At last! A beauty who owns up to it. "Seriously," he says, "I guess I was a little on the pretty side growing up. I had a lot of hair, and people thought I was one of the Jackson Five. I knew I was good-looking when I was a kid because my sister [Megan] wanted to marry me every weekend. I promised her if she'd bake me a cake, I'd get married to her. So I got a lot of practice early." But the bachelor has not pushed matrimony past child's play. After earning a B.A. in economics from Columbia University and working briefly as a budget analyst for the City of New York, he established himself in modeling and TV before breaking through in New Jack City
as costar and director. He's now collaborating with his dad, Melvin, also an actor-/director, on a romantic thriller tentatively titled Obsession
. Growing up in Europe, he says, he never thought much about race. "My dad was dark and my mom [photographer Maria Marx, who is white] was light, but it was no big deal over there." When he came to the States at age 8, "I really dug Bogart and wanted to be him. Then I saw the black butler come in, and I switched channels." Now, he says, "my goal is to go beyond the white-black trip and be a human director. The key is to have a sense of humor about it." Which he does, even about himself. Maybe all the work Van Peebles has been doing is just his way of taking some old, deflating advice. "I had a girlfriend, and I told her once, 'Baby, I want to sleep my way to the top.' She looked at me and said, 'Take it from me, baby. Work on your acting.' "