IT 7th Friend PAUL RUDD
AGE 34 WHY HIM? He romanced our favorite Friend, Phoebe, in the show's best plotline this season, while maintaining big-screen indie cred in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things. ...AND BECAUSE HE'S MODEST ''Joining Friends was terrifying. It was a convention that I was unfamiliar with, and it was a show that the entire world was superfamiliar with. People in Bangladesh have seen it.'' FRIEND HE'D MOST LIKE TO DATE ''Gunther,'' says the hetero, but homo-friendly, Rudd (see The Object of My Affection). OKAY, BUT TECHNICALLY GUNTHER'S NOT A FRIEND ''Phoebe. I like her eccentricity, her free spirit.'' WORST JOB Costarring in an educational film about sexual molestation. ''The director wanted to do a take where I talk about Jesus -- all of this was kept from me when I signed on. I wouldn't do it, and he threw the 'You'll never work in this town again.' I'm Jewish -- I'm not going to say that stuff.'' INFLUENCES ''I'd like to have the acting equivalent of Elvis Costello's or Tom Waits' career -- navigating a life where art and commerce don't have to go together.'' MORE LOWBROW, PLEASE ''A few months ago a buddy said, 'Let's watch American Idol.' I wound up almost being late for my flight. I got totally sucked in.'' NEXT At least five episodes of Friends in the fall. What WE'D LIKE TO SEE NEXT A reunion with Clueless costar Alicia Silverstone on her new NBC show, Miss Match. ''Yeah,'' Rudd says. ''I'd do that.''
IT Undercover Lover MICHAEL VARTAN
AGE 34 WHY HIM? Vartan's studly yet sensitive portrayal of agent Michael Vaughn on ABC's wham-bam-glam spy drama Alias has viewers fantasizing about having him as their personal ''handler.'' The French-born actor is even man enough to admit that he had no frickin' clue what happened on the show's complicated finale. ''I was like, Oh, my God, what the hell is going on now? They're chasing who to get what?'' IF HE WEREN'T ACTING, HE'D BE... ''It would definitely have to be something that doesn't require a diploma, because I don't have one.'' WORST JOB Vartan would rather undergo teeth-pulling torture than cough up the movie responsible for ''the worst experience I've ever had.'' (His big-screen resume includes The Pallbearer, Never Been Kissed, and a direct-to-video romance called It Had to Be You.) But he adds: ''The finished product was probably the worst movie ever made by any human being.'' WHY HE MIGHT WANT TO INVEST IN A MR. COFFEE When dealing with fans, Vartan says, ''There are times when it gets a little out of control, like if you're at Starbucks and there's a group of 15-year-old girls. [There's] pictures and autographs and a lot of loud giggling. It's fine, but before you've had your coffee at 8 o'clock in the morning -- oh, boy.'' NEXT During his Alias hiatus Vartan hopes to squeeze in a lot of pickup hockey and guitar playing (he writes his own songs). He also plans to find a new house, a new car, and a dog -- either ''a mutt with floppy ears'' or a Labrador.