Tony Longo Tackles the Movies After a Rabid Climb Up the Heap as a Linebacker on TV's 1st & Ten

updated 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Stanislavsky has his methods, but, when it comes to landing a part, so does actor Tony Longo. Take, for example, his audition to play Mad Dog, the crazed linebacker on HBO's hit series 1st & Ten. For starters he popped a raw egg in his mouth and ejected it on the producer's rug. Then the 6'6", 265-lb. actor punched through a wall, ranted at the ceiling for a couple of minutes and stormed out of the room. When an assistant ran after Longo to tell him he got the part, the Incredible Bulk told him to take the job and shove it. Explains Longo: "I wanted the part, but I was still in character."

Longo's portrayal of 1st & Ten's Jim McMahon-like wing nut has helped keep the show on TV for four years—something of a record in the erratic world of cable. Success also has allowed him to tackle movies, with a vengeance. Feds, in which he co-stars with Rebecca De Mornay, is scheduled for October release; Bloodhounds of Broadway, starring Madonna, is due later in the fall; and Worth Winning, with Mark Harmon, should follow soon after. No one is more surprised at his good fortune than Longo, 26, who has never taken an acting lesson. He does, however, have a certain undeniable energy. "I can't believe this!" he shouts, jumping to his feet in his two-bedroom apartment in L.A.'s tony Marina del Rey. "I was the kid growing up that was the pain in the neck, the one you laughed at in the supermarket!"

A natural cutup, Longo, who at 16 had already gained his full height, decided early that he liked attention. The son of a Hoboken, N.J., shipping exec, he turned down college football scholarships and moved to California at 18 to try acting. His game plan, he says, was simple: to sneak onto studio lots and make connections. "I would get up every day, five days a week, and dress up in different outfits—one day a suit, the next day a producer's warm-up outfit. I would get through the security gate by waving to the guard and holding up a script. You have to look like you know what you're doing and just keep walking until someone tells you to stop." Longo, who paid the rent with odd jobs, says his first break came in the Warner Bros, commissary, where he met somebody-who-knew-somebody who got him a bit part in the TV series Private Benjamin.

In the absence of formal training, he honed his theatrical skills through unconventional methods—like the time he wandered onto the UCLA campus and spotted a sign saying that a philosophy lecture had been canceled. Longo tore down the notice and, after the classroom filled, bombarded the students with professorial shtik. "It was great," he says. "I did it to learn improvisational things. You have to have guts to do that in front of people."

"A lot of people take [acting] so seriously," says Esai (La Bamba) Morales, a friend of Longo's. "Tony just has a good time, and he's not afraid of being a little boy."

Unmarried, Longo spends his off hours palling around with Hollywood's "pizza pack," which includes, but is not limited to, Tony Danza, Ed Marinaro and Scott Baio. He also sometimes spends weekends with terminally ill kids from various cancer treatment centers. "They teach me a lot," says Longo. "I've learned not to lie, cheat and steal because of them. I take one of these kids to a Dodgers game, and it keeps me going. You feel like you can kick ass against the world." He breaks out in a wide grin and adds, "Eventually I even want to stop cursing, but that's way off."

—By Andrew Abrahams, with Vicki Sheff in Los Angeles

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