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Downey on ‘Ally’s’ case

Thesp lands first post-jail role as Flockhart's love interest

Robert Downey Jr. isn’t wasting any time getting back to work: He’s just signed on to play Calista Flockhart’s love interest for an eight-episode arc of “Ally McBeal.”

Downey, who has been continuing his rehab obligations after being released from jail last week, will begin filming the episodes Monday, having accepted the role offered by “Ally” creator-exec producer David E. Kelley.

Downey’s character, described by Fox as a “mysterious stranger,” will be introduced on the show’s Oct. 23 season premiere.

“David’s a genius, Calista’s awesome and once again I have a choice of shirt colors,” Downey said.

Casting is a major coup for “Ally,” which lost some of its critical buzz last season amid complaints it had become too wedded to over-the-top plot twists. Repeats of the skein have been performing poorly in the ratings this summer.

Fox execs and Kelley have said the show will become more grounded in the upcoming season. Downey’s star power will give Fox a highly promotable hook to help lure auds back to “Ally,” hopefully convincing viewers to re-establish old viewing habits.

“We’re thrilled,” said Kelley. “We’ve admired (Downey’s) work for years and know he’ll make an enormous contribution to ‘Ally McBeal.’ ”

Kelley began courting Downey while the actor was in prison, insiders familiar with the negotiations said.

Pitched productions

Sources said Downey was gratified by Kelley’s quick request and has been overwhelmed with offers to return to acting as he continues to battle his drug problems. It’s likely he could move right into a film when he finishes production on his “Ally” segs in mid October, though sources said Kelley may try to persuade Downey to become a regular.

The “Ally” gig reps Downey’s most significant TV commitment since 1985, when he spent a season as a regular on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Thesp’s most recent feature role was as a gay book editor in “Wonder Boys.” Other recent credits include “Black & White” and “Two Girls and a Guy.” Downey snagged a 1992 Oscar nom for “Chaplin.”

Downey is repped by Ed Limato and Nick Styne of ICM.

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