Michael T. Weiss may be the star of The Pretender (Saturdays, 8 P.M./ET), but he has no interest in pretense. Four seasons into the NBC series, the 38-year-old leading man could easily afford a lavish pad, yet he still lives in the same fixer-upper he moved into when he was a struggling actor in the '80s. Some of his clothes date to the '70s, his politics to the '60s and his neighborhood -- funky Venice, the Southern California bech haven filled with skaters, artists, activists and Hell's Angels -- seems far removed from the hollywood machine and the prying eyes of the media.
For Weiss, self-protection means few, if any, talk-show appearances, star-studded parties, premieres, or any other events patrolled by paparazzi. He has never been seen seriously dating anyone in public. In fact, Weiss just might possess the lowest profile of any star currently fronting a long-running series. "I became and actor to move people," he says. "I did it to entertain, to inspire, not so people could pick through my garbage or nose around in my private life to find out who's zooming whom. It's nobody's business who I'm zooming."
Weiss swears his reluctance to hype Pretender "is no reflection on how I feel about the show. In fact, I wake up every morning saying, 'My God, I have the best job on TV!' Creatively speaking, no actor has it better than I do." He play Jarod, a genius with the ability to masterany ocupation, a man forever on the run from the Centre, a shadowy organization that raised him as a sheltered captive. Weiss assumes an endless array of personae (nuclear scientist, animal wrestler, airline pilot, white supremacist) in an anthology format that is alternately comic, romantic, scary and emotional. Among the most popular conceits of the series is Jarod's introduction to expereinces most of us take for granted -- Oreo cookies, Wheel of Fortune and, yes, sex.
"We auditioned hundreds for the role but Michael was Jarod," says Pretender cocreator and executive producer Steven Long Mitchell. "He was both light and dark, happy and tormented. You could see the child in his eyes." The suits at NBC wanted a big name for the part, but Mitchell and partner Craig Van Sickle stoof firm. Says Mitchell, "we told them that is they didn't see in Michael what we saw, there was no reason to do the show."
Raised in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook (his dad is a steel-industry exec, his mom is a homemaker), Weiss split town after high school to study theatre at the University of Southern Califronia, where his classmates included Ally Sheedy, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards. After a pay-the-rent stint as a personal trainer (his clients included James Brolin and Pierce Brosnan), he landed his first gig in 1985, palying the achingly sweet Dr. Mike Horton on Days of Our Lives. Weiss quit the daytime soap in 1990, moving on to the equally sudsy prime-time series Dark Shadows (1991) and 2000 Malibu Road (1992). Both flopped, but Weiss learned how to roll with the career punches.
"The day may come when I won't act," claims Weiss, who recently directed his first Pretender episode. "I think it would be lovely to get really fat and not worry about anything but being behind the camera." Never married, Weiss sidesteps the issue of romance, stating only, "I certainly plan to have children one day and, when I do, I will teach them respect for the planet and the future." He says his home is chemical-free; he uses only minimal electricity and dries a Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that gets 700 miles per tank. He peppers his rhetoric with queries like, "Do we really need a Starbucks on every corner?" and, "Is it really important to have blue toiler water?" Catching himself at one point, he says with a laugh, "I am not perfect, and don't pretend to be."
Weiss, who shared onscreen kisses with Steven Weber (Wings) in the film "Jeffrey" (1995), clearly relishes an occasional walk on the wild side, and indie filmmakers have obliged: In two upcoming films, "Net Worth" and "Freeway II: Confessions of a Trick Baby", he'll be seen, respectively, as a womanizing boozer and a cocaine dealer. "I don't judge," says Weiss. "The world has a huge range of humanity, and I want to play it all. I am fascinated by people."
That said, he is a mystery even to the Pretender cast. Andrea Parker, who plays the series' Emma Peel-esque villain, Miss Parker, declined to be interviewed for this article, stating through a publicist that she didn't feel she knew Weiss well enough to comment. Jon Gries, who plays the Centre's computer geek, Broots, says: "We rarely see Michael because we rarely have scenes with him. We're a family, but we think of him as our wayward brother."
Weiss feels no obligation to be otherwise. "I didn't set out in life with a plan to be evasive," he says. "It's just that in my perfect, ideological world, my work should be ehough." Then he flashes a wicked grin and adds, "I'll write my autobiography when I'm dead."
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This page last updated May 11, 2000.