Jerry O'Connell Rebecca Romijn

Jerry O'Connell transformed from a tubby teen to a smouldering small-screen superhunk

Women swoon at the sight of muscle-bound actor Jerry O'Connell, who plays Detective Woody Hoyt on Crossing Jordan. But many of his fans don't realise they've probably seen his work before, as Vern in the cult classic film Stand By Me.

"It wasn't much of an acting stretch," the hunky actor laughs. "I was an 11-year-old fat kid playing an 11-year-old fat kid."

O'Connell found a niche as a chubby child actor. While at the Professional Children's School, where his classmates included Sarah Michelle Gellar (who he later dated), Tara Reid and Macaulay Culkin, he also starred on TV's My Secret Identity.

After high school, the star decided to attend NYU Film School. He emerged trim, taut and terrific, and won the role of Quinn on Sliders, which launched him as a teen-idol.

His popularity soon grew beyond TV, bringing roles in the films Joe's Apartment and Jerry McGuire -- as a prop-football player.

"Playing professional football is something I'll never be able to do. So getting that part was like a dream come true," he says.

Scream 2, Can't Hardly Wait, Mission To Mars and Kangaroo Jack followed, before he was offered the role on Crossing Jordan.

"I did this police ride-along thing," the dedicated actor says of his preparation for the part. "You sit in the back of the car with two officers who are on patrol in the front.

"The bad guy usually goes in the back. We made an arrest and I tried to get in the front, and they quickly told me to get in the back. Meanwhile, I'm saying, 'But that guy is in the back seat and I'm just an actor!' "

And he must be a good one -- his mum is convinced he's really a police officer! "She tells me it's so wonderful that I'm there to protect Jordan," O'Connell laughs.

Since his arrival, he claims the sexual tension as been building. "Woody very much desires a little more attention from Jordan," he smiles.

As for his co-star, "Jill (Hennessy) is the best. She's great to work with."

While fans may have to wait for O'Connell to make his move on-screen, they'll be able to see a lot more of him now that he's a model for Perry Ellis underwear.

"When you're an underwear model, you have to be careful," he says, recalling his chubby days. "You can't have that third hot dog!"

Interview by Austin Hayes