Matt Dillon Isn't the Lone Star of Tex—Jim Metzler Also Shines as His Big Brother

updated 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like the adolescents in Tex—a movie he very nearly steals from his teen-cake co-star, Matt Dillon—actor Jim Metzler knows how helpful an older brother's guidance can be. Seven years ago, wondering what to do with his disorderly life, Metzler asked his own elder sibling, a lawyer, for some career advice. "The thing he was most insistent upon was my not becoming an actor," remembers Metzler, who reacted the same way Dillon does in the movie. "If he'd said it was a good idea, I probably wouldn't have done it."

It did seem a decision out of left field at the time. Metzler already had struck out as a minor league baseball player and as a small-town sportswriter. But perseverance has paid off in his third career. As Tex's Mason McCormick, a high school basketball whiz forced to assume parental responsibility for younger brother Dillon, who is cast in the title role, Metzler won over the critics. No matter that, despite a revamped ad campaign, Tex has not broken any records at the box office: The movie, based on author S.E. Hinton's 1979 novel, was considered sufficiently distinguished to become the only Disney production ever admitted to the prestigious New York Film Festival.

Metzler insists that his part "was so beautifully written it couldn't help but draw attention." Still, he worried that it might not be the right kind. For while his unlined face offers no clue to the exact number of his years (he's 31, but won't say so), the producers of Tex "were concerned about my age," he admits. His character was originally supposed to be a 17-year-old. Metzler convinced director Tim Hunter to up the age to 18. "There is a real psychological difference between 17 and 18," he explains. "It's more like being a man. I was flattered they thought I could do it, and I like playing younger."

Born in Oneonta, N.Y. to an often-moved Sears executive and a housewife, Jim grew up in towns all over the East Coast. After prepping at Pennsylvania's Hill School, he majored in English at Dartmouth College, where he got more notice for his baseball skills. Upon graduation in 1973 he was signed by the Boston Red Sox. During two unspectacular years as a pitcher for farm teams in Elmira, N.Y. and Winter Haven, Fla., Metzler managed only to earn a nickname ("Brainiac," for his Ivy League pedigree) and a reputation as a hothead ("Brainiac goes maniac," sighed a teammate as Metzler was bounced from a game for charging the ump). A subsequent year as a sports-writer in Newburgh, N.Y. proved equally inauspicious.

Finally Metzler took off on a cross-country driving trip "to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Acting was the best thing I could come up with to fill the void left by baseball. It was another sort of performing." He studied for five months at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Conn., then spent 15 months polishing his new craft in small Massachusetts theaters. "I knew there were lots of women's colleges up there," Jim grins. "I figured I'd get work and also meet some girls." He arrived in New York City in 1978 and eventually auditioned for director Arthur Penn's 1981 film of life in the turbulent '60s, Four Friends. After repeatedly reading for the part, Metzler grew glum. "There must be something I'm not showing them," he mused to his then roommate. "Yeah," his pal said. "Talent." Metzler finally did get the part, but the movie bombed. "I think people saw Four Friends on the marquee and assumed it was a very small Quaker meeting," he deadpans. But the movie did convince him he should move to Los Angeles, and only three months after his January 1981 arrival he landed his breakthrough role in Tex.

A low-key realist, Metzler remains unseduced by his sudden success. He drives a Datsun 510 and lives in a plain, sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment off Hollywood Boulevard. Two weeks ago he up and married his striking blond girlfriend, former acting classmate Marcie Fitz Maurice, in a park near L.A.'s county courthouse. "We were talking about children and...we knew, so we did it," Jim explains. "Hopefully our lives will go on the same." Although he's yet to find a follow-up role he feels worthy of Tex, he's not too worried. "I just turned one movie down last week. I don't need the money to survive right now, and I wouldn't have wanted that film to be the last movie I ever did. If my last one were Tex, though," he adds, "I wouldn't mind."

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