Jerry O'Connell Slides into a Dream Come True
January 23, 1997
Houston Chronicle
By Ann Hodges

PASADENA, Calif -- For Jerry O'Connell, the likable star of Fox's likable Sliders, sliding into an Oscar-class movie like Jerry Maguire was fantasy come true.

"Every American boy wants to be a quarterback for a pro team," he said with a grin. "I got to do the next best thing: I got to play one."

There was one condition when he got the football player part; to play one, he had to look like one.

"I had to put on 20 pounds of mass in a couple of months," he confided. "It's funny, because I've always been -- you know, `Hey, you're the fat kid from Stand by Me. Now, they're starting to say `Hey, you're Cush from Jerry Maguire!' "

So how was working with Tom Cruise?

"Terrific! The best! He's a consummate professional," O'Connell said. "When you first meet him, you're nervous. He's Tom Cruise -- how could you not be? But he makes everybody comfortable. He goes out of his way ... He's wonderful."

The fans think so, too. By 6 every morning, hundreds were lined up to catch a glimpse of Cruise walking to the set.

"They were calling `Tom, Tom Tom!' " O'Connell recalled. "I walked past a couple of times, and there was total silence. Then I walked past one more time -- by then there must have been 1,000 people -- and they all start going `Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!' I think `This is it; I've arrived!' I run over to sign the autographs. And they go, `Jerry, Jerry, Jerry! Get us Tom's autograph.' " He laughed heartily at that. "It was funny," he said.

To pump O'Connell up for his part, they got him a trainer, and put him to lifting weights.

"I was still working on Sliders, and I'd get up early in the morning to do it. I really wanted to do it, because I knew that there were so many real athletes in Jerry Maguire. I knew I'd be standing next to (Drew) Bledsoe and (Troy) Aikman and all those guys. And I had the height [he's 6 feet 3], but I didn't have the girth. I would have hated to be in a sports movie and have people say,`That guy's an actor, not an athlete.' "

Now that it's over, his workouts are backsliding.

"I go for a run every now and then. I do a lot of surfing, jump in the pool," he said.

But he gets plenty of exercise in Sliders, anyway. Sliding through a "worm hole" to parallel universes takes energy, he said. And he does a lot of his own stunts.

Fox has finally given Sliders a full season's order for the show to go on, and, to O'Connell's pleasure, moved its home from Vancouver to the Universal Studio lot. Now it's up to Sliders to prove it can hold its own with the big boys.

"I think my character's grown the same way I've grown this season," O'Connell said. "I did the pilot when I was 19; now I'm 22. And those are three pretty maturing years, you know."

He'll direct an episode this year, and he wants to write some. He's already written a story for the Sliders comic book, and will do more.

Coming up: The sliders land in a world where Roger Daltry is the bad guy in a script written by O'Connell's friend and fellow slider, John Rhys-Davies. "We're filming it now, and I've been brushing up on all my Who lyrics," O'Connell joked.

The Feb. 7 episode is "the weirdest world so far" -- another California where people have moved underground to escape the constant earthquakes.

"The Cirque Du Soleil people are in it, and they are unbelievable," O'Connell said. "These guys were flipping, climbing up trees with their toes, climbing up walls. It freaked me out. Watch that show. Hey, if you went to Las Vegas, you'd pay $80 to see Cirque Du Soleil."

Sliders airs at 7 p.m. Fridays on Channel 26.

The Houston Chronicle; hc12397


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