Tuesday, June 19, 2001

The coolest role that Jason Gedrick has ever played is that of a loving, caring father rearing his three sons. A proud dad with lots of (though not infinite) patience, the part avoids typecasting for a man accustomed to playing tough cops and vicious gangsters.

Divorced with 50-50 custody of his boys — ages 10, 6 and 3 — and a hands-on dad, the rowdy youngsters get Mr. Gedrick´s creative juices flowing as soon as they stumble through his front door. Every day is a stretch as they plunge into uncharted waters together; every mundane day an adventure he wouldn´t trade for the male lead in a blockbuster feature film.

Mr. Gedrick, himself a child of divorce with all the baggage when he was 8 years old, knew it was going to be a rough road under the best of circumstances. Especially since his work often takes him to foreign and domestic locations far, far from home. Sometimes gone for weeks at a time, he has learned to make every moment count.

To smooth the transition from his homemaker ex-wife´s home in suburban Los Angeles, Mr. Gedrick set up his new, comfortable and definitely lived-in home nearby to make sure that the boys stay in the same schools and have easy access to their old friends. Plays and concerts are part of their routine, but everyday chores bring them all together.

“When I´m not working, we have a week-on, week-off arrangement,” says Mr. Gedrick, 36, very much a tall, dark and handsome actor moving easily between characters of Italian and Irish descent. “We have plenty of time together, there is no race to get things done. We just enjoy each other´s company. I look forward to making their pancakes and right now I´m doing a load of laundry.”

Initially worried that his children would suffer the same uncertainties he and his older two siblings went through when torn between their real estate management mother and fire captain father, Mr. Gedrick´s fears at last have been put to rest.

“My amazing 10-year-old, who probably suffered the most through the divorce, has started to write about the world around him and getting in touch with his emotions,” he sighs. “I can´t begin to describe what a relief it is.”

To pay for all the domestic bliss, Mr. Gedrick works hard on the large and small screens. The young television veteran is currently working as a regular on his sixth series, “The Beast,” a six-episode trial summer run revolving around the ambitious and aggressive Internet journalists feeding news videos to the insatiable World News Service — the Beast — 24 hours a day.

The drama, shot close to home at various downtown Los Angeles locations, stars Frank Langella as Jackson Burns, an eccentric media baron, who runs WNS with a stainless-steel fist. Violating every journalistic tenet, the boss floods every major event with a staff of well-paid and dedicated reporters — who, in turn, are covered by others as part of the story. There are minicams everywhere, including in offices, taxi cabs, purses, broom closets and bathrooms.

Featured as Reese McFadden, an ace reporter perilously close to burnout, Mr. Gedrick tops a list of highly experienced actors, including Peter Riegert (Ted Fisher), Elizabeth Mitchell (Alice Allenby) and Wendy Crewson (Maggie Steech). A man attuned to morning newspapers “reflecting a reporter´s individuality” rather than “cookie-cutter TV newscasts,” Mr. Gedrick chose not to pattern his character after anyone.

“More than anything,” he says, “I want to have fun with the guy. He evolves quickly.”

“The Beast” is a piece of cake for Mr. Gedrick, who gained a vast amount of TV series experience as a regular on “Falcone,” “Murder One,” “EZ Streets,” “Class of ´96” and “Sweet Justice” — though none of the shows lasted beyond one season. He also gained recognition as Neil Avedon, the Hollywood heartthrob murder suspect, in the high-profile miniseries “The Last Don” and “The Last Don II.” “Ally McBeal” fans remember him well as the studly stud who hooked up with Calista Flockhart in a car wash a couple of years ago. He still gets fan mail on that one.

He has no idea if “The Beast” will be a hit or a miss in the fickle television industry and, frankly, doesn´t lose any sleep over it.

“I don´t know why [bad] shows become huge hits and good ones die,” he muses. “I´m proud of everything I´ve done, but some were better than others. ‘Murder One´ was one of the great experiences of my entire career. ‘EZ Streets´ earned lots of awards. ‘Falcone´ had some great things, but may have taken a big hit when it was (aired) nine hours on eight consecutive nights. I´ll never know for sure, but it took (guts).”

Another reason why the Chicago native makes every nanosecond count with his young charges is the addition of a promising film career that includes two feature films set for release this summer. In the independent flick, “One-Eyed King,” scheduled to premiere at an Irish film festival in July, he plays an ex-junkie in New York´s Hell´s Kitchen, who steals a canoe and tries to convert it into cash. In “Summer Catch,” a Warner Bros. product scheduled for August release, he portrays Freddie Prinze, Jr.´s brother, a minor-league baseball player, trying to guide his more talented younger sibling into the majors.

Before the summer is up, Mr. Gedrick will also be seen on cable channel VH1´s anthology series, “Strange Frequency,” as a disgusting, marginally talented rock ´n´ roll star who takes advantage of a revenge-seeking groupie. A casual kiss leads to switching bodies.

“It´s ‘A Prelude to a Kiss´-kind of thing,” says the former high school footballer, who doesn´t sing particularly well. “And I got to be a rock star.”

Mr. Gedrick, who was born in Chicago´s Cook County Hospital and raised in the Uptown neighborhood, flirted with acting at Gordon Technical High School (Class of ´82) while sitting out a year with a football injury. He had a campus production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” under his belt when he was hired as perhaps a role-reversal extra to spit on Sean Penn in “Bad Boys” (1983).

It led to tiny parts in other local productions that year, including “Risky Business” and “Dr. Detroit.”

Plagued by dyslexia, Mr. Gedrick dropped out after his freshman year as a business major at Iowa´s Drake University, then gave Hollywood a good shot. The big break was a strong role in the low-budget, big-profit “Iron Eagle” (1986).

“Suddenly I had a taste of fame,” he recalls, “which I found really odd. I got fan mail from people asking me for medical advice and solving their marriage crisis.”

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