Posing Bareback in Sweet Sue, Texas-Bred Actor Barry Tubb Has Landed a Seat on Broadway

updated 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When actor Barry Tubb accepted his role in the Broadway play Sweet Sue, he knew he'd have to reveal more than the essence of his character on stage. Modeling nude for a drawing, he'd also have to strip in front of co-stars Lynn Redgrave and (gasp!) Mary Tyler Moore. The prospect of facing our Mary might daunt others, but it didn't faze Tubb. He sauntered into the first rehearsal with his own plan of attack. "I kicked off my boots, pulled down my pants and said, 'Okay, here it is. It's not that big a deal. Let's get on with it.' "

Such confidence has helped Tubb do just that. Having made his mark with the sensitive portrayal of Mario Thomas' gay son in the 1985 ABC drama Consenting Adult and last year as a fighter pilot trainee in Top Gun, Tubb has been steadily carving out a career in television and films, and he was not about to let fear of nudity come between him and the Great White Way. "Hey, it's in good taste," says Tubb, 24. "I keep my back to the audience, so you don't see anything but my butt." To relieve the embarrassment of baring the rest to his female co-stars, he made a joke about it. "I called it Mr. Happy," says Tubb, who drops his drawers during eight performances a week. "Mr. Happy has a mind of his own onstage. Sometimes he's sad, sometimes he's perky and sometimes he's just plumb tuckered out."

Given to antic humor, Mr. Happy's owner has endeared himself to fellow cast members. "I'm wild about Barry," says Lynn Redgrave. "I think he's going to go a long way. He's wonderfully talented and quirkily different."

Different, too, is Tubb's decorating scheme in his Manhattan apartment, which is filled with cowboy hats, Western boots and Willie Nelson and Bob Wills tapes. There's even a lariat under the couch and a bola pinned to a potted cactus—all reminders of his roots in the Lone Star State. Born in the small west Texas town of Snyder, where his father owned an oil drilling company, Barry and his three sisters played with a unique menagerie of pets—a bobcat, a fox and 12 deer, rather than just the standard dogs and cats. "It was the childhood," says Tubb. "If I ever raise a family I want it to be like that." With a makeshift rodeo arena in the front yard, Barry was roping calves and riding bulls at age 5. He began competing at 7 and continued for the next 10 years.

By 18 he had quit riding and knew he wanted to act. The day after graduating from high school in 1981, Tubb enrolled in San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. "I was the worst actor in high school," he says. "I knew I had to have a foundation before I could start building the house." Impatient for experience, he left for Hollywood a year later. His first role was in a 1983 NBC series, Bay City Blues, as a baseball pitching phenom with a drinking problem. Though the show bombed, it proved prescient: One of Tubb's scenes took place in a locker room, where he discreetly dropped a towel. Prior to disrobing for Sweet Sue, Tubb's most visible performance was in Top Gun. Like co-star Tom Cruise, Barry wanted to get a feel for flying in an F-14, so he took a ride with a Navy fighter pilot. Cruise found his excursion "the most exhilarating experience in my life." Tubb got sick. "We were going so fast we did two complete turns in a second," he says. "I lost the horizon and couldn't tell the sky from the ocean. To put it politely, I tossed my cookies."

Tubb fared better than Cruise on the ground, though—he won leading lady Kelly McGillis. The two started dating during the 1985 filming and moved in together when it was finished. It's been an on-again, off-again relationship since. "We can't live together and we can't live apart," says Barry. "Kelly is always neat, and I'm messy." While McGillis has said the relationship is over, Tubb isn't quite that definite. "I don't want to put restrictions on it. No matter what happens, we'll always be close." Though Barry has been spotted with actress Demi Moore and New York model Maria Hanson, the victim of a much-publicized slashing last June, he scotches rumors that he's dating either woman. "I'm flattered that people give an ugly Texas boy that kind of credit. Unfortunately it's not true."

His acting ambition is less disputable. "You're looking at a guy who would've been happy to be in the background of a Wheaties ad," says Tubb. "I'll play anything they let me—a snowman, a one-legged pirate, somebody's aunt. It's just one more notch in the belt." He'll be loosening that belt onstage at least through May, and he has another film, Valentino Returns, in the can. If a full work schedule makes for contented actors, then Tubb must be awfully gleeful. In fact, he has every right to call himself Mr. Happy.

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