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His remade life is a work in progress

John Stamos isn't just another pretty face. At least that's how he hopes viewers will see him on his new comedy.

March 06, 2005|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

America's squeaky-clean sitcom heartthrob is all grown up, recovering from a couple of personal hard knocks and about to launch his new ABC romantic comedy, "Jake in Progress." But none of these new turns in his life explains why people keep burning up his cellphone with messages that sound like rap lyrics: "Yo, yo, yo, P. Diddy, I'm your man." "You go, Puffy, I'm all for you."

Blame Paris Hilton, of course. Or whoever supposedly hacked into her Sidekick and posted her address book online. Thing is, the joke's on the crank callers: the "S. John" in Paris' phone book is a far cry from Sean John. It's John Stamos, the pretty-boy rock 'n' rolling singer-musician-actor who once played with a touring version of the Beach Boys and is still wooing girls all over the planet as Uncle Jesse on "Full House," the family sitcom that went off the air in 1995 but is experiencing a revival in syndication.

The less-than-salacious truth is that Stamos has known Paris since she was a little girl, when her parents would take her and her sister, Nicky, to watch the Beach Boys perform every New Year's Eve. The two girls were thrilled to meet the band's teen-idol drummer, who also played Blackie Parrish on "General Hospital" from 1982 to 1984.

These days, the newly single actor has been going out on the town more, and going out in Hollywood means inevitably running into the girl who was his biggest fan way back when. One recent night she took his cell number to call him about a party, and the next thing he knew he was part of blogging history.

Surprisingly, given his recent efforts at reinvention, mentions of his famous corny but lovable roles -- especially Uncle Jesse, a rocker who loved the ladies but none more than his three nieces -- do not make Stamos wince.

"I'm very proud of what the show did for me and for family television," he said on a recent afternoon, relaxing in the Spanish-style Hollywood Hills home he's been renting for a month. Stamos was just back from a two-week vacation in Brazil and nursing a cold as he served up steak and salmon skewers he had grilled. "Although it has been a difficult time trying to separate myself from that mullet-headed, guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding dude. It's been a double-edged sword. I don't blame people for their perception of me because that's all they have been given for the last 10 years, 'Full House' reruns. Obviously, I think I'm capable of a lot more. Everybody sees me as a kid, still."

At 41, Stamos became an adult a long time ago, but it's only in the last few years, after some painful setbacks, that the actor who was raised in Cypress and always dreamed of stardom, feels he became a man. When his father, William Stamos, who owned a fast-food restaurant chain in Orange County, died in 2001, Stamos became more introspective, wanting to spend more time than ever at home with his wife. But then last April his five-year marriage to model-actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos came to an end, and Stamos found solace in a period of soulful reflection.

"I've had a fairy tale life," Stamos said. "I had a perfect family, a beautiful childhood, an incredible upbringing. I lived a lot of life but a lot of good life. There was very little darkness, which I'm grateful for. But in the last few years, losing my father, going through a divorce and not getting some jobs I really wanted, is making me a much more interesting person, I think.... This all really does feel like a rebirth, a new chapter. Everything feels sort of fresh."

After "Full House" ended, Stamos threw himself into musical theater, winning critical acclaim for roles on Broadway in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Cabaret" and "Nine." He also went behind the scenes in Hollywood, producing TV movies and short films, and in 2001 starred in the ABC drama "Thieves," canceled after eight episodes.

Stamos' new show, "Jake in Progress," has been a chance to redefine himself for a new audience. Filmed like "Sex and the City" and "Scrubs" -- and unlike traditional sitcoms -- with one camera and no studio audience, "Jake in Progress" centers on a celebrity publicist, Jake Phillips, who has everything going for him except a lasting love, and his two friends, one married and suffering from grass-is-greener syndrome, the other single and a believer in love at any cost.

"These stories are ripped from the headlines -- only these are from the headlines of 'Us Weekly' and 'Entertainment Weekly,' " said creator Austin Winsberg, previously a story editor on 'Still Standing.' "In the last few years, the celebrity mill has become huge news, so I try to find the good gossip fodder and poke fun at that a little bit." Jake, for instance, represents actor Vin Diesel, who has created a scent "that comes in a bottle shaped like a fuel pump."

A rare opportunity

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