Imagine, if you will, a television role in which the lead actor gets to play a variety of parts within the same show. For many actors, that scenario is nothing more than fantasy. But for Michael T. Weiss it's a reality.
As Jarod Russell on NBC's "The Pretender" (Saturday, 9 p.m.), Weiss plays a genius who can master virtually any skill. He uses that talent to become a one-man force for justice.
"He's a fascinating character," Weiss says. "People are always wanting to reinvent themselves. We do get locked into what we think we are. He's also a hero, and people all wish they were heroes."
In the series, Jarod was taken from his parents as a kid and spent decades in isolation under the care of the Centre, a think tank that sold the boy's mental services to the highest bidder. Now an adult, Jarod has fled the Centre and battles those who seem to be above the law.
"It's amazing the amount of characters I've played so far: a doctor, a lawyer, a virologist, a coroner, a police officer, a cowboy, a race car driver, an orchestra leader," says Weiss. "I'm having a great time. It's been a lot of fun."
Weiss broke into acting as a kid doing local commercials in his hometown of Chicago. In 1984 he took the role of Dr. Mike Horton on NBC's "Days of Our Lives."
He left the program six years later -- "Thank God, I left when I did" -- to pursue film and television work. Since then he has co-starred in NBC's 1991 remake of "Dark Shadows," CBS' short-lived 1992 drama "2000 Malibu Road" and in a handful of made-for-television movies.
Away from the small screen, he has played a promiscuous homosexual in the film "Jeffrey" and starred in the recently released film "Freeway."
"I kinda broke away from television," Weiss says. "I've sorta been working in the film world. I've done some great independent films."
Weiss says he likes the variety of roles available in the movie world, and has focused his attention there. "In television, you kind of get known as your character," he says. "In film, you get known as an actor."
Weiss fully intends to take on movie roles during the series' hiatus periods despite his time-consuming ties to "The Pretender." The workload for the lead actor on an hour-long drama is grueling, with 12-hour days considered to be on the short side. But Weiss isn't complaining.
"You've got to love what you do as an artist or you go insane," he says.
He's also not willing to get caught up in the hype of being on a well-received program on the top-rated network.
"I lost all the pressure of being an actor years ago when I realized that nothing is secure," he says. "I've been in a couple of series that were supposed to be the biggest hits of the year that weren't. I go with the flow. I found it's much easier to proceed in this business that way."
When not working on "The Pretender," Weiss doesn't have much time for hobbies, although he does spend time writing. He recently completed a play, "Streams of Consciousness," and would like to do more.
He admits that being on "The Pretender" has created opportunities for future work, although he's not letting it go to his head.
"I have a really incredible family," he says. "And a great group of friends who keep me sane. It's difficult to stay sane in the '90s."
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This page last updated September 25, 1999