It's been 12 years since his last American Top 40 hit and a decade since he began making headlines for his increasingly troubled personal life but George Michael is making a quietly endearing comeback stateside thanks to his offbeat appearances on ABC's legal dramedy Eli Stone. Since popping up as a singing vision to Stone's titular lawyer-prophet in the pilot, Michael has become the show's patron saint of sorts, lending his best-known hits (''Faith,'' ''Freedom 90'') to the series' trademark production numbers. ''He's the muse,'' says Stone co-creator Marc Guggenheim. ''George was part of the show from the very inception. No one else had the combination of name recognition, association with the '80s, and songs that fit the tone and the spirit of the show. We never thought that George would be interested in appearing more than once. We got really lucky.'' So lucky, in fact, that the pop star is now set to take on a rare speaking role in next Thursday's episode although the part wasn't too demanding: Michael (who has skewered his image before on shows like Extras) plays himself when he testifies on behalf of a local high school girl who is punished for playing ''I Want Your Sex'' over the loudspeaker during an abstinence-education rally. And this won't be Michael's last time on the show. ''I don't want to spoil anything,'' says Guggenheim, ''but I will tell you that in the final episode, Eli asks him if he's God.'' (Funny, we used to wonder the same thing back in high school.) Michael called EW from his home in England to chat about his work on the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you first get involved with Eli Stone?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Apparently, when this was originally presented to [my agents], they said that I wouldn't be interested. Which is strange, because when it was offered to me, I thought, ''Yeah, that's gonna be fun.''
You were okay with being portrayed as a star of the '80s?
It's very flattering. The fact that I've not been present in America for so long makes me a novel choice. I'm cool with it because I only have to deal with it in America. I'm not a novelty act from the '80s in most parts of the world. And it's a very charming show. It's genuinely funny and genuinely sad.
And you're actually going to act in the next episode. What was that like?
The first day was a bit of a nightmare, because I did say to the director, ''Do me a favor. On my first day, please don't try to ease me in with three- or four-word lines.'' And sure enough, the first day, my first sentence was like three words long [laughs]. I could feel there was genuine panic going on among [the crew] because people were thinking, ''Oh no! He's not going to be able to do it!'' And then the second day, the minute they gave me a monologue, I was comfortable.
Do you think you'll do this again?
I really have no plans for any kind of career in TV or anything, but if I wanted to become good at it, I could. But I don't really think it's in the cards.
But you had a good time doing it?
Yeah, it was great. And it was really flattering that they had enough confidence in me to write an episode for me actually acting. So many people in my position have done it so badly!
Did you have any input into your lines?
They were very flexible. They allowed me to change my dialogue to stuff I would really say rather than something completely scripted.
So clearly this wasn't just an acting gig to you.
No. I thought, if you're going to do something that's so visible and take a chance that you might be absolutely crap, then you should at least have the opportunity to think, ''Well, there was a good reason to do it.''
Did you worry that you were going to be crap?
Oh yeah. And actually, when they came over to show me the initial cut, I had to watch it from the other end of the room because I really couldn't bear it. I don't have joy in watching myself, whereas, actually, I quite like listening to my own music.