In a plain T-shirt and shades, actor Ian Gomez looks as nondescript as the other burger-loving patrons waiting for tables at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank, except for one thing: the small leather pouch hanging around his neck. ''I keep losing my beeper, so I have to wear it,'' he explains. ''I'm like a cow with a bell.''
He can't afford to misplace the gadget; these days, paging Ian Gomez is a popular TV-producer pastime. When the New York native isn't playing Danny, the sensitive sidekick to Norm Macdonald's buffoonish incarnation on ABC's Norm, he's JavierFelicity's fey, heavily accented Dean & DeLuca manager whose droll exchanges with the titular heroine give the WB drama some much-needed levity.
''People come up and say, 'Hey, I know you!''' he says. ''They're middle-aged women and big burly guys. They say, 'Don't tell anyone, but I watch Felicity, and I think it's great.'''
After relocating from Chicago five years ago with his wife, actress Nia Vardalos, Gomez, 34, spent a year in the audition mill before landing a recurring role on The Drew Carey Show in 1995. There Gomez displayed his comedic goods, especially in the sitcom's Full Monty tribute (he was the well-endowed showstopper). ''Getting the body makeup painted on by two guys smoking cigarettes,'' he notes, ''was more embarrassing than the actual shot.''
In 1998 his beeper hit overdrive: Carey creator Bruce Helford recruited him for Norm soon after Felicity's casting director had come calling. Series creator J.J. Abrams knew he had his coffee king after one audition. ''He brought such comedic life to the page that it was a no-brainer,'' Abrams says. ''Ian's able to make Javier a character, not a caricature.''
That's because the spastic, bespectacled Spanish character has long been brewing in Gomez's mind. ''My mom used to run these group therapy sessions,'' he says. ''There was this guy [who'd] come over and bang on the door at all hours.'' At this point, he breaks into Javier's trademark accent, saying '''Pauline, Pauline, Pauleeeene! I bought drugs againI've got to flush them down the toilet!'''
Then, as if on cue, a high-pitched beeping interrupts the talk. ''I gotta return this page,'' he says sheepishly. ''Do you mind?'' Go right ahead, Ian. We'll finish your fries.