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WITH AN EYE ON ... : Fox's 'Class of '96' star Megan Ward proves she's a quick study


Today, Megan Ward is one of the stars of Fox's "Class of '96," but five years ago she was a celebrity of Japanese film and television.

"I was the Japanese Vanna White," the blond, blue-eyed Ward says, laughing.

She learned to speak Japanese growing up in Honolulu, where she had her choice of studying French, Spanish or Japnese to meet a high school language requirement.

Being an American blond who could speak fluent Japanese helped Ward, who, at 15, left Honolulu for a modeling career in Japan.

Her modeling success led to a starring role in a Japanese question-and-answer-style television show, as well as the lead in the Japanese film "Basho's Journey."

"I was making more in a day than my parents were in a month," she recalls.

Like the parents of her "Class of '96" character, Ward's parents are actors. She developed her interest in acting at the acting school in Honolulu that they own and operate.

"Everyone wanted to be something very specific growing up," she says. "I didn't know if I wanted to be a doctor, a housewife, a nurse, a lawyer, whatever. Then I realized that as an actress I could be all of those things."

While she found her modeling career and Japanese media appearances gratifying, Ward eventually abandoned modeling to pursue acting full-time stateside.

Unlike many actresses who struggle indefinitely, Ward hit quickly. "I had a lot of luck," she acknowledges. She starred in the features "Crash and Burn," "Trancers II," "Arcade," "Amityville V--It's About Time" and "Goodbye Paradise," a small film close to her heart about her home state. Last summer, she starred in the popular comedy film "Encino Man."

Her feature work led to some guest-starring roles on series and then to "Class of '96."

She will star with Keanu Reeves and Michael Stoyanov ("Blossom") in the upcoming "Hideous Mutant Freakz" (working title). Writer-director-star Alex Winter ("Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey") calls Ward "an ingenue who can do slapstick."

"She had this great energy about her, all this heat," says Winter's co-director Tom Stern. "She was never vain or prissy about doing such a tough physical role."

"She was great to work with," Winter says. "It was a very tough shooting schedule with a lot of makeup and prosthetics. She was really put to the test and she came through for us."

Ward hopes that the audience for "Class of '96," which has gotten good notices from critics but not done as well in the ratings, will come through for the show.

"It's not a flashy show," she says. "It's a lot quieter. I think that if audiences give it two or three episodes, they'll be hooked."

"Class of '96" airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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