HOLLYWOOD -- The weird thing about actress Julie Kavner is her phantom New York background.
You could meet Kavner in Calcutta, Minsk or Tierra del Fuego and know instantly the tall, zaftig star is from New York -- the Bronx, Brooklyn, Yonkers, Manhattan's Lower East Side. Wherever.
She's Jewish, with all the richly attendant elements that make up the movie cliche New York Jewish women -- open, talkative, maternal, nurturing, maddening, brimming with energy and bright as new paint.
She is a beloved American type going back to Molly Goldberg and before.
But generalizations and cliches are often ridiculous, and such is the case with Kavner who stars in the current movie 'This Is My Life,' playing a single New York mother of two precocious daughters. What else, already?
Kavner lives in Manhattan now, but she was born and raised in Southern California. How she came by her strong accent is a mystery even to her. She can't hear it.
Early in her career she proved what a fine actress she is in the old 'Rhoda' series, in which she played Brenda Morgenstern, sister of Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper.
Kavner's Brenda definitely was from New York. Definitely Jewish. And Julie played her to perfection. Perhaps so well that Brenda's accent has stayed with her ever since.
The other day Kavner was in Hollywood to promote 'This Is My Life,' her New York attitude and dialect intact.
Asked why everybody is convinced she's a native New Yorker, Kavner answered with panache.
'Go figure. Right,' she said.
'But why couldn't I play New York Jewish. I'm not married. Right? But I play a divorcee in the picture. I also play a mother. And I don't have kids.'
In the film she plays a Macy's cosmetics saleswoman who becomes a successful standup comedian, at great cost to her relationship with her daughters. She gives credit to writer Nora Ephron for her performance.
'You know, I had this great script,' she said. 'It doesn't come that difficult for me to be a mother. I was a camp counselor once. And I was a kid once. And I know mothers. You know?'
Kavner's on-screen-off-screen ethnicity is appreciated by Woody Allen, whose movies commonly deal with Jewish-American life. She has worked in five of his films: 'Hannah and Her Sisters,' 'Radio Days,' 'New York Stories,' 'Alice' and the new, unreleased, 'Shadows and Fog.'
Kavner's voice may be better known than her face. She provides the squeaky, gravelly voice of Marge Simpson in the hit animated series 'The Simpsons.' Her first album, 'The Simpsons Sing the Blues,' sold more than two million copies.
Asked if it was difficult working with youngsters Samantha Mathis and Gaby Hoffmann in the film, Kavner became an instant mother, praising the girls and predicting brilliant futures for them.
'I'm an old pro,' she said. 'Been acting a long time. The girls are professionals too. No problems with Samantha, but Gaby's a 9-year- old kid who thinks she's 40. She's an extraordinary child.'
As a child herself, Kavner made her family and friends laugh. She was encouraged to become a performer at an early age. She thought her best prospects for success were in New York, accounting for her California exodus.
'I don't know if I was ever a Jewish-American princess,' she said. 'I wasn't spoiled. Never had plastic surgery, but I always loved to go shopping. And I did go to Beverly Hills High, but don't tell anybody. I hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it.
'I don't know about having kids of my own. I could imagine having kids like Samantha and Gaby when I played their mother. But in real life I'm in no hurry for that.
'First thing I gotta do is find somebody I'd want to have kids with. I'm ambivalent about motherhood. Young women today want to have kids; it's what life is about for them. Right.
'Me? I dunno. Right now it's a definite maybe.
'The character I play, Dotty Ingels, doesn't give up her career for her kids. And I wouldn't either. Definitely, no. That's Nora's point in this movie because she had to face the same thing when she was working in Toronto and her kids were in New York.
'The story says there must be some way for a woman to juggle both career and kids, and that it's not easy. No clear-cut answers.
'I don't have that kind of tsoris myself. Yet.'NEWLN: