'Homicide' alum is knocking them out

Jon Seda has plunged into films, commercials and TV. It's a long way from his boxing days.

Television

July 22, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- Andre Braugher got his own series on ABC, Michael Michele moved on to ER, Clark Johnson directed a film about the Montgomery bus boycott for HBO, and Kyle Secor will be featured in the premiere episodes of two new network dramas this fall, ABC's Philly with Kim Delaney, and NBC's Crossing Jordan, with Jill Hennessy.

But you might be surprised to know that no alum of Homicide: Life on the Street, the critically acclaimed NBC drama that made Baltimore its home during the 1990s, has been busier since the series ended than Jon Seda, who played Detective Paul Falsone during the last two seasons of the series.

Seda, who was never featured in Homicide the way Braugher or even Michele was the final year, has done six feature films, a series of Miller Lite commercials that seems to play endlessly, a pilot with Dana Delany for a drama created by Homicide producer Tom Fontana, and now a starring role in UC: Undercover, a new cop drama that will join the NBC schedule Sundays at 10 p.m. this fall.

He is part of a large ensemble cast again, but this time he's the one showcased. In the pilot for UC: Undercover, Seda plays a federal officer getting emotionally lost in his undercover role -- think Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco. The intensity and range of Seda's performance is going to surprise those viewers who knew him only as Falsone.

"Hey, listen, Homicide played a huge role in my career," Seda said in an interview Thursday after a press conference here for UC: Undercover. The 30-year-old actor sounded just like Falsone with a badda-boom, badda-bing, East Coast accent somewhere between New York and New Jersey.

"Homicide showed me as an Italian, you know, consistently on TV," he continued. "It was a show -- maybe not in the ratings, but in terms of the writing -- that was great. You know, they say it was, like, the best show never seen.

"So, it gave me a lot of credibility to be around an Andre Braugher and all the others. It was an incredible cast that I got to learn from. You know, it gave me a lot of chops, a lot of instinctual things that I learned. For me, it was pivotal -- very pivotal. I mean, I'd done a lot of films before that, but it really helped me out."

Started in the ring

For someone who only started acting professionally in 1990, Seda had done a lot of films before coming to Homicide in 1997. His first role was as a Cuban boxer in the 1992 film Gladiator, with Cuba Gooding Jr. He took the role thinking of himself as a boxer, not an actor, but one thing led to another.

"I never wanted to be an actor. I didn't know about acting when I was growing up as a teen-ager. I thought boxing was going to be my career," said Seda, who was born in Manhattan and raised in New Jersey.

"And then they were looking for actual boxers for a film called Gladiator, and I thought, 'Maybe I'll get an extra part in the background, you know, hitting the bag or something.' And I end up getting the co-starring role, made money I'd never seen before, and blew it on a brand new car.

"So, I went back to fighting, had one more fight, won it, got another opportunity to be in another film and another one and another one and another one. Eventually, I said, 'I can't box and act.' So, I went with the acting, and 11 years later, here I am."

For the record, the car was a 1991 Dodge Stealth, and his career as a junior welterweight boxer (130 pounds) earned him runner-up in New Jersey Golden Gloves in 1990 as well as an invitation to train in Lake Placid for the 1992 Olympic boxing team, Seda said.

Boxing has played a big part in Seda's acting career over the years. He was recently seen as a boxer in Price of Glory, a feature film in which he co-starred with Jimmy Smits. He will next be seen in the Miramax film Undisputed, with Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames and Peter Falk. Seda described it as "a prison-boxing movie."

Fans of Homicide might remember seeing Seda's Falsone in the ring through the bedazzled eyes of Detective Ballard (Callie Thorne) in one of the hottest moments of the series' uneven final season.

But his career has gone well beyond his boxing persona. Seda delivered a fine performance as Chris Perez, husband of slain Tejano singer Selena, opposite Jennifer Lopez, in Selena. In 1995, his work opposite Lauren Velez and Rita Moreno in I Like It Like That earned him a best male actor Spirit Award for independent films. In 1996, his performance in Michael Cimino's Sunchaser resulted in a best acting nomination at the Cannes Film Festival.

No typecasting fears

Looking back across the range of Latino characters played by Seda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, helps put his comment about Homicide giving viewers a chance to see him as an Italian every week into context: While he embraces Latino roles, Homicide helped keep him from being typecast to only Latino roles. Being a minority actor -- even in a time of increasing multiculturalism -- is a complicated matter.

"I've been blessed. I've been very fortunate to play so many diversified roles," Seda said. "You know, I played Italian, I play Cuban, I play Puerto Rican, Mexican -- so many different types, good guy, bad guy.

"So it's good, because you always have something to showcase that you're not stereotyped. And I think this character in UC: Undercover could never be stereotyped, because he's going to be playing so many different roles himself."

The character's name, Jake Shaw, is ethnically neutral in its right. The most distinctive thing about the character, like the series, is the conscious attempt by the producers to create a cop hero with whom viewers under 35--- the new audience NBC is attracting via its reality series this summer -- can identify. If Jake Shaw is that guy, Seda is going to be huge.

"Hey, I'm hoping it goes. I'm signed for six years if this series goes. I'm hoping it can go forever like a Law & Order, or even for a while, like a Homicide."

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