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Good news, bad news: a juicy part

October 17, 2003|Michael P. Lucas | Times Staff Writer

Consider Bobby Hosea fortunate. He's a working actor about to be featured in a high-visibility role in a newsworthy TV movie.

Consider Hosea unfortunate too. That role just happens to be sniper suspect John Muhammad in USA Network's original movie "D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear," which airs tonight.

Playing pariahs is becoming something of a habit. Hosea played the title role in Fox's 1995 TV movie "The O.J. Simpson Story."

That role was an easy fit for the affable, athletic Hosea. But will playing another bad-guy type him as a heavy for the rest of his career?

"The rest of my career," Hosea chortled recently over an iced coffee drink in a Studio City cafe. "If I have a rest of my career, that's fine with me."

A UCLA starting cornerback in the late 1970s when a broadcaster correctly predicted that his good looks would open the door to work in commercials, Hosea is now a husband and father of two, juggling TV and movie acting with a career as a youth football coach.

Looking cool and relaxed in a Hawaiian shirt, he laughed aloud recalling his favorite roles, including a turn as the romantic Herculean character Marcus on the fantasy-adventure series "Xena: Warrior Princess" that earned him a campy niche in TV cultdom.

"I've play so many kinds of guys," he said. "My biggest strength from when I was a kid ... is my power of make-believe."

Anyone following the news this week knows the outlines of tonight's movie, although the names of the real defendants were changed slightly for the movie.

Hosea plays a character called John Muhammad, who with his teenage protege John Lee Malvo (Trent Cameron), held Washington, D.C., and its suburbs in a paralyzing grip of gunfire and sudden death.

The script by Dave Erickson was torn straight from news headlines about the actual case of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. The former pleaded innocent when he went on trial this week, accused in the bizarre sniper shootings one year ago that took 10 lives.

In bringing the sniper to life, Hosea had to embody an especially cruel villainy. And "Sniper" executive producer Orly Adelson said Hosea projects pure evil rather deftly.

"It's ... something in his eyes that transcends some kind of power that I felt was right for the role," she said.

The movie reflects the taut, real-life drama being played out in a Virginia courthouse where, last week, lawyers for Malvo, now 18, said they would plead insanity, arguing that he was a victim of "indoctrination" by the older suspect.

Cameron, 24, said that portraying Malvo as a cherubic youth, trained for death-dealing acts by an older man in the gym and over a chessboard, was the challenge of his career.

"I had to get into a mind-set of being very innocent but at the same time ignorant to allow this man to control me. That was difficult," Cameron said.

"The way I played the role, he felt he was part of something, that he ... was doing something for a greater good, which is kind of sickening," Cameron said.

Hosea infuses his character's relationship with the younger man with an authenticity he credits to his work as a youth coach, but he also summons the blackest of hearts.

"What hit me," Hosea said, grimly now, "is that ... at the end of this madness, this young boy is going to go to the gates of hell with this adult. It's one thing for an adult to make an insane decision, but another to take a child to hell with you."

In recalling his earlier major villain role, he was struck at the time at how many people recognized him as the screen version of the football hero charged with murder.

Now he's braced for more audience recognition -- and, no doubt, keen attention from students at Narbonne High School of Harbor City, where he's defensive backfield and special teams football coach.

He tried to get a jump on that, obtaining a screening tape that he's started passing around to members of the team.

"They say it's scary," he said, then added with the laugh, "Then they say, 'We always knew you were crazy.' "

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