His path to stardom started in a kitchen

August 24, 1993|By Susan King | Susan King,Los Angeles Times

Don't fret if you catch a guy with longish brown hair and blue eyes staring at you. It just might be "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman's" heartthrob, Joe Lando.

"I've always watched people," says Mr. Lando, 31. "I'd sit back and check people out, especially at airports. Now you can't do that as much because you look at somebody and they look back at you. All of a sudden, they're thinking, 'Where do I know him from?' And you're thinking, 'Do they recognize me or do they think I'm just weird?' So I look down at my shoes a lot."

Since "Dr. Quinn's" January premiere, the personable actor has received more than his share of fan mail; he was even named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people this year. But he admits he's rarely recognized as "Dr. Quinn's" Byron Sully, the enigmatic frontiersman who lives with his wolf among the Cheyenne and is Dr. Mike's (Jane Seymour) best friend and ally on the prairie.

Once Mr. Lando's in street clothes -- out of the buckskin and makeup that give him a swarthy appearance -- Sully all but disappears. Mr. Lando says he's usually noticed as good guy Jake, whom he played for 370 episodes on ABC's daytime soap "One Life to Live."

And, no sooner did he finish filming the first 12 episodes of the new season of "Dr. Quinn" than he flew to New York to spend his summer on the CBS soap "Guiding Light." He doesn't know how his character will exit the soap next month. "I don't know if I will get killed off or have amnesia," he says. "All of a sudden I'll hit my head and be in the 1860s."

Mr. Lando was the first actor cast on "Dr. Quinn." A CBS casting director suggested him to creator-executive producer Beth Sullivan. When she saw him, Ms. Sullivan recalls, she knew she had her Sully.

"He's very charming," she says. "He's real. He's not the typical star jerk with any kind of pomp and ego trip. He has got incredible charisma. I think when you put those two things together, a real sensitivity and sincerity with that kind of sexy charm, that's devastating."

Though it's still early in the day, the set has reached about 100 degrees. Relaxed and funny, Mr. Lando doesn't seem to notice. He suggests chatting at a shaded area near Dr. Mike's homestead. He grabs two chairs and selects a covered spot on a small hill overlooking the ranch.

Mr. Lando believes Sully has clicked because the relationship between him and Dr. Mike is a lot like a romance novel, where "the male character is always there at the right time. He's tough, but he still has a very sensitive side. I think Sully represents the underdog. People always seem to like that."

Being the underdog is something he understands. The Chicago-born Lando always wanted to be an actor. He moved to Los Angeles 13 years ago. He became a movie caterer "so could I be on the set and see what was happening." Someone he met at the William Morris Agency turned him onto his first acting coach. "I just stayed in class and just watched people all around me take off. Years and years went by, and I had little parts there and there," including a bit in "Star Trek IV."

If he'd become a star at 18, Mr. Lando says, he doesn't think he would have had the maturity to handle fame. "Having this kind of exposure and being able to afford just about everything you want, I would have been a mess," he confesses. "This is a rough business. There's something unique in celebrity. No acting class can prepare you for it. You have to experience it firsthand."

Making a one-hour series also is rough on relationships. "That's why I'm not married," Mr. Lando says. (He has a steady girlfriend and briefly dated Ms. Seymour last year.)

"I have spent all my life working toward this," Mr. Lando explains. "The window only stays open so long. It's kind of like an athlete. If I don't establish myself now, they're not going to hire me 10 years down the road."

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