''I originally had only three scenes in Soapdish, but eventually they put me in nine scenes and let me mug away,'' says Najimy. ''In fact,'' she continues, ''Sally Field personally gave me her cappuccino to use in a spit take.''
Najimy and Gaffney now have a writing-acting deal with Hollywood Pictures, and Najimy is also shopping around a TV pilot called New York Woman. ''It's very funny, very feminist, and pretty risky definitely not One Day at a Time,'' she says. And what about future movie roles? ''I just lost two parts to Kathy Bates,'' she says. ''She's so talented I wasn't upset. I mean, it's not like losing to Suzanne Somers.''