Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: SATURDAY, March 19, 1994                   TAG: 9403190155
SECTION: SPECTATOR                    PAGE: S-12   EDITION: METRO 
DATELINE: DENVER                                LENGTH: Medium


A travel-weary Elaine Miles strolls through Denver's Currigan Hall, wearing her trademark faint smile.

"Marilyn! Marilyn!" a middle-age man calls as he approaches. "I owe you an apology for bumping into you earlier."

"Now you owe me two," Miles teases. "It's Elaine."

Miles, who plays the quietly wise office assistant Marilyn on the CBS-TV drama, "Northern Exposure," isn't like other stars who can escape recognition by letting their hair down or forgoing makeup. In real life, she looks just like Marilyn, short and round with a face to match, her long, straight hair untouched by expensive Hollywood stylists.

She sounds just like Marilyn, too, with a calm, thin voice that rides the long notes and poetic cadence of the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest.

But beyond appearances, forget the similarities.

"I am not like Marilyn at all," she says during an interview at the recent Colorado Indian Market, where she was a special guest. "Marilyn doesn't talk; I talk all the time. She's patient; I'm not."

Four years ago, Miles, part Nez Perce and part Cayuse Indian, attended events like this to perform native dances and work on beading and cornhusk-weaving projects. "I used to like to be the lookie-loo; now the lookie-loos are looking at me," she says, with a big, contagious smile. Two impossibly deep dimples divide her round cheeks.

Back then, "Entertainment Tonight," CBS affiliates and total strangers weren't tugging for her time - and she never dreamed that one day they would. "It was all by accident," she says. "I was a little couch potato; I always watched all the soaps - `All My Children,' `General Hospital,' `One Life to Live.' "

Then in 1990 she drove her mother from their Seattle-area home to a "Northern Exposure" casting call in Bellevue, Wash., and was spotted by a casting agent. Without any acting experience, she won the part of Marilyn. (Her mother, Armenia Miles, landed a recurring role as Mrs. Anku, the medicine man's wife; now she plays Marilyn's mother and works as a stand-in for her daughter on the set.)

The show debuted in 1990, with Miles as a guest star. The second year she became a regular, as the stoic receptionist at the office of Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow).

Her fresh, unschooled performance was just what "Northern Exposure" creators were looking for. In fact, when they heard Miles was considering taking acting lessons after the first season, "they called and threatened to fly right up and stop me," she says. In return for her promise to stay out of class, they gave her a raise.

Cast buddies Morrow, Darren Burrows (who plays Ed Chigliak), Barry Corbin (retired astronaut Maurice) and Peg Phillips (storekeeper Ruth Ann) helped her along at first. "Now they say, `You can't expect us to help you now!' " she laughs. "Peg told me, `You're not new at this anymore; you're an actress.' " Miles is proud to have earned the title.

She admits her straight-faced character is a Hollywood stereotype. "They think all Native Americans are like that; we're not. We all have personalities just like anyone else."

But Marilyn's personality has grown, along with her presence on the show.

"She's changed," Miles says. "At first, she really didn't say much, but her presence was there. Now she's mysterious, she knows everything. She's very quiet but wise, a knowledgeable person, a basketful of surprises. She carries conversations. She even gets to smile now - now I get to show off my dimples," she says, grinning.

Even Marilyn's relationship with the overbearing persnickety Dr. Fleischman has evolved.

"The first season he spent yelling at Marilyn. Now he has a special tie to her. It's not romantic, but a special bond."

Miles, who gives her age only as "30-something," but quickly adds, "my birthday is April 7, and I like presents," is thrilled that Marilyn's still waters will make some waves this season.

"Unless I'm mad, I can't throw my voice very well. But there's an episode this season where Marilyn gets to yell, and I did it very well."

Boyfriend Carlton Hoahwah, a real estate student who accompanied her on her trip, can't resist: "You weren't acting then."

She giggles.

After "Northern Exposure," Miles says she'd like to explore more of her rebellious side.

"I'd like to do westerns, only I want to be the one who shoots," she says. "Or robs banks or something. You know, a real Calamity Jane kind of character."

And the dimples appear again.

 by CNB