Eric Roberts starring in sitcom 'to have a life'

Friday, November 29, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- Eric Roberts has a short answer to why he's starring in a sitcom: "To have a life."

Last year, the 46-year-old actor, best known for offbeat dramatic roles in such films as "Star 80" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village," guest-starred on an episode of CBS' "The King of Queens."

He gleefully discovered the sitcom format could mean regular hours, staying at home in Los Angeles with family and riding his horses in the hills above the city.

"Wow, what a great life!" he thought.

So he asked his agents to help him try out for a regular sitcom role. "They basically laughed."

He fired them and tried some new agents. Immediately he was sent to audition for ABC's "Less Than Perfect" and got the job as Will Butler, a sophisticated, womanizing TV anchorman.

The Tuesday night show (airing at 8:30 p.m.) stars Sara Rue as Claudia Casey, an Everygirl temp who lands a job as one of Butler's assistants.

Zachary Levi and Andrea Parker play her rivals in the office rat race, and Sherri Shepherd and Andy Dick are her friends from life lower on the corporate ladder.

Comedic choices

While a sitcom may provide better hours, Roberts says the work itself is "a whole 'nother ball of wax" compared to feature films, and is something he's still trying to get used to -- especially the comedy part.

"This has been a humbling experience," he says. "I'm not a standup comic, you know, I don't think on my feet like that. I'm still learning."

Roberts has looked for help to "Less Than Perfect" director Ted Wass, who played the father on the early '90s sitcom "Blossom."

"Ted tells me when I'm not funny, he tells me when I am funny, and he says when I should be funnier," says Roberts as he chats during a lunch break in his dressing room on the CBS lot in Studio City.

Wass concedes that Roberts initially tried too hard to make his character funny, but now "he's starting to make comedic choices ... and his instincts are so strong and so powerful."

Roberts isn't so sure. "I'm kind of petrified every day because I'm the guy who is not funny," he says. "Out of all six actors (on the show), we have five comics who are hysterical people and Eric Roberts."

But he believes he's doing better because he's learning to relax.

Roberts is ideal for the role of Butler, says Wass, because he has "the vulnerability, the likeability and the charm to make a cad appealing."

Roberts returns to more familiar territory in a TBS Superstation movie premiering Sunday at 7 p.m., playing the mastermind of a shopping mall heist in "Christmas Rush."

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