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Jason Behr is from here and There
Neal Justin / Star Tribune
LOS ANGELES — Jason Behr claims to be from the Twin Cities, but the evidence suggests that he’s from Out There. The first clue: He plays an alien on “Roswell,” a teenage version of “The X-Files,” which moves to a new time slot tonight. Secondly, Behr doesn’t act like the rest of the WB network’s all-too-earthy stars.
“Felicity” fills a cassette tape blabbering about what she had for breakfast. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” throws out as many one-liners as karate kicks. The “Dawson’s Creek” gang can’t talk about the weather without showing off their SAT vocabulary.
Behr keeps quiet. On the premiere episode of “Roswell” in October, his character, an alien disguised as a high school wallflower, responds to a shooting in a diner by rushing to the side of a comely classmate, putting his hand over her fatal wound until it evaporates and then darting out the door, barely saying more than a few urgent whispers. Since then, he still hasn’t opened his mouth much.
Behr most likely comes from the planet of the strong, silent types, but while his peers have slipped into the skins of such rugged he-men as Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum, Behr chose a body so skinny he could hide behind Calista Flockhart, along with a personality so tender that it makes young hearts swoon. When “Roswell” shot some outdoor scenes recently in a remote suburb of Los Angeles, nearly 75 teenage girls camped out until 2 a.m., primarily to catch a glimpse of Behr.
“He’s got a mysterious quality that girls find sexy,” said Carissa Rosenberg, entertainment editor for CosmoGIRL!, a new magazine aimed at teenage girls, which selected Behr as one of the nine hottest guys of 2000.
He’s so together!
Katherine Heigl, who plays fellow alien Isabel on “Roswell,” said young people are hungry for a leading man who manages to keep it together, despite having the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“He portrays a teenager who isn’t just focused on girlfriends or football or whatever,” she said. “He’s a person who has to hold things together and be the strong one. There are a lot of young people who have had really tough situations and grow up really quickly and take a burden onto themselves. It’s good they’re finally putting that on TV, because a lot of people can relate to it. Not everyone is soda pop and malls.”
Behr can be quite serious off screen, as well. He’ll contemplate questions for hours, even months, in an effort to give you thoughtful, honest answers. I first met Behr nearly two years ago, and on a four-hour set visit this winter, he was still mulling over snippets of our first conversation.
Sitting in his dressing room during a break, he ignored his catered lunch to focus on his Camel Lights and the idea of an introverted young star.
Behr, 26, believes that most TV teens are robust and super-articulate, which isn’t very realistic. “Not everyone is good at saying what’s on their mind, and we see too much of that,” he said. “It’s idealizing what a teenager is, and I don’t think it’s the truth.”
Outer space, inner space
Behr and his character share the desire to keep their private lives guarded. He lived in eight cities, primarily in Arizona and Minnesota, before his restless father left the family when Behr was quite young. His mother raised her five children in Minneapolis. He doesn’t like to talk about his father and is not in touch with him.
“He was the catalyst for moving the family cross-country,” he said. “I don’t know what he was running from, but I think finally he realized it was responsibility.”
His first memory: wading into some water, showing off to his mother, when suddenly a wave washed over him. “Maybe that’s why I’m always watching my back — or I’m just aware of what’s behind me,” he said.
He moved to Los Angeles at age 20 and struggled to find work for years, paying the bills by waiting tables and doing nearly 75 commercials. In 1998, he got a starring role in the ABC series “Push,” a drama about Olympic hopefuls that failed to score with critics or viewers. It was his guest-star work on such WB shows as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “7th Heaven” that made him the prime candidate to headline his own show on the network.
“He’s a professional,” said “Roswell” co-star Brendan Fehr. “Even when he doesn’t like something, he goes about it in a very diplomatic way. . . . There’s this old kind of soul to him.”
Behr still is capable of displaying a youthful, even goofball, side. When he visits the Twin Cities, about twice a year, he loves to pig out at a 24-hour diner and root hard for the Vikings.
While shooting a scene involving a game of Monopoly, Behr played with a lollipop between takes, even putting on a ventriloquism act with the stick. Co-stars say Behr has a rubbery, comical face, one that he uses to great effect for an imitation from “Rebel Without A Cause.” Appropriately enough, he doesn’t portray extroverted brooder James Dean, but rather a freaked-out Natalie Wood.
Behr is careful about his off-screen behavior and his choices of friends. His career is most certainly on the rise and he’s wary about those who may be part of his inner circle.
“Roswell,” which looked like a sure-fire hit at the start of the season, has faltered in recent months, but there’s still a strong chance that it will return next year. If it is canceled, Behr would appear to have opportunities in feature films. After a blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em role in “Pleasantville,” he got a starring role in “Rites of Passage,” a yet-to-be-released feature that earned him a best-acting nomination at the Santa Monica Film Festival.
“It’s a real important time for me right now to surround myself with people that I trust and that I care about and, hopefully, that care about me,” he said. “It’s a weird line to walk. You don’t want to put up walls and you don’t want to alienate anybody — no pun intended — but you have to be aware; you have to be careful, or it will eat you alive.”