The stoic Scandal Jackson of "Cobra," artfully disarms bad guys by bringing them to the ground. At first glance, the role of Scandal seems to fit Michael Dudikoff, the high-profile, action star of the "American Ninja" movies. His most familiar role as the strong, quiet, and fight-ready loner--recently displayed in the movie "Rescue Me"--couldn't be further from his real-life persona.
Much of "Cobra" calls for a combination of martial arts and standard street fighting, something that Dudikoff, believe it or not, really doesn't know much about. The 38-year-old actor learns what he needs to know when he gets to the set, courtesy of a choreographer or martial arts expert.
The aw-shucks Redondo Beach native's favorite role so far? Playing Huck Finn.
"He's just more like me," Dudikoff says of Tom Sawyer's best friend.
Scandal is enigmatic and cool. This week, he strong-arms former teen idol Rex Smith.Dudikoff, on the other hand, is straightforward and not self-conscious.
In talking about "Cobra's" busy schedule, he says: "I'm dyslexic and sometimes when we are doing two shows at once and a line is similar, I'll say the same line from the other show. I'm just getting used to the fast pace (compared to films). You really have to know your stuff."
Dudikoff hasn't had a problem knowing or learning his "stuff." In the feature "Radioactive Dreams," he does some musical comedy and tap dancing--all of which he learned on the set.
In what could be a scenario for a bad TV movie, Dudikoff was discovered at a restaurant--waiting tables at Beachbum Burts in Redondo Beach--and given the chance to be a model.
"I was in college and wanted to be a child psychologist, but I said, 'What the heck, it seemed easy, I get to wear a lot of nice clothes and it would be fun to meet new people.' "
He went from being a print model to television commercials, but didn't find it substantial enough.
"I wasn't using my brain," he reflects. "I became a poseur. Then I got into acting and it totally challenged me. It was very difficult."
His first acting job was as Joanie's (Erin Moran) boyfriend on ABC's "Happy Days." Other guest-star roles followed. He continued acting and modeling for three years, then gave up modeling to focus on his acting.
Dudikoff, who appears to have found his niche in "Cobra" and action-adventure films ("The Annihilation," "Avenging Force," "Platoon Leader," "River of Death" and "Human Shield"), is determined to prove he can do other types of roles.
"I can do 'Tootsie,' I can play 'The Shining,' I can do all that," he says emphatically. "That's what acting is all about. If they can give me something different, I could do it. I just have to be patient for that opportunity. I want to play something where I can make the audience cry and make them say, 'Wow'."
"Cobra" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on KCOP.