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Operation Bakula : JUGGLING HIS DAYS AS SERIES STAR, PRODUCER AND FATHER

September 22, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Doing a one-hour action series is no walk in the park. The hours are incredibly long and the pace is overwhelmingly hectic.

But not only is Scott Bakula starring in CBS' new one-hour series, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," which premiered last week, he also is the executive producer of the series that combines elements of comedy, action, romance and espionage.

With a bemused grin, Bakula acknowledges that it's "sheer madness" to be wearing both hats.

"I guessed it was going to be pretty bad," says Bakula, 41, relaxing in his trailer during his lunch break. "I didn't think it would be as bad as it has been, but yet at the same time, I am surviving."

Plus, Bakula adds, he has achieved "mini-victories" for the series in the midst of the daily grind.

"You find a little something that really works," says Bakula, who won a Golden Globe for his work in NBC's sci-fi series "Quantum Leap." "Or a location that worked. Or a great piece of casting. I am still teaching myself every day: How am I psychologically going to survive? How do you get through all the negativity, all the notes, all the suggestions, all the help you get from people who are not directly involved in the project and enjoy the moments when things work?"

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" finds Bakula playing a dashing industrial spy who is teamed by his employer with a sexy, freelance operative (Maria Bello). It's a pinch of "Moonlighting," mixed with a little "Thin Man," some James Bond and a twist: For security reasons, neither is supposed to know anything personal about the other, including their real names.

On a recent afternoon, Bakula & Co. are shooting a nightclub scene in downtown Los Angeles. "We are invading the rock 'n' roll world," explains Bakula, who began his career on the Broadway musical stage. "I am playing a backup singer. So I actually end up singing a little bit and playing the piano."

Bakula was brought the idea for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" about a year ago by creators and executive producers Kerry Lenhart and John J. Sakmar. He'd been off of "Quantum Leap" for two years and had a production deal with Warner Bros. to produce, direct and star in series and movies.

"They said, 'We are thinking about this idea about two spies who can't find anything out about each other and they are infatuated with each other, but they have no past,' " Bakula recalls.

"It was all very appealing to me," he says. "The goal for me, if I went back to TV, was finding something that would be different from 'Quantum,' but at the same time would offer me the same kind of variety and interest and continuing excitement over the years that 'Quantum' did."

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" fit his demands. In the case of "Quantum," Bakula leaped into a different body each week, but with his new series he can play four to five characters per episode. "I am Mr. Smith, I'm the bicycle delivery guy. So I get a lot of opportunity. The sky is the limit with this show."

Bakula is eager to see how critics and audiences will respond to the series. "The hard thing about doing this show, especially now, is that we are totally in a vacuum," he explains. "What is the public going to respond to in the show? So it's going to be interesting to see when it finally gets out there."

As for newcomer Bello, Bakula says she was discovered by Lenhart and Sakmar when she appeared in their busted pilot for a new version of "77 Sunset Strip." The producers brought her to the attention of Warner Bros. and CBS.

The hope is that the Bakula-Bello combination will cause sexual sparks to fly, just as when Bakula played a recurring role as a dashing reporter opposite Candice Bergen on "Murphy Brown."

"There was something going on there," he says of his partnership with Bergen. "I can't explain it. Chemistry is an enigma to me. I can't explain it."

Bakula will be seen in an entirely different role next Sunday in the CBS movie, "Bachelor's Baby," which he also executive produced.

The actor cast himself in the comedy-drama as a carefree bachelor who discovers he has a baby son. Bakula's real-life girlfriend, Chelsea Field, plays the baby's mother, who has fallen on hard times. Bakula's character volunteers to take care of the infant until she gets on her feet.

"There's a lot of funny stuff in it," he says, "but underneath is this very heartwarming, really gentle but great story about a man who all of a sudden comes to love something besides his own single private life."

Coincidentally, Bakula and Field had a baby boy before production began on the film last February. "We were kind of coming off of that. It was great because the baby was on the set. Chelsea's mom was there with us. It was great for me in the work sense to have everyone with me."

Bakula made news of a much different sort last month when he got a restraining order against Tina Marie Ledbetter, whom the actor claims has written him numerous letters and called his publicist several times accusing him of betraying his fans by leaving his wife. He wanted to ensure that she didn't approach him or his family.

"That stuff comes with the territory," Bakula says. "I have never really had any fan problems. Sometimes boundaries get confused. You try and be as clear and as honest and upfront of what the boundaries are. This is my job, but I also have a life. I recognize that a part of my life's freedom is gone and it will be gone forever. But, also, I still go to the grocery store and the movies and pump gas and try to do as much as I can with my kids. All I ever want to do is have enough space so I can still do that with my kids. I don't want to live in a cage."

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS; "Bachelor's Baby" airs Sept. 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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