ALL OF LIFE'S ROLES CAN BE TEDIOUS, even that of Wholesome Hunk. After doing the tall, dark and sensitive thing for the past 10 years, first as teen idol Blackie Parrish on ABC's daytime soap General Hospital, then as Uncle Jesse to three motherless girls on the same network's prime-time sitcom Full House, actor John Stamos needed a break. "I told my agent I wanted to play a murderer, a rapist or a dope addict," says Stamos, 28. "Then I found a script that had two out of three and said, 'I'll take that.' "

The double-whammy character is the real-life, strung-out kidnapper Robert Knott in Captive, an ABC movie that airs Sunday, Oct. 13 (see review, p. 15). Stamos and Chad Lowe play a pair of escaped cons who torture and brutalize a married couple (Barry Bostwick and Joanna Kerns) who run an Oregon coastal inn.

Prior to the June filming, kid-loving, shy guy Stamos says he developed his shadowy side by "staying up nights, drinking coffee, getting wired, staying on edge, doing whatever I had to do to get closer to my character." By the time he met Paul and Kathy Plunk, the couple who in 1988 actually lived the horrifying tale, Stamos had emerged with long, oily hair, a dirty beard and a gnarly, gentle-as-a-chainsaw demeanor. "I terrified them the first few days I was with them," says Stamos. "I told them to watch Full House to see that I was a normal guy."

Meanwhile, back on the sitcom's fifth season, normality proceeds apace as Stamos's TV wife, Lori Loughlin, delivers twins during a Nov. 12 hourlong special. (Stamos prepared for the event by watching childbirth videos.) Though his Uncle Jesse character started out as a bachelor, the plunge into marriage was Stamos's idea. Otherwise, he said, Jesse "would get into a bimbo-of-the-week routine, which is not very interesting, and also kind of degrading to women."

Stamos, who often complains he doesn't know "any slick opening lines" to pick up girls, only wishes life would follow art. He had several dates with Loughlin eight years ago; has dated Chelsea Noble, now the wife of Kirk (Growing Pains) Cameron; and spent most of 1990 with singer-dancer Paula Abdul. He loved Abdul because, he once said half-jokingly, "we both go to bed early and have horrible allergies." Though they still talk nearly every day, says Stamos, "the breakup's my fault. I really couldn't handle her fame and everything that surrounds it." Says Abdul: "John will always be someone I can count on. He's the funniest guy I've ever been around—and also an incredible geek."

The oldest of three children and the only son of Bill Stamos, a Greek fast-food restaurateur and his wife, Loretta, a former bathing-suit model, Stamos grew up as a middle-class drum-playing "band nerd" in Cypress, Calif., not far from Disneyland. (He still visits the theme park with young cancer victims from the Starlight Foundation.) Having decided "between the delivery room and first grade that I wanted to be an actor, I was always showing off, doing stupid stuff for laughs and getting in trouble," Stamos says.

After his debut in what he calls a "worse than terrible" school production of Our Town, Stamos, an average student, graduated from Kennedy High. He gave a moment's polite consideration to his father's request that he seek further education: "I went to Cypress Junior College to register but couldn't find the room." Instead, Dad put him to work as a cook in one of his restaurants—a chore that continued even after John won the role of Blackie on General Hospital. "I told my dad the show was No. 1, but he said he couldn't replace me," Stamos says, laughing. "So for a month and a half, I worked on Sundays, flipping burgers, taking orders and studying my script. People would come in and say, 'Aren't you the guy...?"

A hyper-hunk at 18, Stamos slid into a CBS deal after two years on GH, then failed to make a dent in two sitcom flops: the rock-oriented Dreams and You Again? which co-starred Jack Klugman. The venerable comedian, he says, "taught me acting, timing and comedy and also how to stick up for myself. Sometimes that's more important than worrying about everyone loving you."

With a sparkling reference from Garry Marshall, who had been a consultant on You Again?, Stamos landed the Full House role without an audition in 1986. "The first year, we didn't know if it was a buddy show, a kid show or what," says Stamos. "The third year we became respectable, and in the fourth season something just happened." It certainly happened in the Nielsen ratings, where Full House once vaulted to No. 4 and has remained in the Top 15 ever since.

When he checked into Full House, Stamos moved from a modest bachelor pad in Coldwater Canyon into a $1 million, trilevel, postmodern San Fernando Valley house lined with photos and shelves of biographies of his heroes: Sammy Davis Jr. (on Full House, Stamos occasionally breaks into a marvelous impression of Sammy), Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Clark Gable. There, Stamos fiddles with his drums—he has been playing since the age of 9—prepping for another one of his sporadic gigs with the Beach Boys, who had their first hit two years before he was born. "Playing with them is always a thrill, like living out my childhood dream," he says. "They were the first group I saw in concert." Says head kahuna Brian Wilson [see story, page 40] of their actor mascot: "Stamos gets screamed at by the chicks like my brother Dennis used to."

The screaming also goes on outside the valley house, where Stamos obligingly poses for weak-kneed, Instamatic-toting female fans nearly every morning. But the perfect bride still eludes him. "She'd have to be amazing and hip and also funny," muses Full House costar Dave Coulier. "She'd have to want kids. John's great with kids. If he had his own kids, then he'd leave everybody else's alone."

The big-time movie still eludes him too. His 1986 flick with the star-let Vanity, Never Too Young to Die, flashed in and out of theaters, while a biker movie, Born to Ride, is already three months late for release. Born to Ride has a hidden treasure: a one-line cameo debut by Stamos's father. "He's a neat-looking guy," says John. "And at first he said no, but then it was like, 'Okay, I'll show them where the real talent is in this family.' " But when his proud son asked him to do a Greek dance on an episode of Full House, it was more like, hey, don't call us, we'll call you. "He said no," reports Stamos, " 'I don't do TV. I'm a movie star.' "

LOUISE LAGUE
TODD GOLD in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Todd Gold.