It's a Beastly Role, but Alex Daniels Plays TV's Werewolf as If It Were in His Blood

updated 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

When they aren't out snarling and maiming by moonlight, so the myth goes, werewolves are really very decent guys. It should come as no surprise, then, that beneath his furry onscreen exterior, Alex Daniels, who plays the lead beast on Fox Broadcasting's Werewolf series, is about as nice as they come. He doesn't drink or smoke. He adores children and collects stuffed animals. So good-natured is he, in fact, that he actually enjoys a role that would give many a serious actor, um, paws. "I find it fun, I really do," says Daniels, 31, whose part involves mainly leaping and baring his fangs. "I try to make some realism come through, something other than just an actor in a gorilla suit."

Luckily for Daniels, nice guys don't invariably finish last. Werewolf, which chronicles the adventures of Eric Cord (John York), an average college kid who develops a mean snout and a taste for the kill whenever the moon is full, has become one of Fox's biggest hits. And in a special two-part episode, airing Feb. 21 and 28, Daniels finally gets to show his very unscary real face on camera. In addition to playing his usual role, he will appear as the mime sidekick of the show's new villain. All right, so he doesn't get to utter a word—it could still mean the start of bigger things. "Alex will probably be seen in a bigger role," says Werewolf producer John Ashley, "without his makeup, in our next batch of shows."

He could certainly use the exposure. So far his credits are small roles—playing the pirate king in an L.A. production of The Pirates of Penzance, a Greek god in a play at Burt Reynolds' dinner theater, a gas station attendant in the movie Starman and, not least of all, that brawny "man of steel" in the Hefty trash bag commercials. He can sing or walk a tightrope, should the situation demand it, and his 6'2", 185-lb. frame and megawatt grin make him a natural for TV hunkdom. "When he told me he was playing a creature in that Werewolf series," says Helen Hayes, a longtime friend, "I thought, 'Oh, that beautiful face being hidden by monster makeup!' But he's determined, and his talent will emerge."

It started emerging back in Blythe-wood, S.C., where Daniels grew up. The son of Don, co-owner of a tile company, and Kathleen, a housewife, Alex got good grades and was always a joiner, making his mark in everything from the school band to the drama group. A bit scrawny, he began pumping iron at 13 because he had "this little girlfriend in school, and this big guy liked her and threatened to beat me up." Bulking up came easily too, it turned out. Alex lost the girl, but gained a pair of perfect pecs.

At the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Daniels majored in music and theater, took up cheerleading and continued wooing the girls. One of them was a perky would-be cheerleader two years his junior named Donna Rice. "She was very outgoing, very warm, sweet and charming," he says. "We sang together in a group called 'Carolina Alive.' We toured Rumania, of all places, and it was there that Donna and I began dating. The Black Sea, Transylvania, Dracula's castle—it was a wonderful experience." Back home, Daniels taught Donna "all the acrobatic stuff that cheerleaders do," and she went on to make head of the squad. Their relationship fared less well. "It was never serious, just a college, carefree kind of thing," says Alex. "We've remained friends." (Though reluctant to discuss the Hart debacle, Daniels says, "Donna likes people, and she became a victim of the aftermath of that. I respect the way she's handled it.")

After college, Alex headed for Mexico, putting his acting ambition on hold. He spent two years setting up an arts program at the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (Our Little Brothers) orphanage in Cuernavaca, whiling away his off-hours with fellow orphanage volunteer Helen Hayes, whom he'd met when she gave his college's commencement address. "I remember wonderful luncheons at her home, where we'd spend hours talking," he says. With Hayes's encouragement, he headed for Hollywood in 1981 and has been in the business ever since.

What with the demands of a weekly TV series, Daniels has little time for leisurely lunches these days. The demise a year and a half ago of his three-year relationship with stuntwoman Karen Price "broke a big piece of my spirit," says Daniels, who now has no serious love interest. He plays beach volleyball near his Santa Monica apartment to stay in fighting trim and is open to new acting opportunities. But for now, he insists, werewolfing provides plenty to sink his teeth into. "It's a very physical role, a very demanding one. I take the show very seriously." Besides, he adds with a grin, "They pay me enough to keep me growling."

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