Originally created 03/16/04

Hector Elizondo is a vital part of futuristic 'Century City'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Marty Constable, the veteran lawyer in the new CBS legal series "Century City," was originally going to be a sage who contributed a few wry observations to the general proceedings.

But Hector Elizondo, 67, brought so much oomph to the part that the producers of the futuristic show opted to create a more vital character.

"He's extremely vigorous. He's extremely fit. He acts and feels and has a presence much younger than he is," says executive producer Ed Zuckerman.

Vitality aside, on this day, Elizondo was just plain pooped - "at the end of my rope." He was working two jobs, shuttling between the sets of "Century City" and the film "Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement."

The pilot of "Century City" premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS (WRDW-TV, Channel 12). Another episode airs 10 p.m. Saturday. Then five more weekly episodes are scheduled back in the Tuesday timeslot.

Set in 2030, the sleek, pod-shaped offices of the "Century City" law firm Crane, Constable, McNeil and Montero are built on a sound stage in an industrial area near Los Angeles International Airport.

A backdrop, depicting the view from the firm's windows, features the upscale area of Los Angeles that gives the series its title, but with more skyscrapers than exist today.

Viola Davis plays firm founder Hannah Crane. Eric Schaeffer as Darwin McNeil and Nestor Carbonell as Tom Montero complete the partnership. Ioan Gruffudd also co-stars as earnest young lawyer Lukas Gold, and Kristin Lehman plays Lee May Bristol, a genetically re-engineered first-year attorney.

So why do a legal show that takes place a quarter-century from now?

"Our future is a positive future. We assume that things are basically going to get better, progress will continue," Zuckerman says. "There will be problems - new inventions, new technologies will bring with them difficulties - but it's a bright future."

Elizondo found the show's optimism appealing.

"This is not a 'Blade Runner.' I would not have been interested in that kind of pessimism," he said, referring to the 1982 sci-fi classic that painted a bleak picture of 21st century Los Angeles.

"Century City" was originally set 50 years into the future, but Elizondo said it was decided to place it "just far enough away to make it more poignant, to bring it closer to home."

The just-around-the-corner timeframe also avoids the need for elaborate special effects. "Everything we do here is on the drawing board now ... the consequences of social seeds that are here now."

After playing a scene, Elizondo has a few more moments to chat before heading off to his other job on "Princess Diaries," in which he returns as Joe, confidante and security chief to the Queen Mother.

"When they ask me about my career, I tell them I don't have a career," Elizondo said. "I have a job. One job and then another."

Indeed, the actor has had more than 100 screen roles, including his Emmy-winning work as hospital administrator Dr. Phillip Watters in "Chicago Hope."

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