Sliding to Stardom

by Carolyn Stewart

Jerry O’Connell is enjoying success as he hops into parallel universes every week on Sliders. This month, he also hits the big screen as a jock in the comedy Jerry Maguire. TV HITS chats to the man!

At 22, hunky Jerry O’Connell has the world at his feet. Not only is he the hot star of Channel 10’s hit series Sliders, he’s also got a supporting role opposite megastar Tom Cruise in the awesome flick Jerry Maguire. The real Jerry got his start as an actor by beating out 500 young boys for the memorable role of Vern in the brilliant coming-of-age flick Stand By Me in 1986. Over a decade later — with a hit TV show and a budding movie career — he is one of the most envied young stars in Hollywood.

After the success of Stand, Jerry’s parents decided he should concentrate on his education. In 1995 he graduated with a film degree from New York University. He did manage to squeeze in some acting during breaks from school however, like 1993’s comedy cult-flick Calendar Girl with Jason Priestly and in the TV series My Secret Identity and Camp Wilder.

After his graduation, he scored the role of genius physics student Quinn Mallory on the sci-fi adventure series Sliders, which this year moved its filming location from Vancouver to Los Angeles.

Sliders has definitely come a long way,” says Jerry. “This season it’s a lot edgier, and more of a show that I would watch. We play transients. It’s never the same thing on any given week.”

Jerry has become totally devoted to the three-season-old series that has helped establish him in the industry. He has also noticed similarities between the development of his character and changes in his own life. “When Quinn started out, he was very collegiate. Now he’s not so wide-eyed. And that’s a lot more fun for me to play. Because you do three seasons of a TV show and you’re not so wide-eyed anymore, either. He’s growing and I’m growing too.”

In between shooting seasons of the show, Jerry has devoted himself to developing his film career. During 1996 he filmed the cool MTV-style flick Joe’s Apartment with Dark Skies’ Megan Ward (she was also in Party of Five as Jill, Bailey’s druggie girlfriend). The movie featured thousands of singing and dancing cockroaches (…sauce with that, anyone? Yeeeuck!) and got a poor response in the US. “I can’t worry about that,” confesses Jerry. “As an actor you try to get as many parts as you can that challenge you. You don’t want to get bored doing the same thing all the time.”

During the filming of Sliders last year, Jerry also accepted the relatively small role of a top American football college prospect called Frank “Cush” Cushman “for the opportunity to work with (director and writer) Cameron Crowe. I can tell you, as a 22-year old, that his work appeals to a lot of people in my generation.”

Jerry also says he took on the role because the movie was about real situations in the world at the moment. “I think the character of Cush says something not only about athletes today, but society in general. It’s no longer about being part of a team and having your heart in the game. It’s also about money, entertainment. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is trying to convince everyone that it’s about heart, but he’s pretty much the only one out there who feels that way. He’s the last real martyr.”

“I don’t want to say he’s a dumb jock,” says Jerry on “Cush”, the college quarterback from Texas on his way to American football glory, “but he’s not the most cerebral of guys. It was fun to play.”

A keen surfer and former captain of his university fencing team, Jerry also got the chance to live out some of his childhood fantasies of football glory. “I got to be quarterback without taking any hits,” he laughs. “They bring in a stunt guy for that. I’d be having a bagel, watching the guy wearing my number get creamed!”

It wasn’t all lazing around on the set — Jerry has to control bouts of nerves on a multi-million dollar film set full of famous actors. “There were times when it would be like, ‘Wow, this is Tom Cruise I’m talking to,'” he laughs. “But then I totally forgot that. He comes to the set and everybody immediately gets a smile on their face.”

With a hit series and a hit movie under his belt, what does the future hold for our nice-guy hero? Well, kids, Jerry plans to continue acting and excel in other areas of film production. He has already written two screenplays and is currently adapting J.P.S. Brown’s novel The Outfit for the big screen.

“All you can ask for is a consistent career,” says Jerry honestly. “I’m not looking for superstardom, I’d just like to make a living at this.”

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