DAILY NEWS OF LOS ANGELES

The season finale of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” airs tonight. But fans of co-star Teri Hatcher – and, considering all the pictures of her that get downloaded off the Internet, these guys are plentiful or avid or, probably, both – won’t be disconnected from their printout princess for very long.

On Friday, she can be seen in the movie “Heaven’s Prisoners.” And we do mean seen: as Claudette Rocque, the scheming wife of a New Orleans crime kingpin (Eric Roberts), Hatcher makes a memorable first impression on Alec Baldwin’s troubled detective Dave Robicheaux. She greets him on the veranda of her plantation house wearing nothing but a butterfly tattoo.

“Once I made the decision that it was psychologically important to this role, it was no big deal,” the petite, till now wholesome-imaged Hatcher said of the provocative nude scene. “I really felt that it very specifically pinpointed this woman’s psyche and, in a very shocking way, created this seedy manipulation between her and Alec’s character. Maybe you don’t really get that until the end, when you see how she evolves, but I thought that it was important.

“I’m certainly not running around wanting to be nude in every movie, though,” Hatcher quickly clarified. “The movie that I most recently made, `2 Days in the Valley’ (set for fall release), initially had some nudity that I didn’t want to do. So we took it out and it was no big deal.” Evidently not, since in that dark ensemble comedy set in the San Fernando Valley, Hatcher plays a character who’s provocative enough – she’s a frustrated Olympic skier who hires a hit man to kill her ex-husband – without baring it all.

If what’s going on here sounds like a concerted effort to get away from her TV heroine image, that’s just partially accurate. “Heaven’s Prisoners,” based on the novel by acclaimed Louisiana mystery writer James Lee Burke, was made nearly two years ago. Unfortunately, the film’s original distributor, Savoy Pictures, hit rough financial waters just as the movie was nearing completion. When Savoy collapsed late last year, its best movie properties were auctioned off, and New Line Cinema was quick to snap up “Heaven’s Prisoners.”

Yet even though this particular femme fatale turn was made before Hatcher hit the peak of her “Lois” fame, she’s glad that it’s coming out at a point when she’s so identified with the show. Truth to tell, the 31-year-old actress is feeling quite ambivalent about the program that’s turned her into quite a celebrity – and about all the good and bad things that go with that kind of status.

“I am really proud to be a part of a show that is this unique, Americana type of thing that families can sit around and watch together,” she said. ‘And lots of young women really think of Lois as this role model, a woman who is tough and intelligent and funny and sexy and needs a man and doesn’t need a man – someone with lots of layers to her. All of that is really good, and I don’t not want to be there anymore. “But being the lead in an hourlong drama for 9-1/2 months of the year is a lot of your life,” Hatcher added. “It’s a lot of demand on both Dean (Cain, who plays Clark Kent/Superman) and I.

“Also, at this point, I’ve found that I’m less invested in what my opinion is of what should happen on the show. I have no control, and I’ve learned that. It’s been frustrating to feel like I have ideas that might be good, but that don’t get anywhere because there are too many people with agendas in television: networks, studios, producers. So I continue to try to make Lois feisty and vulnerable and comedic, as much as I can. But there are a lot of limitations.”

That said, Hatcher did manage to get an episode she’d written shot – and coaxed an idol, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, to play Lois’ old high school flame in it, to boot.

“I’m from the Bay Area, so it was this big fantasy to get Steve Young to play the character,” said Hatcher, who grew up in Sunnyvale. “So I wrote him a letter, and he accepted. It was such a thrill! Sometimes, it’s funny how athletes and actors work that way; we think it’s so amazing what the other does. On the set, I would just catch myself thinking, `I’m hanging out with Steve Young, one of the best quarterbacks of all time.’ It was pretty amazing.”

There are other advantages to fame, of course. On Saturday, Hatcher was honored with the 1996 Spirit of Compassion Award from the Aviva Center for her volunteer work with abused adolescent girls.

But as she’s recently discovered, celebrity has its downside, too. “The bad news is that because of your constant accessibility, people constantly want to talk about you,” she said. “I think it’s made the whole tabloid thing hotter than it needs to be – especially since most of the stories are completely fabricated.”

Among the denied reports: that Hatcher’s size-2 figure is the result of anorexia and that her 2-year-old marriage to actor Jon Tenney is in trouble. All rubbish, it appears.

“One thing that was really fun was that my husband guest-starred” in “Lois & Clark’s” two-part finale episode, said Hatcher. “It was really great for me because, near the end of the season, you’re somewhat exhausted and just trying to get to the finish line. Having him around made it sort of like being on vacation, because we could have lunch and spend time together. He has a calming effect on me, so it was great.” Whatever travails stardom has brought, Hatcher handles them all with sunny good humor. She finessed Golden Globe Award co-presenter Tom Arnold’s boorish behavior with remarkable aplomb earlier this year, then made sporting fun of her media image with David Spade when she hosted what was arguably this season’s funniest “Saturday Night Live” installment. She’s also come through Howard Stern’s obsessive interest and a classic “Seinfeld” episode – in which her breasts were the major topic of discussion – with good cheer intact.

As for her Web ubiquity, Hatcher seems to have a pretty healthy view of that, too.

“The whole thing with the downloading of the pictures and all of these labels, like Queen of the Internet, is flattering on one level,” she said. “But it’s not my whole self. It’s one part; the photo is just an instant image. While I’m happy to have that, it only means something to me hand-in-hand with the rest of my body of work, and also my personality and humanness.”

Hatcher hopes that her devotees will accept all that she wants to show them. And she’s not just talking physically.

“I haven’t anticipated it at all,” she said of the potential reaction to “Heaven’s Prisoners.” “I hope that fans just continue to like the range of work. I think it’s a solid performance in an interesting movie. I think people will like it.”

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