Det. Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) saunters over to the precinct reception desk and pulls receptionist John Irvin (Bill Brochtrup) close. Their eyes meet, then their lips lock in a lingering kiss. In the background, a horrified Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) becomes noisily, violently ill. A very special episode of NYPD Blue begins.
DON'T EXPECT TO SEE THIS SCENE anytime soon. So far, it exists only in the mind of Brochtrup, 32, who has played openly gay, perpetually peppy Irvin, a recurring role on Blue, ABC's top cop drama, since last spring. "I think John has a crush on Bobby," says the actor, previously known best for his L.A. stage work. "And Blue has a reputation for being cutting edge."
Off-camera, Brochtrup is keeping his crushes to himself. He is politely, and pointedly, uninterested in discussing whether he shares his character's sexual orientation. "I'd like to think the world has moved beyond that question," he says. Brochtrup, who lives alone in a sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, does volunteer that he's not much for intimacy—period. "I don't have a strong need to be in a relationship," he insists. "A lot of people think that's strange, but I'm not unhappy."
Nor is he lonely. After a decade in L.A.—he moved there shortly after graduating with a drama degree from New York University in 1985—he has a tight group of friends for whom he regularly cooks up pots of pasta carbonara. "Bill is one of the funniest, most loving guys I know," says Melrose Place's Courtney Thorne-Smith, a pal since they met nearly 10 years ago when she dated a friend of his. "He pays attention to who you are. Bill always makes me feel more special than anyone."
Yet Brochtrup's reticence regarding personal matters is deeply ingrained. "We didn't talk about feelings in my family," says Brochtrup, who grew up in Inglewood, Calif., and, later, Bellevue and Tacoma, Wash. The family—parents Bill, 55, a retired education professor, and Carolyn, 52, a home-maker and former high school baseball coach, and sisters Laurel, 29, Wendy, 27 and Jennifer, 26—still isn't big on sharing intimacies, he says. "Questions about personal matters aren't brought up," agrees Laurel. "We don't seem to talk about anything controversial. It's all fun and games."
Brother Bill, she says, was a perfect child, smart and driven. He agrees, about the driven part anyway. "I was always very ambitious about acting," says Brochtrup, who first took to the stage "to help me break out of my shell." He spent his college years, he says, "wearing black, smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking a lot of bourbon. I thought to be artistic you had to be miserable."
After moving to L.A., he toiled at such pay-the-rent jobs as shucking oysters and serving cocktails. Soon, though, his blond good looks and easygoing manner won him gigs hawking Volkswagens and Old Style beer in commercials and playing what he calls "teenage rapists and sweet-faced maniacs" on such courtroom dramas as Divorce Court and Superior Court. But it was his 1993 L.A. stage performance as a gay model with AIDS in the drama Raft of the Medusa that led to his casting as Irvin. "Bill was simply the best actor for the part. He got it in a third of a second," says Blue co-creator and executive producer David Milch. "He has a sweetness that radiates."
Milch promises that Brochtrup's character, originally slated to appear on only two episodes, "will be part of the station house for a long time." (Whether Brochtrup will become a full-time cast member, inheriting Donna Abandando's desk when actress Gail O'Grady leaves Blue at the end of this season, remains to be seen.) For now, Brochtrup thinks his role sends a vital message: "So many other gay characters we see are suicidal or maniacal," he says. "John shows that there are nice, healthy gay people in the world."
Brochtrup is particularly happy about one recent plot development: Sipowicz, not exactly a model of tolerance, has warmed up a bit to Irvin. And Brochtrup expects that "they will become even friendlier." He pauses briefly and chuckles. "But not that friendly."
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles
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