If The Terminator can become the governor of California, why can't RoboCop embrace academia? Yes, that was RoboCop himself sans body armor and face shield discussing ancient Roman architecture on the History Channel's Sept. 5 documentary Rome: Engineering an Empire. Robo's qualification? Peter Weller, the 58-year-old actor who portrayed him in the 1987 film and its 1990 sequel, moonlights as a literature and fine arts teacher at Syracuse University in New York.
Having studied literature and music as a North Texas State University undergrad in the late 1960s, Weller, who has harbored a lifelong interest in art history and Rome, went to Syracuse's Florence campus in 2001 for five months of intensive graduate work. ''It busted my ass,'' he says. ''At the end, I figured I'm not going to [finish the program], I'm going to go get my seven figures from Showtime [to star in the series Odyssey 5].''
As it turned out, the day he was planning to leave Florence, he got a plum offer to serve as a teacher's assistant to Syracuse's Michelangelo scholar Robert Hatfield, and Weller eventually earned his master's degree in Renaissance Art History in 2004. While he was still studying for his master's, the school offered him a job teaching a seminar on ''whatever I wanted.'' These days, his ''Hollywood and the Roman Empire'' class fills up quickly though not everyone sticks around for the long haul when they see they'll have to slog through Homer, Plutarch, and other not-so-breezy reads in addition to watching the films those classics inspired. ''It's fun, but it's work,'' says Weller, who, in between filming the upcoming action flick Prey and taking occasional directing gigs (he will helm an episode of the new UPN drama Sex, Love, and Secrets), is applying for Ph.D. candidacy at Princeton, Columbia University, NYU, and UCLA. ''It ain't just seeing some movies and getting an easy A from old Robo.''