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Very James Woods

Playing a predatory prosecutor on the CBS series `Shark' is giving the veteran actor a great deal of pleasure. But there's pain in his life too.

October 04, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

JAMES WOODS is the first to admit that his first full-time TV job isn't much of a stretch. On CBS' new show "Shark," he plays the loud and egotistical Sebastian Stark, an ostentatious Los Angeles defense lawyer who switches sides and joins the district attorney's office.

Woods, after all, has spent much of his on-screen career playing versions of himself, even spoofing that persona on HBO's "Entourage" last season, when he guest-starred opposite his real-life 20-year-old girlfriend, Ashley Madison. Instead, Woods said, the bigger challenge presented by the current role is that Stark has just assumed primary custody of his 16-year-old daughter, Julie, played by Danielle Panabaker. (Woods, 59, does not have any children.)

On the day the show premiered, Woods reflected on why "Shark" is his most enjoyable work to date -- "I actually, gleefully would do it for free" -- even though it comes at "the worst time of my life": Woods' younger brother, Michael J. Woods, 49, died of a heart attack on July 26, just days after the pair had completed a cross-country trip together.

Some highlights from a day spent on the Fox lot where the show is shot:

In his trailer

\o7Since arriving on the lot early in the morning, Woods muttered repeatedly that he needed to learn his lines for an upcoming courtroom scene but seemingly never stopped long enough to do so. Yet, when the camera rolled, his words matched the script verbatim. In between scenes, he cooed to and played with Angel, his tiny black terrier who sports a collar with daisies on it, and talked about his "photographic memory."

This dog is a person. I love her! She's so cute since she was a little tiny baby. She could stand in my hand. I learned [my lines] when we were talking and walking over. A lot of people like to learn the lines ahead of time because it's not so easy to memorize. I could look at a page and memorize it. This stuff is a little harder because it's exposition, and when you're giving exposition, people don't talk like that. I find that just kind of rehearsing it....all of a sudden it makes sense. Now, for some reason, it's almost like I'm an idiot savant. I just look and the lines come. I don't know why.

His cellphone rings, and he asks his publicist to answer it in case it's his 80-year-old mother in Rhode Island.

I had a 184 IQ. I used to be smart before I was an actor.

The funny thing is I did take an IQ test online and I got a 170-plus like three or four months ago. They say your IQ doesn't change. I can't remember names anymore or if I got a lot on my mind, I'll forget who I played golf with yesterday. For some reason, I've kept my capacity to reason, my conceptual ability and sophisticated logic.

I had the highest test scores in my school system, and so when my brother went through school 10 years later, he had the highest test scores. My brother was the single most erudite person in the world. Not a single thing you could ever mention about history that my brother wouldn't go on for 20 minutes about. When we drove cross-country, no matter what we talked about, we'd be in the Missouri Breaks and he'd go, "Oh yeah, Lewis and Clark when they were here ..." and he'd go on and on. I'd go, "God, how do you know this stuff?"

Woods' publicist mentions that former Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark will be interviewing him today for a segment on "Entertainment Tonight."

I met her at the O.J. trial. It's a very funny story, actually. I had family coming out visiting, and my aunt wanted an O.J. T-shirt or something. My mom said, "They're from around the country, to them it would be a big thing." So we go downtown to the courthouse and one of the sheriffs saw me and said, "Oh, Mr. Woods, are you going to the trial?" And I was with my mom, my aunt -- like four of us. So I said, "Yeah." I get in and the first thing I do, O.J. turns around and steps up and goes to shake my hand. Now the one thing I don't want is the world to see O.J. Simpson shaking my hand. OK? Clearly. And I'm standing there thinking -- what am I going to do? And one of the lawyers puts his hand down, "You can't interact with people." Thank God .... But that was such a seminal event. It's one of the reasons I wanted to take this part, because I watched how polarizing all of these trials have been.

After offering Angel a treat, he continued.

It was a very pragmatic choice to do this [role].... I read it and I thought, "Wow, when am I going to get a great part like this in any medium again for a long time?" Well, people say you haven't done movies lately. I go, "Well, tell me a part I should have done." I watch "Spider-Man," for example, and I see a great actor like Willem Dafoe, and he's hopping around wearing a goblin mask -- I'm not putting him down.... This is one of the few parts that a middle-aged heterosexual white guy is consigned to in feature films this day.

On Stage 8

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