Close-up: Natalie Zea

Is the star of the latest hot American TV import a 21st-century Sue Ellen?
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The Independent Online

If Channel 4's new US super-soap, Dirty Sexy Money, is a sharper, smarter Dallas for the 21st century, Natalie Zea's Karen Darling could just be the new Sue Ellen. A scion of a dissolute family of New York billionaires, Karen is a dedicated socialite with one hand on the Scotch and the other signing a divorce settlement (she's on her third). In a show laden with stolen scenes (look out for Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin) Zea still manages to take the plaudits with a performance that's deliciously shallow, yet winningly warm-hearted too.

"She's a mess," is Zea's (it's pronounced "Zee") verdict. "I think that she gets very confused with love and lust, and with a relationship versus a marriage. To her, it's like, 'I like you a lot. Let's get married.'"

Zea, 32, hails from the sleepy town of Monahan, Texas and has wanted to act as long as she can remember. But her presence on screen at all is a minor miracle after she was hit by a drunk driver when she was 17. She shattered her pelvis, nose and leg and spent the bulk of the next year, which she had been hoping to pass at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, laid up in a hospital bed.

"The doctors said, 'You're going to have a limp. Things are not going to be the same.'" But Zea's grandmother was a chiropractor. "As soon as I was able to walk without crutches, she got in there and just went to town."

The next year, so did Zea. "My parents were a bit apprehensive about letting me go. But, once the accident happened, they were like, 'Go, we can't protect you.' Everything happens for a reason."

'Dirty Sexy Money' begins on Friday at 9pm on Channel 4

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