As Andrea Zuckerman on Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210," Gabrielle Carteris has reason to be careful in public.

Like other cast members of the popular teen show, she draws a crowd when she makes publicized appearances. Last year, in Toledo, Ohio, she found 10,000 fans waiting to meet her.

Luke Perry, who plays heartthrob and recovering alcoholic Dylan McKay, caused a riot at a Florida mall in 1991. Nine girls were hospitalized and he never signed an autograph. In Boston, he was removed from a public appearance by speedboat. When Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green were mobbed at an airport in Spain, a Fox spokeswoman compared their arrival to "the second coming of the Beatles."

And yet, the schedules of most of the actors on the Wednesday night Fox show are loaded with visits to affiliate stations and public appearances for various causes. Makes life a bit difficult, especially for Carteris, with a new husband at home.

"To go out socially is stressful," she said, so she won't make appearances unless it's something she really believes in.

A while back, Carteris caught the red-eye to Washington for Anthony Shriver's annual "Best Buddies" ball, which raises money and awareness for the organization that partners college students with the mentally retarded. Before a nap and a shopping expedition across the street to Urban Outfitters, she paused at Georgetown's Four Seasons to talk about her series.

At 32, Carteris looks not much older than the teenager she plays. A petite woman, she wore jeans, a dark blazer and olive vest over a white T-shirt, and slanted, gold wire-rim glasses (not the round ones Andrea wears on "90210"). She drank cappucino made with nonfat milk and talked about the series that has made household names of its ensemble cast, and about their fans.

"When you're hitting a young audience, they're much more verbal," she said. "Think about when you saw the Beatles and you'd see the pictures of how the mob used to be. It's this like 'mind meld' that happens. But I have to say that adults can be much more aggressive than kids."

Not long ago, Carteris said, an autograph-seeker approached her while she was dining at a quiet French restaurant with her husband of less than a year, stockbroker Charlie Isaacs. The woman waited until Isaacs had stepped away for a moment.

"It drives me crazy when we have security {guards} and they follow me even to the bathroom, and I say, 'Look, you know, I can walk by myself.' "

Most of the time, anyway. Carteris had to relearn how to do just that after surgery on both feet. When she discovered she had to have surgery, Carteris notified the show's producers, who asked the scriptwriters to devise a plot line. That explains the hit-and-run accident that befell Andrea in November (airing again this week) and put her in a wheelchair for several weeks.

Carteris wore Birkenstock sandals for a while, she said, and was pleased that Shriver's "Best Buddies" bash called for "creative black-tie," geared mostly for college students.

"I just started walking recently," Carteris said. "I'm getting better. But I can't wear heels, so I'm wearing combat boots with a black-tie dress."

A solid ratings collector, "Beverly Hills, 90210" nevertheless garnered negative criticism when it premiered in October 1990. The show caught on first with kids and teens; then polls showed that adults up to 34 were watching as well. Fox shrewdly brought out new episodes last summer while other networks ran repeats, cinching the growing audience.

But Carteris still fields questions about the show's substance, or lack of. Some interviewers, she suspects, don't watch it.

"People ask me things that are so incongruous," she said. "Obviously they haven't watched the show. It's not about high school. It's not about being rich. It's about young people and dealing with the issues that take place in their lives -- recognizing that they have lives."

"Beverly Hills, 90210" was created by Darren Star (originally of Potomac, Md.) and is produced by Spelling Television Inc. Carteris calls the show a ground-breaker.

"What this show has done for television has been wonderful," she said. "Fox has acknowledged a whole group of people that needed to be acknowledged. Shows have always been the adult perspective of what a young person's life should be rather than really accepting what it is. Beverly Hills is just a location."

The hype, and marketing power, behind all of the "90210" characters and the actors who portray them is huge. Jennie Garth (Kelly Taylor) made a fitness video for the 12- to 34-year-old set that was released in December. "Beverly Hills, 90210 -- The Soundtrack" was released in time for Christmas.

Even Shannen Doherty's shoving match with a woman in a West Hollywood nightclub in December made news nationwide. Doherty plays Brenda Walsh on the series; her date that night, Brian Austin Green, plays David Silver.

But the antics of Doherty, who was booed at this year's Billboard Music Awards show, have tainted the image of her "90210" character as well. An eight-page nationwide newsletter, "I Hate Brenda," was sold out at the District's Tower Records last week. (More have been ordered.) Glamour magazine called Doherty "Prima Donna of the Year," and there's a six-song compilation due in April called "Hating Brenda."

In contrast, Carteris comes across as an adult, with a slightly raspy voice that is more melodic in person. She is the only married member of the cast.

"I'm not one to really socialize with the people I work with," she said, "so I have the cast over for dinner or we'll do certain things together, but we can't really go in public together."

Gabrielle Carteris (pronounced gabb-ree-EL car-TARE-ez) is a San Francisco native. She toured with a mime troupe through Europe at 16 and went on to earn her undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College.

Carteris was living in New York doing stage work when she landed the part of Andrea Zuckerman three years ago.

When she auditioned for "90210," she said, "I came in acting." She wasn't worried that she was well past high-school age.

