K A T I E   H O L M E S :
The Girl Next Door


Tuneful Holmes brought on board to hit a hot note

By Gary Levin

LOS ANGELES — Katie Holmes blends in with a crowd of 400 extras on a hot July day at Dodger Stadium, but she's hard to miss.

Taller than she seems in photos, she's wearing bluejeans and a navy sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up.

Her short bob is obscured by a navy baseball cap. And between takes on filming next week's episode of ABC's "Eli Stone" (returning tonight, 10 ET/PT), her sleepy daughter, Suri, is rushed over for some cuddling as Katie's silver-haired mother and manager chat nearby.

The script calls for Holmes, who plays lawyer and romantic interest Grace Fuller, to fumble and spill snacks on fellow fans at the stadium, where she's attending the final game of the fictional San Francisco Marvels' season after mysteriously receiving a ticket.

There, she's recognized by Eli and his brother, Nate (Matt Letscher), and Eli rescues her from the crowd's wrath by making a fuss himself. "I get hit in the face with a slushie," says star Jonny Lee Miller.

Holmes' guest stint is a calculated publicity ploy by the show's co-creator, Greg Berlanti, who worked with her on teen drama "Dawson's Creek."

But far from a token cameo, Holmes' appearance in several scenes is a major plot point for the show. She sings and dances to Duke Ellington's "Hit Me With a Hot Note," in an imagined vision that introduces her character, a lawyer named Grace Fuller, to Eli. The two meet at the stadium, in her office, on a dinner date and at the airport.

Holmes, who declined an interview request through her manager, worked four days this summer as the show rearranged its production schedule around her. She agreed to do the show just before leaving for New York to begin rehearsals for Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," her Broadway debut.

Naturally, her co-stars were effusive with praise about her non-diva behavior and the halo she brings to the series, which averaged 8.1 million viewers last season but needs to expand — or at least hold — its audience to survive.

"On our first day, she had this dance number to do, and she did it maybe 50 times, and it was amazing," Miller says. "We worked 17 hours, we were doing this really long scene when we were on a dinner date, and she never once complained about being tired."

Her appearance wasn't without incident. Husband Tom Cruise and Suri visited her on the set, hounded by paparazzi, leading to false reports that it was Cruise who would appear on Eli. Still, the hubbub trained a spotlight on a show many viewers had barely heard of. "It's weird having all those guys around," Letscher says. "It doesn't make you envy her."

And Holmes' character is a key to unlocking Eli's mind-set: Last season was about his discovery of the brain aneurysm that triggered his visions. Coming into this season, "Eli is feeling there's nobody going to be there for him," says co-creator Marc Guggenheim. "Her life is parallel to his in a number of ways, and that reminds him that there is (somebody)."

Even as the episode wraps (and it's not a spoiler to say she won't become a regular character), Grace "looms large" in future episodes. "She's always around in Eli's memory."

And Berlanti is hopeful Holmes will agree to come back, an event that hinges on whether ABC picks up enough episodes beyond the 13 now planned to give the show a full season. "She had a great time, and my sense is if we had a back nine, she'd consider it."