Mane Man

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

DON'T CALL DIEGO SERRANO THE Latino Fabio. He hates it. Sure, he has a pumped-up physique, camera-ready cheekbones and, most dramatically, the Hair, every bit as long, tangled and expertly tossed as that not-to-be-mentioned Italian blond's.

But Serrano, 21, who plays Tomas on NBC's Another World, wants to be more than just another leonine wonder. "I want to do feature films," he says. As Tomas, a teenage father in love with one woman and wed to another with whom he has a small child, Serrano is already a soap heartthrob. "Diego is good-looking—that's important—and he's intelligent," says World's supervising producer Meg Beliveau. "The audience is responding to that."

Born in Quito, Ecuador, Serrano moved at age 12 to San Diego with his father, Herman, an engineer; his mother, Susana; and his four siblings. He spoke no English, but, as he says, "you pick things up." He did much of his communicating via sports or, rather, his sport: soccer. "He was kicking a soccer ball before he took his first step," says his mother. At 17, he passed on playing semiprofessionally in Europe, moving instead to L.A. the next year to try acting. He had already been cast in Gloria Estefan's "Seal Our Fate" video. There followed a 2½-year gig as a VJ on Telemúsica, a Spanish-language, MTV-like show. Then came his World role.

When not being Tomas, Serrano lives in a studio apartment—decorated in neo-bachelor-pad style with a loft bed and a Picasso bullfighter print—in Manhattan with Sparky, the dalmatian he rescued from the ASPCA last month. "Isn't he cute?" Serrano asks. "Isn't he adorable?" He leans close. "Sparky," he says, "do I look like Fabio?"

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