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Bell is the daughter of a Scottish father and Iranian mother. Her parents divorced, and then she and her mother moved to Los Angeles, California, when she was three years old. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States at the age of 12. She acted in various television advertisements as a child. A self-described "geek", Bell thrived in math and biology classes in school, and in junior high school once programmed a computer video game. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with an interest in becoming either a biomedical engineer or a physician but dropped out to become a full-time model. One of her first modeling jobs was an extended assignment in Japan. When she returned to California, she studied acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse with Milton Katselas. Her first television acting role was one line on the sitcom "Sugar and Spice" (1990).
Her first appearance in a film was as a body double for Isabella Rossellini in Death Becomes Her (1992). In 2003, Bell played a supporting role in the comedy Bruce Almighty, which starred Jim Carrey. From 1997 to 2005, she played U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Sarah MacKenzie on the television series JAG, as a practicing attorney in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps of legal experts. Earlier work included an appearance in a late night adult series called "Hot line" which aired in the U.K. From 1994 to 1996. Bell was featured in "The Brunch Club" episode.
Bell is fluent in Persian (Farsi) and English.
Bell married Adam Beason on 8 May, 1994. They have a daughter, Gemma, who was born on 16 April, 2003.
Bell is a survivor of thyroid cancer. She had to have her thyroid gland removed from her neck in her 20s. She has a small surgical scar on her neck. At one time, she used to have a message board on her website but this has been removed citing the inability to constantly monitor it. While the message board was running, Ms. Bell noted that she has had thyroid surgery and LASIK done in the past.
On September 14, 2006, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter announced that Catherine Bell had joined the cast of Lifetime's ensemble drama pilot "Army Wives". In the projected series, Sally Pressman stars as a sassy woman from the wrong side of the tracks who marries a soldier, moves her kids to a military base and becomes friends with a diverse group of Army wives, three of them played by Catherine Bell, Kim Delaney, and Brigid Brannagh. Bell will play the wife of a US Army major, a devoted homemaker who is enduring physical abuse at the hands of her teenage son. In December, Lifetime announced it would produce 13 episodes of the series for 2007.
Bell has also acted in the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, The Triangle, presented in December 2005, where she played the role of an ocean engineer.
In 2006, she was nominated in Saturn Award of Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Supporting Actress on Television (The Triangle)
Bell will play Denise Sherwood on Lifetime TV's newest original series Army Wives. A wife separated from her husband overseas, she lives every day in her own battle zone on the military post, dictated by an unspoken code of conduct and hierarchy. The program premieres on Lifetime TV on Sunday, June 3rd at 10:00 pm.