Jerry O'Connell


To Jerry O'Connell, star of Joe's Apartment, cockroaches are people, too.

- By Jamie Bufalino Photographed by Jay Gullixson

Gross roach fact number one," says Jerry O'Connell, ticking off some bug miscellany while sticking his face over a garbage can full of the offensive creatures on the set of Joe's Apartment, "When the film started shooting in April of '95, there were 2,000 roaches on standby. By the end of shooting in June, they had 8,000 roaches - just from them being frisky."

Despite his disturbingly laissez-faire attitude toward the unseemly pest situation, the 22-year-old O'Connell proves to be everything Emily Post prescribes in a host. He goes out of his way to introduce me to almost everyone on the set, including director John Payson. He lets me feed liberally from the craft service table. He even feels my pain: "It must be really hard dealing with publicists," he says. O'Connell's unabashed kindliness is disorienting, since it's coming from someone who has enjoyed so much success so young; by historical standards, he should be acting like someone with a major bug up his ass. A born and bred New Yorker (he grew up in the Chelsea apartment he still shares with his younger brother), O'Connell went from taking kiddie acting classes at HB Studios and appearing in Off Broadway plays to beating out 500 11-year-old boys for the role of the fat kid in Rob Reiner's 1986 classic, Stand By Me. ("Right time, right age, right weight," he explains.)

Post-puberty, a slimmed-down, bulked-up O'Connell went on to play supporting stud to Jason Priestley in 1993's Calendar Girl, before going to NYU to study film and television. While in college, O'Connell landed the lead role in the Fox sci-fi TV series Sliders - which is returning to the Fox lineup this fall, thanks mainly to O'Connell's burgeoning bankability.

As the title character in Joe's Apartment (which is based on a short film shown on MTV), O'Connell plays an Iowa naif looking for love in New York City. And though he shares a lot of his screen time with an army of wisecracking roaches who have a penchant for line-dancing, it's O'Connell's endearing performance that should give the film legs.

"Jerry is the mas macho," says director Payson of O'Connell and his attitude toward the cucaracha costars. "I wasn't going to ask him to put roaches in his mouth, but he insisted - two really big roaches on a spoon, which is all you can really fit in your mouth anyway. He did two takes of that. And in the close-up, when he closes his mouth you can see one of the little legs sticking out of his mouth, like twitching. Really vile."

O'Connell, who's currently filming Jerry McGuire with Tom Cruise, may soon be facing the complications that an infestation of fame brings with it, but for now he's not concerned. "I'm pretty stoked," he says. "I look at all my friends that I graduated college with and they're still living at home and they can't get a job at McDonald's. So I'm pretty lucky right now."

Almost as lucky as the little critters with whom he shares his home. "A lot of cockroaches are starting to accumulate in my apartment," he says, revealing the downside to his gift for hospitality. "Since working on Joe's Apartment, I've had trouble squashing them."

Joe's Apartment opens Friday, July 26.