"I had to change the sound of my voice to be believable in these American roles," says "Picket Fences' " Costas Mandylor, who first came to the United States in 1987. The Australian born-and-raised actor is actually of Greek heritage. Of the very conscious effort to lose the distinctive accent, he says, "If you have incentive to do it, there's not a problem. But it's hard work and hours of exercises."
Mandylor, who plays Officer Kenny Lacos on the popular CBS ensemble series, has parlayed his Mediterranean looks into playing a young European Jew during World War II in the film "Triumph of the Spirit," a New York gangster in "Mobsters" and an Italian count in "The Doors."
"No one is sure where I'm from," he says, laughing. "Now I have people saying, 'Aw, he's from New York and plays New Yorkers.' "
Mandylor was a professional soccer player in Europe when a bad case of shin splints forced him to the sidelines.
"When I first came here," he says of the United States, "it was more of an adventure than to make it in Hollywood. Then I went to an acting class and it stemmed from there."
But like many struggling actors, Mandylor didn't readily find casting agents waiting for him. "I worked any job I could."
Then he got his proverbial big break in "Triumph," which was filmed at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.
"I feel very lucky to be in a film that had so much meaning. It was something being there. It was shot before the curtain came down. We got to meet people who had been in the camps at 17. Their stories were filled with such tears and sadness. That place was darker than any I've ever been in."
He returned to Los Angeles optimistic that he would soon find more acting work, but, "I came back bald, for one thing, and that was tough. But then I met (director) Oliver Stone and auditioned for him and got 'The Doors.' "
He then landed a leading role in "Mobsters" opposite teen idols Christian Slater, Richard Grieco and Patrick Dempsey.
"It was interesting that I got that part, because I felt tuned in to gangsters," he says. "It was a genre I'd read a lot. When I was 13, I got a job as a dishwasher in a Melbourne nightclub and saw everything there--real gangsters--and had met characters who were dangerous people from an underground world."
During his hiatus from "Picket Fences" this summer, Mandylor was set to visit Greece but then got the lead in the independent film "Resurrection," which co-stars "Beverly Hills, 90210's" Shannen Doherty.
He remains close to members of his family, who still live in Australia, and his brother, actor Louis Mandylor, (late of Fox's "Down the Shore") who also lives in Los Angeles.
Being a chameleon appeals to Mandylor (the name is his mother's maiden name; he says his real name in Greek is too long). "Ill be anything that adds to the variety. I've always admired Anthony Quinn who wasn't ever stereotyped, and I'll say that, so far, neither have I."
Picket Fences airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on CBS. For the fall season, the show moves to Friday at 10 p.m.