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Ken Olin Pounds the 'EZ Streets' : Olin Gets Physical : IN A SERIES ROLE 180 DEGREES FROM 'THIRTYSOMETHING'S' STEADMAN, THE ACTOR PLAYS A COP ON A MISSION

November 03, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken Olin has fallen in love with acting again thanks to his new CBS series, "EZ Streets."

In the dark, serialized police thriller, Olin's Cameron Quinn is a police detective pretending to be a dirty cop so he can infiltrate and ultimately bring down a powerful crime gang called the Easys.

Olin acknowledges that he was burnt out as an actor after starring as Michael Steadman for four seasons on ABC's acclaimed 1987-91 yuppie-angst series "thirtysomething."

"It took me a while to just regenerate some of that enthusisam for acting," the personable Olin explains over a lunch of chicken and veggies in his trailer at the "EZ Streets" set--the old Terminal Annex Building near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

"I think you do a series for four years and it's exhausting," Olin, 42, says. "There are so many things about it which are consuming."

Especially in the case of "thirtysomething."

"It was the celebrity and being so closely associated with the character and trying to do different projects whenever we had any window of opportunity," he explains.

Except for a miniseries and a TV movie with his wife and "thirtysomething" co-star, Patricia Wettig, he has spent the past five years directing--four movies, a TV pilot and a series of commercials. He enjoyed the work but discovered it has a downside: the projects' location shooting frequently took him away from home. Olin shot the HBO picture "In Pursuit of Honor" in Australia and was in Canada for the ABC movie "The Broken Chord" and the Disney theatrical "White Fang II: Myth of the White Wolf."

"I just missed my family," he says. "Directing is a really difficult job--just the time commitment and the amount of work and responsibility is really intensive."

He hasn't given it up. He directed the second episode of "EZ Streets" because he felt it was important to "make a statement that I believed in the show and was really committed to do this even though I had been directing. The only window of opportunity in order to prep the show was at the beginning. Maybe I will do more. It depends on if we can continue to get good directors or if I get antsy to direct just to direct."

Olin made the decision to return to work full-time in front of the camera about a year ago, after his agent told him: "You don't have to direct to the exclusion of acting. Maybe it would be nice to have as many options as possible."

Not long after, Olin took a meeting with CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves, who asked him to read the pilot script of "EZ Streets," which was penned by "thirtysomething" alumnus Paul Haggis.

Olin immediately bonded with his role as Cameron Quinn. "I loved the character. I loved the story. I was just so excited about it. I said to Patty, 'This is good. This so much fun.' "

He was excited at the prospect of playing a character "who was complicated or at least really conflicted, facing an ideological and moral situation, but doing so without a lot of speaking, getting to do physical things, being in danger and saying cool lines. The idea of playing a character who was more the archetypal American hero, whether it be an anti-hero, is really appealing."

What also was appealing to Olin is the fact that Cameron Quinn is the exact opposite of Michael Steadman.

"I was really appreciative of the fact that Les did not approach me with the variety of 'fortysomething' pilots they were developing," Olin says. "In fact, he said to me in his office, 'You you are going to like this script because he's nothing like Michael Steadman.' "

Neither is Olin, the actor maintains. "It's funny," he says. "I began my career on stage and played much more urban characters. I didn't grow up in the same way Michael Steadman grew up, with that same sort of self-analysis and sense of isolation. I was an athlete all through high school, so to play a character whose physical presence proceeds him-- as opposed to his intellectual presence--that's fun."

Before production began, Olin rode along with Chicago cops in their squad cars. "These guys have a code of ethics," he says with a wave of his fork. "They believe in right and wrong. They believe in what they are doing. It's a very male world. It's very much hold the line. There's a lot of cynicism, but underneath the cynicism is a real sense of doing good."

Olin was fascinated with the physical presence of the policemen. "The way they walk into the room and in the world is very much with a physical sense of themselves," he says.

He has brought that distinctive physicality to Quinn, imbuing him with a strong, no-nonsense, world-weary presence.

"My hair is definitely different [than when he played Michael Steadman]," Olin says with a laugh. "My hair is thinning, but it's definitely short. I have read reviews were they talk about me pumping up for this part. I weigh the same that I did when I did 'thirtysomething.' I do work out with these guys at Fitness Concepts, but I am really not physically in such different shape. But the character presents himself [as such]. It's the perception.

"Somebody said you would probably want Michael Steadman with you in an argument, but you would certainly want Cameron Quinn in a fight," Olin quips. "I wouldn't want Michael Steadman with me in a fight."

"EZ Streets' airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.

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