At Home on Roseanne

updated 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

JOHNNY GALECKI ISN'T A DWEEB, but he plays one on TV—and that greatly upsets his kid brother Nick. "Nick's in junior high," explains Galecki, 19, "and the other kids give him a hard time because his brother plays such a wimp."

The wimp in question is David Healy, the sweet-natured, sensitive, tousle-haired ex-boyfriend of sassy Darlene Conner (Sara Gilbert) on ABC's Roseanne. Last season, Darlene dumped David for another guy; now she hints she wants him back, but David is playing hard to get. His TV elders, meanwhile, find Galecki irresistible. Producer-star Roseanne praises his "great vulnerability." Agrees her onscreen mate, John Goodman: "If he was one of those little stuffed bears at a carny, he'd have a Wuv Me T-shirt on. People just want to take care of him."

Try telling that to Nick, 13, who lives in the same brick Tudor house in Oak Park, Ill., outside Chicago, where he, Johnny and their sister Allison, 15, were raised by their mother, a mortgage-reduction consultant, and their late father, a rehab teacher for blind vets (who died in an accident three years ago). Last fall, Johnny got a call from his kid brother complaining about one episode. "Why'd you let D.J. [Darlene's bratty, 12-year-old brother] beat you up?" Nick protested.

"How can I explain?" sighs the actor, smiling. "It got a laugh, and, hey, the check's in the mail."

Spoken like a veteran—which Galecki is. In just the past eight years, he has accumulated more than a dozen credits, from his first major role at 13, in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, to TV movies (1990's Blind Faith) and guest shots on series including Blossom.

Even as a child, Galecki was thinking like a pro. At 4, Mary Lou Galecki recalls, "he'd say, 'Mom, I'm gonna be on TV and I don't mean when I grow up.' " Two years later she took him to his first audition for a local amateur troupe's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Johnny's rousing rendition of Happy Birthday earned him a role in the chorus. Afterward, Mary Lou helped her son land other roles in plays and commercials. As his career grew, he was privately tutored on studio sets and earned his high school diploma. At 16, Galecki was picked by Roseanne to play her son in her 1991 TV movie Backfield in Motion. Galecki had heard she was a temperamental diva. "But we got along quite well," he says. "It was a fun experience." A few months later, Roseanne invited him to play David on a regular basis. Galecki, already "a huge fan of the show," jumped right in.

Even after three seasons on a hit show, Galecki hasn't gone Hollywood. He lives in a sparsely furnished, two-bedroom apartment in Sherman Oaks, Calif., a 10-minute drive from the Roseanne set. Single, with no steady girlfriend, he shuns the club scene ("I'm not a good dancer") in favor of staying home to play his electric keyboard. ("The only thing I can play is the theme to All in the Family," he laments.)

Not that he's without friends. Most of them, though, are from Roseanne. He sees Gilbert when she's in town for tapings during breaks from Yale, where she's a sophomore. "I had a crush on him when we first met," Gilbert says. "But it became just a really close friendship. He has a stoic quality. Whenever I'm upset about something, he's the first person I talk to."

Another close friend is Eric Gilliland, the show's executive producer. "Johnny isn't quite as shy or as lost as David," says Gilliland. But he can be as spacey. Last summer he vacationed on Maui. Why? "I didn't even know Maui was in Hawaii," he confesses. "I just knew it sounded tropical—it had more vowels than consonants."

Unlike, say, Oak Park. Galecki usually heads home once a month. "He just wants to be one of the kids," his mother says. It's a much-needed reality check, Galecki explains. In L.A. "you start to think that the show is the end-all and be-all of life. But then I'll go home and realize that for the rest of the world, it's just a half hour in front of the TV."


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