One morning in the spring of 1999, Richard T. Jones was pumping iron at a Hollywood gym when he got the call: His audition for the new CBS drama Judging Amy had been moved from 2 p.m. to right now. "So I went there in cutoff shorts and a bandanna," Jones, 29, recalls, "and I'm like, 'There's no way I'm gonna get this role.' "

Not only did Jones land the part of stoic court officer Bruce Van Exel, but he quickly earned the respect of his castmates. "Richard is an amazing combination of masculine and feminine," says the show's star, Amy Brenneman, 36. "He's so manly, but he can also talk about emotions."

Jones's sensitivity training began early, at age 10, when his father, Clarence, then a coach for the Atlanta Braves, and his mother, Lorene, a computer analyst, divorced. Jones and his brother Clarence Jr., now 35 and a high school basketball coach, began shuttling between homes in Atlanta and California. "It was tough," says Jones. "I would have a best friend for a year, and then I'd move." After a year at Tuskegee University in Alabama, he headed for Hollywood in 1992, getting his big break playing Ike Turner Jr. in 1993's What's Love Got to Do with It.

Luckily, love had everything to do with it in 1994, when he met Nancy Robinson, now 35, waitressing in an L.A. restaurant. Wed in October 1996, they share a three-bedroom home in L.A. with daughters Aubrey, 2, and Sydney, 18 months. "I had no choice," says Nancy with a laugh. "He was such a bad tipper, I had to marry him to get my money back."