I LIKE DANGER. I LIKE PUSHING MYself," says Max Beesley. And what could be riskier for the British jazz and rock musician turned actor than playing the lusty hero of Henry Fielding's 1749 classic Tom Jones? Undaunted by Albert Finney's memorable portrayal of the oversexed rogue in the 1963 film version, Beesley, 26, dove into the 6-hour miniseries remake (April 5-7 on A&E), playing the harpsichord, learning to ride a horse and, to get into character, writing with a quill pen. Most "nerve-racking" of all, he admits, was a frontal nudity scene in which costar Lindsay Duncan, who plays Lady Bellaston, would stare him, er, down. "She'd be next to the camera looking at it, man. That really freaked me out."
Unlike audiences in Britain (where the drama premiered last November to positive reviews), U.S. viewers will barely glimpse Beesley in the buff. But even fully clothed, the guy's a chick magnet; at a London bar one night, a woman he had never met began stroking his face. "She was a freak," says Beesley, who immediately told his admirer to desist and swears fidelity to his girlfriend of three years, Scottish-Nigerian film actress Carmen Ejogo (Metro).
Still, "all of a sudden, it's my brother the sex symbol," sighs Jason, 28, Max's stepbrother, with whom he shares a London flat. Jason used to steal Max's girlfriends when the boys were growing up in Burnage, an industrial town in northern England. Max's father, Maxton Beesley, a jazz musician, and mother, Chris Marlowe, a jazz singer, divorced when Max was 1. Both soon remarried, and Max shuttled between households, bonding with his step-and half-siblings from an assortment of marriages. "He would do impressions, dance around crazily, anything for a laugh," recalls Jason. "Everyone assumed that one day Max would end up on television."
But he also loved music. At 19, a year after earning a scholarship to London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Beesley dropped out to tour as a keyboardist for English rocker Paul Weller. Later, his roles expanded to percussionist and backup singer for George Michael and George Benson. He had a brief stint as a session musician for the boy band Take That. "That was the wildest," says Beesley. "Girls would throw themselves onto the windscreen of the tour bus." At 21, Beesley discovered Tibetan Buddhism. "It's been very beneficial," he says.
In 1995, Beesley, then 24, rented 1980's Raging Bull. Knocked out by Robert De Niro's performance, he flew to Manhattan to study with noted acting coach Sheila Gray for nine months. "I blew all of my savings," he says, "but it was great." In 1997, back in London, he says he walked into the Tom Jones audition, "practiced me posh speech on the can. Went back and said, 'Great—here we go.' " Director Metin Hüseyin was charmed. "I had found my Tom," says Hüseyin. "He had the looks, the energy, the sparkle. No one else came near him."
Now Beesley has been cast in his first major film, Dare, a British thriller. "It's a psychological, heavy piece," he says. Jason hopes his brother doesn't prepare too meticulously. "He'll probably come in one night," he jokes, "and put a knife to my throat."
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
BRYAN ALEXANDER in London