US MARCH 2000

 

 
HEART ATTACK:  O'CONNELL IS SINGLE BUT BRIEFLY DATED BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER'S SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR LAST YEAR.  "WE'RE VERY GOOD FRIENDS NOW," HE SAYS.  

FOILED AGAIN - Actor Jerry O'Connell Revisits the sport that brought him from chubby to buff

These Days, Jerry O'Connell has little trouble landing hunky parts - like a star quarterback in Jerry Maguire and a hero astronaut in this month's sci-fi flick Mission to Mars - but it wasn't always that way.  O'Connell, 26, played the chunky kid in 1986's Stand By Me - a plum role, but one that did  not put him on the fast track in size-conscious Hollywood.  "After the filming, my parents were looking for after-school activities for my brother and me," says O'Connell.  "Both of us were into Errol Flynn, so we started fencing, which had a lot to do with me dropping those pounds."

That O'Connell knew about a 1940's star such as Flynn isn't so strange considering that he and his brother, Charlie, 25 and also an actor,
 were raised by their mother, Linda, a special-education teacher and their father, Michael, an art director, in an atmosphere O'Connell describes as "artistic."  While growing up in Manhattan, the
 boys made time for fencing between acting jobs and
 classes at the Professional Children's School.

"PEOPLE THINK FENCING IS A BUNCH OF GUYS IN TIGHTS PRANCING AROUND LIKE ROBIN HOOD," SAYS O'CONNELL, 'BUT IT'S A PRETTY DIRTY SPORT.'
At New York University, O'Connell majored in screenwriting and served as captain of the saber team.  As a junior, in 1994, he ranked 17th in the nation in men's individual fencing.  The following year he moved to Los Angeles to star in Fox's sci-fi series Sliders but left the show after three years.  The native New Yorker has since adapted to the California climate and now lives in West Hollywood with Charlie.  "I try to fence a couple of times a month," he says.  "But in L.A., shen it's 85 degrees in the middle of winter, it's impossible not to jump in the ocean."

We lured O'Connell back indoors by inviting him to a training session at L.A.'s West side Fencing Center with coach Daniel Costin.  Besides providing a great lower-body workout ("My legs are humming," says O'Connell the day after the hour-long match.  "I can't even walk"), fencing offers a benefit that a treadmill doesn't.  "There's an adrenaline rush when you grab a sword," says O'Connell. "It's exercise with a competitive edge."

That came in handy when he recently sold his first script, a romantic comedy called First Daughter that begins shooting this summer.  In it O'Connell plays a rookie Secret Service agent who's assigned to protect the president's daughter.  So does O'Connell's new status as a writer mean that the pen is mightier than the sword?  Not quite.  Says O'Connell, "I gotta get one of those swashbuckling gigs."

-Chris Nutter

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