Sunday, July 20, 2003

'Tarzan' actor says 'anything for success,' even shoes

Television: Summer press tour

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Travis Fimmel plays Tarzan on WB.
(WB photo)
LOS ANGELES - No shirt, no shoes, no service.

TV's new Tarzan understands the rules, so he slipped on flip-flops to attend WB's press party at Hollywood's swank White Lotus Restaurant.

"I can't get into places without shoes. I've got my flip-flops on," explains Travis Fimmel, 24, the former Calvin Klein underwear and jeans model, to members of the Television Critics Association gathered here to preview the fall TV season.

"As a kid, my nickname was Tarzan for awhile ... because I never wore shoes," he says.

And judging by the WB fall drama pilot, an updated version of the Edgar Rice Burrough's ape-man character, it's obvious that the Australian model-actor is quite comfortable in nearly nothing.

Fimmel's washboard abs and shoulder-length blond hair will make Tarzan one of the most talked about fall dramas, even though viewers who remember Ron Ely or Johnny Weissmueller won't recognize this plot.

This Tarzan lives in the asphalt jungle of Manhattan, after being "rescued" from Africa by his uncle John (Mitch Pileggi from The X-Files). Tarzan doesn't holler, swing on vines or wear a loincloth.

And his Jane (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a New York police detective.

Yes, WB has turned the restless wild man into a New York cop show.

Me Tarzan? WB's young audience won't know the difference, and probably won't care.

"I know the legend, and all that stuff, but this is a different version," says Fimmel.

A childhood dream

Fimmel's story, too, is the stuff from which legends are made.

He was raised on a family dairy and beef farm in the small town of Echuca, Australia. While he and his two brothers milked 700 cows each day, Fimmel fantasized about becoming a famous actor.

"As a kid, I dreamed of doing this stuff, but I was so far away from it," he says. "I forgot about it for about 12 years ... because I'm from nowhere, man."

So he played for an Australian Football League team, studied engineering and architecture for a year at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and traveled Europe before coming to Hollywood 21/2 years ago.

His first success came as the nearly naked Calvin Klein guy, which even he called "embarrassing." It's also an image that movie casting directors might never forget.

"I'll be fighting that the rest of my life," he says.

"But it was a great opportunity, and I might not be here today without it. It might have been the only way I could stay in this country, through modeling," he says.

Playing Tarzan has been a real challenge for the novice actor, especially since Tarzan is a man of few words.

Fimmel spends a big hunk of the pilot silently crouching, shirtless and shoeless, in fear of his uncle. He doesn't speak until meeting Jane, with whom he'll have a Beauty and the Beast romance.

Already he has learned that the WB will exploit his sexy body to promote the show. The network gave TV critics a special TV Guide edition with Fimmel naked from the waist up on the cover.

No shirt, no shoes - know publicity!

"I'm very happy the show is getting a lot of attention. It's flattering, but it's too bad they didn't use a shot with a top on. It's just not me," he says.

"But I hope the show is successful. I'll do anything to help provide people with success."

Wants to do movies

That includes being cornered by TV critics. Unlike most TV stars, Fimmel seems very uncomfortable surrounded by a dozen reporters holding tape recorders.

"I hate all of this (publicity) stuff, man, but you've got to do it to do what you love," he says.

WB executives, however, might not enjoy reading what he tells reporters. Tarzan is just a swing through his career on the way to becoming a movie star.

"I'm not in it to do TV," he says. "TV is a great opportunity for me, a learning curve, for the movies and different roles.

"I don't think anyone gets into acting to say: I just want to be on TV."


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Get to it!