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A Class Acting Job

June 24, 1989|DAVID PECCHIA

Jonathan Silverman was a little nervous about his role in HBO's "Traveling Man" for not one, but two dissimilar reasons.

The first being the nature of the character. The arrogant and devious huckster he portrays is a departure for the affable young actor; a very challenging persona to grasp.

Reason No. 2 was far more harrowing: Silverman, soon after meeting John Lithgow, the star of the film and an idol of Silverman's, was physically beating John Lithgow.

"It was difficult because we shot a good deal of the heavy, climactic scenes first," says Silverman, "and there I was, working with one of my favorite actors and yelling at him and kicking him."

Premiering Sunday, the story centers on Lithgow's gypsy-like travels and travails as he alternates between selling and swilling his way across the South. His regional manager, dripping with obnoxiousness as portrayed by John Glover, saddles him with the chore of training the Silverman character, who quickly breaches Lithgow's trust to bolster his own clientele.

"I did a little research before shooting began," says the actor, who auditioned for director Irvin Kershner but was uppermost on the minds of HBO's brass all along. "So I looked in the classified sections under 'Job Opportunities' and saw an ad that said, 'Are you rookie-of-the-year material? Do you want to earn up to 100 Gs a year?' "

Silverman decided this ambitious approach was geared to his "Traveling Man" role, so he enrolled in some of the classes as his character, even using the Southern accent he would adopt for the film. He claims it helped immensely.

"It was exciting, actually," he says, suppressing a laugh, "and if things don't work out (in the acting biz) I could become a traveling salesman."

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