LOS ANGELES -- Gloria Reuben's doing double-duty this month, playing two high-powered women on CBS.
On "The Agency," which concludes its premiere season May 9, she's Lisa Fabrizzi, manager of the CIA's homeland intelligence. But before that, she's family court judge Natalie Britain in "Little John," a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie airing tonight at 8.
Devoted to her work, Britain makes wise decisions. But her past is filled with mistakes she's not ready to face. Estranged from her family, she's unaware that her father (Ving Rhames) has raised the child she put up for adoption 12 years ago.
"I just loved the story," Reuben said. "Its theme doesn't necessarily have to do with race or even the issues of adoption.
"It's more a story about forgiveness and understanding and making amends and moving forward and letting go."
The 37-year-old Canadian-born actress thinks the notion of "trying to leave your past behind" is a topic many can relate to. "All of us have stuff which we maybe want to try to forget or want to move away from."
Her father John's failing health and the need of son "Little John" to understand his heritage bring them back into Britain's life.
The movie is produced by Marcy Gross and Ann Weston, whose collaborations include the 1994 Emmy-nominated Hallmark movie "A Place for Annie," about the adoption of an HIV-infected baby.
While acknowledging it was no coincidence that a star of a CBS series was first choice to star in this CBS movie, Gross says Reuben was perfect for the part, striking just the right balance between self-sufficiency and vulnerability in her portrayal of Britain.
"The woman could have come across as hard and mean. She had to walk a very fine line and she did it so well, bringing a softness and vulnerability people can sympathize with," Gross said.
Reuben originally signed on to play Fabrizzi in just the first six episodes of "The Agency," a drama about the inner workings of the CIA.
After being the target of an assassination attempt, Fabrizzi had a breakdown and vanished from her counterterrorism job. But she returned later in the season as homeland security manager. The actress has appeared in 16 of the show's 22 episodes, including a recent crossover story line with Craig T. Nelson's police drama "The District," another CBS show set in Washington.
"The Agency" survived its first full season despite extensive reworking after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including a major cast change in which Beau Bridges replaced Ronny Cox as the agency's director.
It's been 2 1/2 years since she left her popular role as medical assistant Jeanie Boulet on "ER." She asked to leave after five years on the NBC series because she thought "what was being written for the character was petering out."
She had agreed to the story line in which Boulet was infected with HIV by an unfaithful husband. But she also was adamant that the character was not killed off by succumbing to AIDS, negating all she had hoped to accomplish by portraying Boulet as someone successfully living with the virus (Boulet's character left the show to get married and adopt a baby).
"It was time to go. I wasn't afraid to make the change and I don't regret it," Reuben assures. "It feels like so long ago."
This day, munching cake in a West Hollywood bakery, she's wearing a backless leather halter, studded with shells, shiny buttons and a touch of glitter, sleek jeans and high heels. With her ever-present smile and tousled hair, it's easy to see why this former model once made People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list.
Reuben studied classical piano at the Royal Canadian Conservatory and sang with a band as a teen-ager. After leaving "ER," she pursued her music career, joining Tina Turner's tour as a backup singer and traveling to 42 cities in six months.
"I learned a lot about stamina," she said, laughing. "And about discipline and knowing what you want." Now she's writing her own songs, with plans to cut a record.
Would she like to tour with anyone else?
"Peter Gabriel," she says. "I connect with his music because I feel like my voice and what comes out of me when I sing his songs is attuned to him. That would be like a dream come true."