Karyn L. Barr
September 24, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Shane West is about to be put through bloody hell. As the tall, dark, and broody actor preps for his first trauma on NBC’s medical power-house, ER, there’s one teeny-tiny — okay, big! — problem that needs a cure, stat: his fear of blood. ”I’m seriously squeamish when it comes to that stuff,” confesses West. ”If it’s real, I’d probably pass out. So I’m just hoping that since it’s fake, I might be able to get through the shoot . . . maybe.”

It’s an inconvenient phobia considering the 26-year-old will likely be knee-deep in schmutz, goo, and multisyllabic medical substances during his regular stint as Dr. Ray Barnett — a first-year resident with a penchant for punk rock, tattoos, and girls. ”He is every bit as charming as he is mysterious,” explains West. ”[Ray’s] the guy who will come in, mess with all the other characters, and generally spice things up.”

Portraying a pot-stirring badass is hardly a stretch for the Baton Rouge, La., native, who started acting at 15 with bit parts in shows like Picket Fences and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. in 1999, West’s rabble-rousing potential really gained notice when he starred as the pot-smoking Eli Sammler on ABC’s critically acclaimed yet prematurely canceled Once and Again. Big-screen turns as the accordion-playing hottie-next-door in 2000’s Whatever it Takes and as Mandy Moore’s love interest in the 2002 tearjerker A Walk to Remember further solidified West’s status as a teen heartthrob — a term that still doesn’t sit well with the self-professed dork. ”I hate that s—,” says West. ”I get labeled all the time. If you’re brooding, you get labeled that way. If you wear nail polish and have an attitude, people think you’re a bad boy. But I think of bad boys as lost causes, and I’m definitely not a lost cause.”

Apparently not, being that ER‘s producers are counting on West to breathe some life into the Emmy-winning drama as it starts its 11th season, and possibly fill the scrubs of Noah Wyle, who has said he’ll depart after this season. ”Shane’s the perfect choice,” says exec producer Dee Johnson. ”With Abby [Maura Tierney] and Neela [Parminder Nagra] already aboard as interns, we knew we wanted a guy. [Dr. Barnett] is so dynamic, he’ll keep you on your toes.” West, meanwhile, is just happy to work on a project that doesn’t make him feel like he is ”selling my soul . . . I can’t walk down the halls with a backpack on my shoulders anymore,” admits the actor, who took last year off to tour with his yet-to-be-signed punk band, Jonny Was. ”I’m 26 — I can’t be that guy anymore. I think it’s safe to say that my days in teen roles are over.”

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