Erik Palladino, clad head to toe in black, is sitting at a tiny round table outside an L.A. restaurant called Red, chain-smoking Marlboro Lights and pouring packet after packet of sugar into his black coffee. So this is how the New York-bred actor who plays Dr. Dave Malucci, a brash, cocky second-year resident—and first-year cast regular—on NBC's ER, chooses to relax? "I know, I know," says Palladino. "It's not the healthy image I should be projecting for a man of medicine. On the set, they're always trying to get me to quit smoking. Especially Tony Edwards [Dr. Mark Greene], who used to smoke until he started running marathons."
For his part, Palladino seems to prefer short sprints. "I recall in one episode, his character has the flu and is attached to an IV," says co-executive producer Dr. Neal Baer, "and [between takes] there's Erik racing down the hall, clinging to the IV pole. He's the mischief-making one," adds Baer. "He's a cutup," agrees fellow newcomer Michael Michele. "While Erik is making all the jokes, I'm laughing hysterically and egging him on. We both get into trouble."
That sense of humor hasn't hurt his love life. "Erik's a good-looking guy," says big brother Chris, 38, of the lanky 6-fpoter, "but more than that, he's got the rap. He's so funny. He's always got girls around." Palladino, who puts in 12-hour days on ER before going home to the modest one-bedroom L.A. apartment he shares with his mutt Daisy, describes himself as "single and lonely," then laughs, remembering that he has a girlfriend in England and another woman friend who just called him on his cell phone. "God, women, I love 'em," he sighs.
He loves his career even more. "I always wanted to be an actor," says Palladino, 31, who grew up in Yonkers, N. Y., the youngest of three sons of Peter, a Bronx heating contractor, and Queenie, a junior high school teacher. Both his brothers—Chris and Todd, 36—work in the family business. Erik might have too, had his parents not taken him, at age 12, to see Robert De Niro in 1980's Raging Bull. "I felt like that was the most real thing I had ever seen," he says. "I boxed too, so I really connected with that movie. I'd been bugging my mom to let me act and she finally agreed."
At 13 he won a berth at a children's repertory company in nearby New Rochelle. But the raging bull in Palladino almost trampled his ambitions. He and his high school friends, he says, "were a little wild, but sometimes we ran with a group that was violent." A lot of them, he says, wound up in prison. Palladino himself was busted at 17 ("A guy said something about my long hair, and, well, I guess I hit him"). After a year's probation, his conviction was expunged. "I never thought for a moment he would ever really go bad," says his mother.
Palladino also vented his energy as lead singer of brother Chris's alternative rock band, No More Happy Faces. "He couldn't really sing," says Chris with a laugh. "What he did was stage-acting to music." Acting won out when Erik, then 18, enrolled as a theater major at Mary-mount Manhattan College. After graduating in 1991, Palladino kept playing with the band while going on auditions. In 1996 he became a veejay at MTV and later that year decided to trim his grunge-rock locks. The new do paid off. A week later he became a series regular on the FOX sitcom Love and Marriage, followed by a recurring role on UPN's DiResta and two guest shots on CBS's Murphy Brown.
His performance as an American sailor in U-571, a WWII submarine movie surfacing in theaters this April, brought him to the attention of ER. "I tell him, 'Don't let this go to your head,' " says his mom, and Palladino is listening. Though he recently bought his first new car—a Lexus—"I like hangin' out on weekends on my front stoop," he says. "You know, like in New York." As for fighting? Fuhgeddaboutit! "I don't fight with people," he says, grinning. "I'm an actor now. I gotta worry about my looks."
Michael A. Lipton
Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles
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