”Do you mind if we say grace?” asks Now and Again’s Eric Close, sitting down to lunch in his trailer. ”I gotta remember where I came from.”
This is one actor who knows that pride goeth before the fall. After starring in several short-lived series (including NBC’s Dark Skies and CBS’ The Magnificent Seven) and a pack of forgettable TV movies (like 1995’s Tiffani-Amber Theissen vehicle The Stranger Beside Me), Close, 32, has finally found TV’s promised land as Now’s Michael Wiseman, an Everyman whose brain is transplanted into a bionic crime fighter’s body. Deftly negotiating Now’s blend of romance (there he is pining for his not-quite-widowed wife, Lisa) and action (look at him scaling buildings and dangling bad guys out of windows) with a smart-aleck wit, soulful charm, and a bod that makes the Six Million Dollar Man look like chump change, Close gives such a compelling performance, it raises the question: Why isn’t this guy already famous?
Creator Glenn Gordon Caron wondered just that at Close’s audition. ”I said, ‘Who are you? What have you done?’ He told me and I said, ‘How come you aren’t a bigger deal?”’ remembers Caron. ”He seemed to have the goods. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t hit. I thought, Okay, I’ll take advantage of that.”
Born in Staten Island, N.Y., and raised in California, Close attended USC before getting a break with a 1991 MacGyver guest shot. A 1992 stint on the doomed soap Santa Barbara began his cancellation-ridden TV career, but even repeatedly being the victim of network dramacide—1994’s McKenna was yanked after three episodes—hasn’t made the preternaturally cheerful actor cynical. ”In this business, you have to have an adventurous sense of spirit,” he says. ”You show up, you do 110 percent, and that’s all you can do. I can’t make people watch.”
Au contraire, my good man. Now is tied for first in its Friday-at-9 p.m. time slot in adults 18-49—quite a shot in the arm for the Medicare-demo network. ”A lot of the promotion has been about how the character is the ‘perfect creation,”’ says Close sheepishly. ”But he’s got a regular guy’s brain, and I think that’s what people are interested in.” Translation: ”I’m just trying to avoid the ‘hunk’ question.” Well, let’s let costar Margaret Colin (she plays Wiseman’s wife) handle the praise: ”He’s charming and personable, genuinely concerned for other people,” she says. ”He also knew my work and was smart enough to flatter me. I admire that in a fella.”
Now that he’s entered hit-series territory, Close is facing new challenges, like relocating his family—wife Keri and 1-year-old daughter Katie—from Los Angeles to New York, where Now shoots. ”The biggest adjustment is living vertically,” he says. Then there’s the strict diet-and-exercise regimen required to pull off the ideal-specimen physique. We’re talking daily two-hour workouts, protein drinks, and constant body-image anxiety. ”In the next episode, I have to be in a Speedo,” moans the actor, who lost 15 pounds on a crash diet in the nine days between his audition and the start of shooting. ”I’m dreading it.”
Which would explain Close’s doleful expression after lunch as he peruses a formidable spread of cookies, donuts, and sweets. “I’m definitely not a superhero when it comes to the craft-services table,” he says, reaching into a basket of candy. “This is Dove chocolate,” he continues, lovingly fingering the foil-wrapped treat. “And this is my favorite,” he breathes, holding a bite-size Butterfinger before forlornly tossing it back. Alas, Eric Close has finally learned the price of fame: zero percent body fat.