Cover Story

Faces to Watch

Beth Ehlers, Rob Schneider, and other newcomers who are hot on television

What Ernest Hemingway wrote about going broke also applies to overnight success: It happens two ways — gradually and then suddenly. It may be true that the vast majority of the actors, musicians, writers, artists, and comedians we've included in our 1991 class of faces to watch have put in years of private, unheralded labor before landing on the cusp of celebrity. But it's equally a fact of fame that one day you don't have it, and the next you do — somebody has heard of you, somebody knows your name, somebody wants you. On the following pages is a torrent of talent and a plentitude of potential, along with some advice to this year's newly minted successes on what to do after getting a foot in the door, and how to avoid becoming that evil twin of a promising newcomer: the fading star. We wish them all the luck they deserve.

Tommy Davidson
Some comedians have rubber faces; Tommy Davidson's is made of Silly Putty, and when it twists, stretches, and picks up an impression, no star remains unburned. In two seasons on Fox's skit-comedy hit In Living Color, Davidson has turned his fun-house mirror of a mug into a hyperactive Spike Lee, a trouser-tangled M.C. Hammer, and a Sugar Ray Leonard whose tongue bobs and weaves through every sentence. On the road, where the 26-year-old performer does up to three shows a night, three weekends a month, his range extends from Anita Baker (whose concerts he once opened) to Scooby-Doo. Davidson was a struggling bassist and part-time cook when a friend urged him to try comedy five years ago; his first stint was in a Washington, D.C., topless bar ''while the ladies took their breaks.'' Before Color resumes production, Davidson will make his film debut in Island Pictures' fall comedy Go Beverly, dub voices for NBC's cartoon series Kid 'n Play, tape his second solo special for Showtime, and squeeze in as many live shows as he can. ''I want to be a well-rounded entertainer,'' he says of the relentless schedule. ''I worked hard to get to work this hard.'' — Mark Harris

Margaret Welsh
Maybe someday Margaret Welsh will get to play a woman who wears up-to-the- minute underwear, but not so far. After a brief part as the sullen daughter in the '40s-era Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, she's edging forward — but only to 1953 — as the niece of murderer Mark Harmon in CBS' remake of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (April). As her resumé grows, the only downside, she jokes, is that ''I can't get out of these goddamn girdles and corsets to save my life. But there was a particular shape these women had, and to get that shape, you have to wear some heavy underwear. It helps me get into the persona — it influences the way they move.'' The New Yorker isn't complaining, nor does she mind that her all-American looks are still winning her adolescent roles at age 24. ''I like playing 16. You don't have to make any excuses for your behavior.'' — Mark Harris

Miguel Ferrer
You couldn't call Miguel Ferrer's breakthrough typical: After last winter's cop series Broken Badges was canceled, he recalls, ''I lost my job, my girlfriend and I broke up, and, really hardest of all, my dog died.'' Other than that — no joke — it's been a very good year. After years as ''the heroin addict or the rapist or the guy who blows up the convent,'' Ferrer, 35, caught the eye of David Lynch, who cast him as Twin Peaks' Albert Rosenfield, the first sarcastic pacifist forensic pathologist in TV history. With a brilliant mind and a mouth that leaves tire tracks on its victims, Albert is a grown-up, ferocious Bart Simpson — overachiever, and proud of it — and Ferrer's deadpan, machine-gun delivery has made him a cult delight. Now, Ferrer, the son of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, plans to star next season in Lynch's prospective ABC comedy On the Air, about TV's early days. He's also taking care of Sammy, his 3-month-old bull terrier puppy. ''Unconditional love,'' he says with Albert- esque terseness. ''There's nothing like it.'' — Mark Harris

Ron Schneider
If Rob Schneider were to introduce himself, it might sound like this: ''Robbbbb. The Robman. Rob-o-cop. First-degree Robbery with intent to Schneider... '' Less than a year after joining NBC's Saturday Night Live, the San Francisco native has become what every cast member hopes to be: a national joke. Schneider's ticket to fame this season has been Rich (a.k.a. the Copy Machine Guy), a desperately lonely office drone who tortures the name of anyone within reach (''Steeeeve. Making copies! The Stevester! Steve-a-rama. Steve-a-ramavich... '') Rich's first victim was guest host Sting, who was so tickled that he sent the cast a card inscribed: ''From the Stingmeister, Der Stinglehoffer, Sting-a-ling-a-dingdingding.'' Rich's second appearance was so successful that executive producer Lorne Michaels joked that Dana Carvey's Church Lady had just become obsolete. After that, only the start of the ground war could knock Schneider off the air. (In a vetoed sketch, he was supposed to haunt the President: ''Buuuuush. The Bushman. Bushman making copies! Prince George of Bushlandia...! '') ''All of my characters are annoying but likable,'' says the 27-year-old Schneider, who honed a stand-up act for seven years before moving East, and developed Rich by needling fellow writer-performer Adam Sandler (''Adammmmm''). ''I just didn't know anyone would relate to this one.'' — Mark Harris

Beth Ehlers
As The Guiding Light's willful and outspoken Harley Cooper Spaulding, 22-year-old Beth Ehlers has already given birth to an illegitimate child, married and divorced the scion of the wealthiest family in the fictional town of Springfield, and nearly married her ex-lover's stepfather. That Ehlers has made all of this believable is a tribute to the quirky immediacy she brings to her character. This role isn't the first that she has sunk her teeth into. She made a memorable film debut at age 13 in the vampire flick The Hunger, playing a music student victimized by bloodsucker David Bowie. ''People used to trap me in the bathrooms at clubs and say my lines to me,'' she recalls. ''It became a cult thing.'' Off-camera life has been equally interesting. Ehlers left her New York home at 16 after a financial dispute with her parents. After a year at Syracuse University, she landed the CBS soap in 1987. Like Harley, she has come a long way; her relationship with her folks, she says, is ''better.'' And in June she plans to marry a medical student. So what is her favorite soap for home viewing? NBC's Another World. ''I think it's got some good acting on it and it's real. It's one of the better shows,'' she says. A star of one soap admitting she's a big fan of another (and one on a rival network no less) ? Sounds like something Harley would do. — Roger Friedman

Originally posted Apr 05, 1991 Published in issue #60 Apr 05, 1991 Order article reprints