"It would be discriminatory to me if I fit the part to go and try to figure out my age," she said. "They weren't looking for school kids ... it's not conducive to the series, particularly with such a large cast." Casting high-school students requires tutors on the set and limited shooting hours. The average age of the "90210" cast now is in the mid-20s.

Nearing the end of the series' third season, "Beverly Hills, 90210" producers have promised the cast another year, so fans will discover what happens to the characters after high school.

"You're going to see the graduation -- they're already getting ready for that -- and then we go on to school and you'll be seeing all the choices that people make and where they go," she said.

Andrea is waiting to hear about her scholarship to Yale. In the meantime, she has started dating a boy from a less affluent area, a student newspaper editor whom she meets unexpectedly at a tea for applicants to Yale University. He is black.

Later this month, she'll stand tall when Dylan (Luke Perry) copes with the violent death of his father, encouraging him to write about his experiences for the school newspaper.

The Fox press material describes Andrea Zuckerman as the "moral voice" on the show. She rolled her eyes at this.

"I'm going to change that. That was how we first described Andrea. Would you describe her as the moral voice?" she asked. "My husband is always laughing -- she's kissed most of the boys on the show. She's really been out there."

Andrea, Carteris points out, has had several steady relationships. "Andrea has been with more people, I think, in a general way than any of the others," she said. "And interesting people. She's a very interesting character. Andrea's a happenin' babe." She chuckled.

If Andrea Zuckerman hasn't always been the "moral voice" of "90210," she has at least been one of its more rock-solid characters. Initially, after the Walshes had arrived from Minnesota, Brenda Walsh befriended glamorous Kelly while her idealistic twin, Brandon, sought out Andrea. But Brenda wanted nothing to do with Andrea. Too square, she thought.

Rather, Andrea turned out to be a young woman concerned with social issues. A bit of a crusader, Andrea has worked to have condoms distributed at West Beverly High; answered calls to a rape crisis hotline; and, thanks to Carteris herself, been an interpreter for the deaf.

Years ago, said Carteris, she had learned American Sign Language and once planned to be a teacher for the deaf.

"I had read Helen Keller's autobiography," she said. "I met a girl when I was in third grade. Kids were beating her up -- she was deaf -- so I walked her home. Her parents were deaf and they gave me the alphabet on a card. I learned it and taught my friends how to do the alphabet -- which was outlawed in our school because we used to talk to each other in class.

"When I went to junior high, a deaf school opened near my school and I became a volunteer there. The kids taught me how to sign. Then when I went to high school, where they started mainstreaming -- putting kids from the deaf school into the hearing school -- so I became their translator. When I went to college, I studied linguistics and language development in deaf children."

Carteris said she appreciates Fox executives' interest in cultivating new talent and supporting the shows, particularly "90210" and "Melrose Place," also created by Darren Star.

"Any other network would have dropped us," she said. "Our ratings were so low. They really held on to us and allowed us to develop and to find a voice. They've done that with 'Melrose,' and I think that 'Melrose' will be successful because of that."

"Melrose Place" may have the wrong address, however, with a season-to-date rank of 101 out of the top 123 shows in ratings. "90210" ranks 60th.

When "90210" ends, Carteris sees possibilities for work in television and film and on the stage. "I love stage," she emphasized. "I love the classics ... I would love to do a really powerful woman" and suggested Joan of Arc.

That's not to knock the medium that gave her fame, of course.

"Television is a very gratifying medium," she said. "Now, a lot of actors might not say that, but I love the intimacy that television offers. I think there's a lot you can do with a camera and editing. I like the whole dynamic of what television is about -- it's just film, basically.

"Stage is all real; it's just as honest except it's bigger. I love stage, I love TV and film, so I think I'll just keep exploring and try to keep a really full picture. What I really want to do is explore and develop new characters, and I want to do that in all the different mediums that there are."

Last year she squeezed in a role in Brian de Palma's theatrical film, "Raising Cain," while she was on hiatus from "90210."

And she admits she'd like to have her own TV series.

"I'm willing to try everything. And I'm not one who needs to be a beautiful actor. I would much rather do something that's offbeat. I think more women's roles have to be written that way. You meet people who say, 'I want to be a star,' and that's never been an aspiration. For me, an aspiration is to be respected by my peers, people in the industry."

But in the present, Carteris relishes working on "90210."

"I'm very proud to be on the show," she said. "To be an actor working is a very exciting experience, but to be able to feel proud of what you're doing is reaching another level. There are times when I've worked on things, but it's not something that I want to look at and say, 'This is what I do.' I feel like on this show I can do that."

On the show, she said, "I have an established role, so there are definitely things they let Andrea do, but they will always be similar in terms of her character. So if I'm doing this predominantly, I'd like to do something that's wild and sharp and different.

"I wish I had time to take acting classes. I think that the process never stops, and with a class, you can experiment with different kinds of characters. Just to exercise myself.

"I like to do a lot of things," she said. "Life is very short. I resent when people say they're bored. I feel like saying, 'Well, I'll take the extra time that you don't know what to do with.' I've got a lot to do."