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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Jason Brooks, a fire in daytime's winter, plays it sinister, serious and hot

December 17, 1995|LIBBY SLATE | Libby Slate is a frequent contributor to TV Times and Calendar

When "Days of Our Lives" hunk Jason Brooks got married last year in Las Vegas, he wore black silk pajamas. His bride Corinne was attired in a white peignoir.

That real-life ceremony seems appropriate for an actor who has worked the past two years in a medium that prides itself on memorable weddings. In fact, Brooks' character on the NBC soap opera, Peter Blake, is a brand-new bridegroom himself. He joined Jennifer Devereaux (played by Melissa Reeves) in holy matrimony late last month.

Unbeknownst to Jennifer, Peter has engaged in some pretty unholy alliances as the adopted son of the evil Stefano DiMera. So many, in fact, that Brooks was voted "Outstanding Villain" at the annual Soap Opera Awards earlier this year. One particularly dastardly deed: He put a mind-altering substance in the paint used to redecorate the office walls of Jennifer's mother, fearing she would come between them. His hope was that she would end up back at the asylum where she had previously stayed. (The plot ultimately failed.)

Brooks, 29, finds little disparity between Peter's unabashed romanticism and his darker side. "I don't see him as a villain," he says. "I don't think you can effectively play someone as a villain. You play your goals and values: You may be nefarious, but you have virtue. My character just wants to marry Jennifer. That's a pure, virtuous desire. He knows no other way. It's how he was raised. It's nice as an actor--it gives me room to grow. I get to play a character with a lot of dimensions, a lot of layers."

It was that combination of rogue and romantic that won Brooks the role in the first place. His classic good looks haven't hurt, having evoked comparisons with John F. Kennedy Jr. and Christopher Reeve and landed him on the cover of this month's Playgirl (sorry, fans, no centerfold).

His "Days" job was intended to last only 10 or 15 episodes but, because of the actor's chemistry with his cast mates on the screen, became a three-year contract role.

"We had tested him for the part of Austin," recalls "Days" co-executive producer Tom Langan. "He was not right, but when I saw his test, I said, 'This guy is really terrific.' When the part of Peter came up, I remembered Jason. He looked like he could be a good guy, with those all-American looks, but easily be a conniver. He can play a love scene with Jennifer and make us believe it totally, and then be with his underworld contacts and be as evil as they come. And we still like him."

"Likable" is a good word for Brooks, who is a lot more fun to be around than his alter ego. During a lunchtime interview, he is affable, humorous and reflective. Back on the "Days" set at NBC he's all business when taping a scene with Reeves. But at scene's end he'll mug into the camera and elicit laughs from the crew. They praise his knowledge of technical aspects of taping, his consideration for them and his talent for mimicry.

Raised in an achievement-oriented family, Brooks suppressed his acting desires in favor of entrepreneurship. At 17, he and a friend sold a line of women's active wear at Venice Beach and then at sororities at San Diego State University, where he was a business administration major. Five years later they built a thriving business, manufacturing and delivering nonfat yogurt throughout Southern California. Yearning for more fulfilling work, Brooks sold the company, investing some of the profits in acting classes. He had roles on "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "Baywatch" before being tapped for "Days."

He began his acting career in Los Angeles theater, and just ended another run on the boards playing Biff Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," at Ventura Court Theatre in Studio City.

It required a grueling work schedule, but, he says, "I've missed theater since coming on the show. I came from the school of being haughty about it. That left me the first five minutes I was here [on the soap]. This is hard work. But theater is in my soul, if I can get corny."

Theater may be Brooks' first acting love, but not his only one. "My concern as an actor is the material," he says. "I want stuff that's going to stretch me as an actor and excite me as a person. If I can get that from a soap, a film or a Tide commercial, so be it."

"Days of Our Lives" airs weekdays at noon on NBC.

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