Data Annex

Actor beats series tedium -- and baddies under new ID each week

By Bob Thomas
Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Is it an actor's dream to play a different character in each episode of a television series? Or is it a nightmare?

For Michael T. Weiss of ``The Pretender,'' at least, it couldn't be more of a blessing. He has known the tedium of playing the same character day after day, week after week for six years as Dr. Mike Horton on the long-running soap ``Days of Our Lives.''

``The Pretender,'' which earlier this month won a renewal for its second season on NBC, has one of those far-out premises that seem to work for TV audiences.

Jarod Russell was a prodigy who was taken from his parents and trained to be a supermind at a shadowy think tank, the Centre. The adult Jarod -- Weiss, natch -- escapes from the Centre and hides from his pursuing master by assuming new identities. As a doctor, lawyer, airline pilot, whatever, he seeks justice for those who have been wronged.

Having been misused by the infamous Centre, he can tell the victims, ``I feel your pain.''

That feeling is enhanced by a relentless pursuit of Jarod each week by operatives of the Centre. But, just ahead of capture, he turns the tables on evildoers seemingly beyond the law. (Does this sound like ``The Fugitive'' serving as a one-man ``Mission: Impossible?'')

Even though ``The Pretender'' had been performing adequately in its time slot of 9 p.m. EDT Saturdays, Weiss wasn't certain of a second-season pickup.

``In the world of entertainment, there's never a sure thing,'' he said warily. ``Any gift you get along the pike is great.''

``I think next year we're going to push the envelope a little more than we did this year,'' he said. ``I think the season will be edgier and darker.''

There's no concern about running out of jobs or professions.

``To Jarod,'' he noted, ``every world is exciting.''

The series has proved an education for Weiss as well.

``I try to have an expert in each field on every show. Of course, being a genius helps. I.Q. off the map -- that's why they hired me,'' Weiss explained, completely deadpan.

Like John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Chris O'Donnell and so many other current stars, Michael T. Weiss is a Chicagoan. He started his career as a child in TV commercials, and studied at the Second City workshop in high school. He came to Los Angeles in 1980.

``When I was a kid, I used to have a sign in my room that said `California,' '' he said. ``It was like manifest destiny. I knew I was going to end up there.

``I had some lean years. Macaroni and cheese became my best friends. But I was like Jarod -- I was very innovative, had many professions. I was a private trainer. I worked in an electronics store, in a zipper factory. I did anything to make money.''

Meanwhile, he enrolled as a drama student at the University of Southern California, where he graduated along with Ally Sheedy, Anthony Edwards and Forrest Whitaker. His first break came in 1984 with ``Days of Our Lives.''

In prime time, he appeared in two short-lived series -- ``Dark Shadows'' and ``2000 Malibu Road'' -- and such TV movies as ``The Great Los Angeles Earthquake'' and ``Take My Daughter, Please.''

Weiss also has delved in the independent movie world with ``Jeffrey,'' and ``Freeway.''

If ``The Pretender'' has legs, as they say in the trade, Weiss wouldn't mind a long run.

``The interesting thing about my character is that Jarod is innocent,'' he said. ``So he's learning. I think as the show gets older and Jarod gets older, he's going to become less innocent. He'll become a little cynical and look at the world as we do.''

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This page last updated September 25, 1999