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Profile : Gregory Hines on Cloud Nine

March 26, 1995|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gregory Hines is a most happy fella.

After conquering the worlds of dance, music, Broadway, feature films ("The Cotton Club," "Tap") and cable movies ("White Lies"), Hines is bringing his diverse talents to network TV.

"A Stranger in Town," which airs Wednesday on CBS, marks Hines' made-for-TV movie debut.

"The last, I don't know, five years have been just great--the opportunities I've had," says Hines, who tap-danced his way to a 1992 Tony Award as composer Jelly Roll Morton in the musical "Jelly's Last Jam."

One of those opportunities was doing "Jelly Roll" with his wife, producer Pamela Koslow. "We were nervous about it at first because you are always hearing about couples when they work together--it messes up their relationship," Hines, 48, explains. "But it was one of the high points of our relationship."

Definitely another high point was becoming a grandfather. Three months ago, 24-year-old daughter Daria gave birth to a son, Lucian. "He's just beautiful," gushes Hines, who happens to be one of the most personable actors around.

"My stepdaughter Jessica just graduated from Brown University. My son Zack is 12. He's a very talented writer and ice hockey player. My intention has always been to lead as well-rounded an existence as I can. So, I have been fortunate and I know it."

In the CBS suspense-thriller, Hines plays a mysterious man named Barnes who shows up on a stormy night at the house of Kay Tarses (Jean Smart), a single woman with a hidden past. Barnes' arrival forever changes the course of their lives.

When Hines, who is not an avid TV viewer, was first approached by his manager about "Stranger in Town," he had no interest. "But she said, 'Read the script,' " says Hines, eating lunch in his trailer on the Sylmar set of "Stranger."

"I read the script and thought, 'Wow. This is scary,' " he recalls between bites of baked chicken. "I hesitated to do it because it intimidated me. That's something I have said a lot--I want to do things that make me nervous, that make me feel like I can't do it. I almost turned it down right then. But I think the major reason why I was really interested, why I did it, was Jean Smart. So many people said, 'Jean Smart. She is a very talented actress.' And I thought, 'Wow.' "

"Stranger in Town," Hines says, has a lot of twists and turns. "We are not exactly sure why he's there," he explains. "He does terrorize her somewhat. Then as it unfolds, he's very tough and not at all sympathetic to her, which I like because it felt more real. But I wouldn't say he's a bad guy."

But his character is driven by tremendous regret. "In my life, regret has been really the most powerful emotion that I've felt. If something didn't happen or something did happen or I made some kind of a mistake, I felt regret so strongly. I think that he's driven by it. I think he's very angry."

What he admires about Ara Watson and Sam Blackwell's script and director Peter Levin's concept, "is that we are not taking any easy road out with that anger. As the character, I'm having to face certain things. But it doesn't brighten me up because I faced them. A lot of times I've seen movies on TV where they just tie it up too neat in the end."

Because he had never done a network TV movie, Hines came out to Los Angeles from his New York home a week before rehearsals began. "I wanted to meet Jean," he says. "I knew that they do these things really fast. That I also find attractive, although I find that it is somewhat unrealistically fast, in 18 or 19 days. As an actor this is a real test and I am enjoying that aspect of it."

Working with the former "Designing Woman" is a thrill for Hines. "She is amazing," he says with enthusiasm. "She is like the (choreographer/director) Debbie Allen of acting. Debbie Allen, if you woke her up at 4 in the morning and producers were there and they said, 'We would like to see what you have done,' she only knows one way to go, and that is full out. (Jean) gives everything."

Hines currently has "a lot of balls up in the air," having recently completed the independent feature "The Ox and the Eye," which, he says, will be released later this year. Hines may return to Broadway as Elwood P. Dowd, the dipsomaniac with an invisible rabbit friend, in a revival of Mary Chase's comedy-fantasy "Harvey."

And he's also testing the sitcom waters with a development deal at NBC. Twice in the last five years he was involved in developing a network TV series, he says. "Both times it wasn't right."

Hines hopes "White Man's Burden," the low-budget independent feature he directed the summer of 1993, will finally be released this year.

"I heard they found a distributor and it's going to come out," Hines says. "I'm really looking forward to it. I feel like I haven't had any sense of completion with it. I think a lot of distributors were a little shocked at the kind of film I directed. I think when they heard I was directing it, I think they thought it was going to be a comedy."

"White Man's Burden," he says, is a "very disturbing love story about a 30-year-old white guy who gets involved with a 17-year-old African American high school student. It deals a lot with the differences in culture and age and the arrogance of the so-called 'liberal' in our culture. I loved it. I love directing."

"A Stranger in Town" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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