An agent, when asked to represent a then-young actor named Robert Redford, reportedly commented: "Why? If you throw a stick in Malibu, you'll hit 10 of them."

Although Matt Adler's not a Redford clone by any means, the 20-year-old actor with his beach-blond looks knows the difficulties of convincing the Hollywood hierarchy that he's more than just a pretty face in the crowd.

After studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute, performing in 10 plays locally, having minor roles in the movies "Flight of the Navigator" and "Teen Wolf" and a featured part in the made-for-TV film "Shattered Vows," Adler is getting his chance next month to carry a film on his own. And he has three more movies in the can.

He portrays a naive, happy-go-lightly surfer in the Aug. 14 Universal release "North Shore." He appears in almost every scene of the movie, including hanging 10 in his own surfing stunts.

But Adler's not just a cute teen idol. He has overcome a real-life background littered with drugs and alcohol.

As he broke out of that self-destructive mold, he's equally determined now to break out of what he sees as the career-limiting teen-idol mold.

Besides starring in "North Shore," his other leading roles this year are in Cannon's "Doin' Time on Planet Earth," the John Landis comedy "Amazon Women of the Moon" and Columbia's "White Water Summer," which opened in the Northwest two weeks ago but currently has no national release date.

"I don't consider myself to be the beefcake sex symbol that Hollywood routinely produces. I look that way I guess, but I feel the teen-idol label can be a determinant just like being a pretty young actress in Hollywood. People look at you and think the only thing (that) you're capable of performing is the art of walking a straight line," Adler says with an easy grin.

A California native who actually does spend his spare time surfing, Adler comes across as a serious actor without any pretensions.

Even though he isn't old enough to drink in most states, Adler was a teen-age alcoholic who claims that drinking and drugs almost killed him.

"As a teen-ager searching for my identity I got heavily into drugs and alcohol. I alienated my family. My brother Josh was an All-American boy at school and I rebelled against all the good work he was doing. I became a self-seeking monster who was driven to drink and using drugs on a daily basis," states Adler, his voice serious.

"I've been sober and drug free for the past three years. By all logic, I should be dead. I went through therapy to cure my addictions. I hit bottom at age 17 and then said I'm going to stop my slow suicide. These experiences made me very streetwise and appreciative of life. The turmoils most actors encounter being rejected for a role seem to fade with me when I compare them to my past. . . . "I've always wanted people to like me. I was so insecure then, which is part of the reason I was so screwed up. . . . So why did I get in a business that feeds on insecurities? Is it because I'm psychotic? Is it because this is the fear that drives me?

"Probably. Because I don't really like to be too secure because it's boring."

The positive side of Adler's ordeal and strong teen appeal is that kids listen when he lectures at high schools about drug abuse. Adler belongs to Young Artists United, an organization of more than 150 young entertainment professionals who encourage social responsibility among teens. "I get so much satisfaction out of being a drug counselor to kids and giving back some of the help I've gotten. I lost part of my youth and I don't want others to make my same mistakes and think nobody cares."

Considering all he's been through, Adler feels "that I instantly aged from 13 to 40."

But Adler's adult attitude hasn't been reflected in any of his screen roles. "I want to get away from playing a high school student with a love problem," he sighs. "Rick Kane" (his "North Shore" character) is the nicest kid you've ever met. . . . I'd love to play a psycho who makes people want to throw up when you see him on the screen."

"North Shore" producer Randal Kleiser, who directed "Grease," "Blue Lagoon" and "Flight of the Navigator," thinks Adler can overcome the teen-idol label. "Matt has the poise and attitude of a veteran adult actor. . . . He seems like a grown-up who's just now letting the kid in him come out."

Adler admits he doesn't have a game plan for his career: "I'm prepared to let this business go when I have to. I don't take the business seriously, but I take the work seriously."

"I'm in moderate warp drive now," he says, slipping into one of his teen characters and gleefully mixing his metaphors. "I'm running down the base line and going for the hoop. I'm not a hound on the scent of a fast fox, but I'm getting there."

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