If Looks Could Kill, Adrian Pasdar—Heartthrob Star of The Lost Capone—could Start a Valentine's Day Massacre

updated 09/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

On the bulletin board in his cozy, one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, Adrian Pasdar has tacked up a photo of himself from a recent skydiving jaunt. Talk about photogenic: Even spread-eagled in mid-air, the 25-year-old actor and incipient dreamboat attracts the lens. "He has an intense screen presence," says John Gray, who directed him in the new TV movie The Lost Capone. "The camera loves him."

The love affair began five years ago, when Top Gun director Tony Scott was so struck by Pasdar's look that he added a small role as a fighter pilot and gave the actor his first break. But the look itself almost proved to be Pasdar's undoing. His first close-up was for a scene in which the flight school's commanding officer was inspecting the graduating class. "He had on these big mirrored shades," recalls Pasdar, "and all I could see was my big white face in the reflection. I kept looking at myself and cracking up."

Most people, however, have a different reaction to Pasdar's face—a moist-eyed mosaic of Middle Eastern and European ancestry that is variously described as "dangerously handsome," "smoldering" and "intense." Though not yet a top gun in Hollywood, he has landed 11 parts in five years: an Oklahoma vampire in Near Dark, an ambitious med student in Vital Signs and a lovestruck Israeli soldier in Torn Apart (his co-star in this Middle Eastern Romeo and Juliet was then-girlfriend Cecilia Peck—Gregory's daughter). Now, in TNT's The Lost Capone, airing this month, Pasdar gets the lead role, illuminating a bit of American history as big gun Jimmy Capone—the white sheep of the crime family.

In this loosely fact-based movie, Pasdar is the mobster's little-known brother, who was a bootleg-bustin' Nebraska marshal. (Big Al is played by Eric Roberts.) "He needed a sort of brooding quality," says director Gray. "But it's a thin line—brooding can be terribly boring." Pasdar isn't boring—you wouldn't say that to someone who tools around on a Harley-Davidson and carries a bobcat's head tattoo on his upper left arm. And he hasn't lost the bad-boy luster he acquired growing up in Philadelphia. (The chin scars that give him a distinctive, slightly sinister appearance were earned not in a neighborhood rumble, however, but in a Jeep accident just before his sophomore year in college. "I took out the windshield with my face," he says.)

Pasdar, who has one younger sister, remembers himself as "a good kid, with a good heart. But I just got into a lot of trouble, cutting school, smoking cigarettes, that whole thing." The whole thing includes the Neighbors' Car Incident. "My friend and I ended up taking it out and smashing it up and totaling it." Charges were dropped. "We sold what was left for $400," he says, "and then I had to work all summer to pay for the rest. Can you imagine my poor mom?"

Actually Mom, who runs a travel service, seems to have had a harder time dealing with recent press reports—erroneous—that her son and Peck were engaged. She called up, crying and demanding to know why she hadn't been told. "I said, 'Ma, I don't know what you're talking about,' " he says. "That was her first jolt of what it was going to be like." Other than that, Pasdar doesn't like to talk about the days when he was Peck's boyfriend. ("I'm completely the bachelor," he adds, scotching the suggestion of any new relationships.)

As bad boys go, though, Pasdar seems to be as much Cleaver as Capone. Co-star and buddy Titus Welliver—he plays another Capone brother, Ralph—says they may occasionally do the L.A. nightclub scene together, but more likely they'll "just go and get a hamburger." Or how about a good book? Pasdar says he wants to try adapting some short stories by Flannery O'Connor for the movies.

At worst mildly delinquent, then, and also strongly devoted, Pasdar idolizes his surgeon dad. He followed him on rounds and called him for dialogue coaching while preparing for his role as an intern in Vital Signs. "I never grew up with heroes in show business," Pasdar says. "My hero was my father." A mutually admiring Dr. Homayoon Pasdar doesn't think success will spoil Adrian. His worst-case scenario: "I think Adrian would probably blow his money first—he's never been very good with it—but, hopefully, it would be for a good cause."

It probably wouldn't be for tuition—Pasdar left the University of Central Florida with three years to go. But he didn't drop his commitment to self-improvement. "Every film I've done," he says, "I've tried to pick ones where I can learn." Cookie, in which he played a mobster's chauffeur, taught him about New York City's crime scene. Streets of Gold, in which he played a boxer, should have taught him when to duck. Filming one of the movie's fight scenes, "I opened my mouth to breathe, and I got clocked and dislocated my jaw." It's hard to believe that the camera, his great admirer, didn't rush in and knock the other guy out.

—Tom Gliatto, Kristina Johnson in Los Angeles

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