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The Performance: Alex O'Loughlin in ‘The Back-Up Plan'

The Australian actor stars opposite Jennifer Lopez in the romantic comedy.

April 27, 2010|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

For someone so new to Hollywood, Alex O'Loughlin is very Hollywood.

"Do you mind?" he said, motioning toward his pack of cigarettes while sitting poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel earlier this week. "Or are you going to write in the interview, ‘and then he lit a Camel?'"

It's not that the 33-year-old is consumed with his own image — like some industry A-listers — but that he already understands its importance. Even the outfit he was wearing, which he would show off later that evening on " Jimmy Kimmel Live," had been selected by a stylist: distressed jeans, a pair of quirky bright green boots and trendy skinny tie.

It was a look far different than the one he has in his new film, "The Back-Up Plan," out Friday, in which he plays a cheese farmer — yes, really. His character, Stan, bumps into Zoe ( Jennifer Lopez) when the two serendipitously end up sharing the same taxi. Stan is immediately taken with Zoe, but the timing isn't ideal — she's just come from a doctor's appointment where she was artificially inseminated. When Zoe subsequently ends up getting pregnant with twins, Stan has to evaluate whether he's ready to settle down.

It's a predicament O'Loughlin finds difficult to imagine accepting.

"The baby stuff, especially," he said, oblivious to the glances he was receiving from admiring female onlookers. "It would be an enormous commitment. But I don't know … these two people's lives collide. They both find something they were looking for that they want really badly in someone else. That comes across in the film — how unique that is."

Also rare is the arc of a career like O'Loughlin's, which has brought him from his native Australia, where he worked in television and film, to the States, where he's now finding his face plastered all over billboards opposite one of the country's biggest stars.

And though the film opened to a lower-than-expected $12.3 million over the weekend, O'Loughlin said he tries not to focus on box office.

"You always feel it, it's right there, but I'm trying not to plug into it," he said. "I do think about it when I drive past some massive photo of myself and it's like, ‘Oh, that's me.' But you just can't dwell on what's going to happen."

He can recall feeling an early affinity for the stage as a precocious child.

"I did my first play when I was about 9, and to this day, I remember the feeling of first walking out on stage and feeling the lights and the presence of the audience," he said. "I remember being in this comedy play, and I had some spectacles on and two fish sticks coming out of my nose, and everyone was rolling around with laughter."

At the time, he declared he wanted to be an actor — but it was an ambition he neglected until he was 20 and watching a rugby match with his buddies.

"I'd had too much coffee and I was sort of showing off, narrating the game and being an idiot," he said. "And at halftime, my mate came up to me and said, ‘Dude, you're an actor and you're not doing anything about it.'"

The comment kept him awake for a few nights but eventually inspired him to quit his gig waiting tables. After auditioning with "a shrunken bladder and sweaty palms" for two days, at 23 he landed a spot at Sydney's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art, where both Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett have studied.

He found the serious curriculum, which included classics by Shakespeare and Chekhov, heavy at the time but has since come to appreciate the value of the education. In one of his first big post-graduation roles on the short-lived CBS drama "Moonlight," he used an acting technique and imagined himself as a finch as his character transformed into a vampire.

His part on that show, as well as his stints on "The Shield" and "Three Rivers," were enough to get him noticed by "The Back-Up Plan's" casting team. He was called to a reading with Lopez to see what kind of chemistry they had together, and when the two meshed, he got the part. It was the first time he had met the singer-actress, though he was already familiar with her work — and the stories of her rumored diva-like attitude.

"Of course, I heard those stories," he said, casually taking a drag of his cigarette. "But I was really curious to meet someone with that sort of level of celebrity [and learn] about the social nature of her existence. Because I can't imagine not being able to sit here and talk — or living in the shadow of that fame."

On set, he said he found Lopez to be "grand," often interacting with the crew members and her own family — her twins and husband Marc Anthony — who would come to visit.

Next up, O'Loughlin has shot a pilot for a new CBS remake of the series "Hawaii Five-O," in which he plays Det. Steve McGarrett, the role originated by Jack Lord. He doesn't have any new film projects lined up yet but said he hopes his next film will vary from the romantic comedy genre.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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