Blair Underwood: Actor
05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
HE WAS 20 YEARS OLD AND STRUGGLING TO make it as an actor in New York City when he decided to try his luck at something else. "I walked into the Ford Modeling Agency and said, 'I want to be a model,' " recalls Blair Underwood, 35. "The lady took one look at me and said, 'You have too many scars on your face. We'd have to touch up every picture.' " The rejection stung, but Underwood couldn't argue. "He's definitely Scarface," says his brother Frank, 38, a writer and artist. "In 1966 we were at my best friend's house and Blair fell on a toy cash register. That's the scar on his chin. We were throwing dirt clods at each other in the yard in 1968 and one gouged him. That's the scar by his eye. The one on the forehead came from playing football in 1972. He ran into a wooden post." Onscreen—Underwood's acting break came in 1987 with L.A. Law—who even notices those marks? "He's got great lips and great teeth, and that goatee is supersexy," says Vivica A. Fox, whose Dr. Lillian Price romances Underwood's Dr. Ben Turner on the CBS hospital drama City of Angels, "Everybody just gets real quiet when he's around and kind of sits back and stares at him. They're definitely affected." So were his classmates at Busch Junior High School in Warren, Mich., who awarded Underwood Prettiest Smile back in 1977. His wife, Desiree, 37, is another smilephile; she says it was his "soft, pliable lips" that first attracted her. The second of four children of U.S. Army Col. Frank Underwood, 69, and his wife, Marilyn, 63, an interior decorator, the 6-ft-tall actor lived all over the globe as a child. He has chosen a more stable life in L.A. for his own family, which includes son Paris, 3, and daughter Brielle, 17 months. "They're my world," he says. When he has to focus on the superficial, Underwood relies on two products: Tend Skin, a solution he uses after shaving to avoid razor bumps, and his children's Baby Magic Creamy Baby Oil, which he uses as a moisturizer. "As a man of color, when my skin gets dry, it gets ashy," says Underwood. "I get out of the shower and have an ash attack, so I rub lotion everywhere." Away from the spotlight, Underwood relishes being unshaven and disheveled. "Scruffy is good, guys," he says.