MOVIES : SEXY SWAYZE : On the Set of His First Film Since 'Dirty Dancing'

Patrick Swayze has discovered that with huge success comes the feeling "everything is designed to help you sell out." He doesn't like the feeling.

For years, the Houston-born actor with the Adonis body and good ol' guy face has been talking a true believer's line when it comes to the subject of artistic integrity. Now riding the tidal wave of his "Dirty Dancing" success--magazine covers, mob scenes with fans, and a Barbara Walters interview behind him--Swayze is finding himself with the opportunity to practice what he preaches.

"There are people who want me to do a cologne. They want to call it 'Patrick,' " he scoffs. "I was offered a fortune to make exercise videos. Posters, all kinds of stuff--something like $10 million worth. It's insanity. I'm not going to do any of it."

What Swayze is doing is producer Joel Silver's $15-million "Road House," now shooting in the Santa Clarita Valley near Valencia. Due out next winter, it's the first feature Swayze has made since "Dirty Dancing" mamboed its way to box-office heaven, and it's a decided switch from the romantic "women's movie" that marked his breakthrough.

"Road House" has Swayze as a bouncer with a difference (a Ph.D. in philosophy) who takes on the chore of cleaning up a rowdy Missouri honky-tonk and soon runs into trouble from local kingpin Ben Gazzara. Sam Elliott is Swayze's buddy and newcomer Kelly Lynch provides the love interest.

The movie is chockablock with the sort of macho-minded ingredients that have become producer Silver's stock in trade in movies like "48 HRS.," "Commando," "Lethal Weapon" and this summer's Bruce Willis-vs.-terrorist adventure, "Die Hard."

It features stunts ranging from a high-speed chase in which a Mercedes is blown up in midair to a "big foot" truck smashing through a plate glass window. Instead of lifts, splits and swiveling hips, Swayze will be seen executing a combination of nine different fighting styles, from basic street scuffling to exotic kick boxing.

After five days of shooting a fight scene on a river bank near Fresno, Swayze, 35, had to have 80 cc.'s (approximately 2 1/2 ounces) of fluid drained from the damaged left knee that's plagued him throughout his career. Four operations on that knee led to Swayze's 1978 decision to move to Los Angeles from New York--where he had studied and performed with the Harkness, Joffrey and Feld dance companies--and channel his drive into an acting career.

More surgery now looms. "Running, I think, is difficult for him," says director Rowdy Herrington. But he adds that whatever pain the actor has experienced, it hasn't slowed him or the production down. Even stunt coordinator Charles Picerni says that among other things, Swayze handled a stunt that required making a 20-foot drop from a rooftop to a truck bed.

During a break in shooting, Swayze talks about his physical woes with the unemotional air of a professional athlete doing a locker-room interview.

"God knows," he says, asked how he initially hurt his back. Then, off-handedly: "I've had so many injuries." But he's quick to point out that they haven't stopped him yet.

What Swayze's anxious to get across is his desire "to turn an action film into a performance film--by turning this character into a real, feeling human being."

He also hopes to attract a considerable portion of his female following to "Road House" by bringing as much sensitivity to his tough-guy-with-a-brain character as possible.

While it isn't a romantic film, "Road House" does have a romantic moment or two, he notes. "The love scene is probably the hottest I've ever done, and clothes don't even come off.

"What's powerful about a love scene is not seeing the act. It's seeing the passion, the need, the desire, the caring, the fear," Swayze adds. "You don't need to get graphic unless the actors can't deliver the goods. . . . Maybe that's not always true, but in most cases it is. Sometimes it's just that the film maker wants a little porn for himself. I don't believe in that."

One of the creative collaborations in which Swayze and his wife, actress/dancer Lisa Niemi, engage, he says, is "figuring out these love scenes together in advance, working out what is going to make them the hottest."

The at-home choreography also helps him, "because it's very scary to do a love scene. You're displaying something private with 50 people on the set watching. I don't think you ever get used to it, because, boy," he laughs, "it still intimidates me!"

Since Swayze fans have proven ravenous enough to queue up for a chance to sleep in the same hotel room he used while on North Carolina location for "Dirty Dancing," it's not surprising that admirers have been out en masse whenever the "Road House" company has worked in public.

(In one frequently-cited case, the film production unit was working on what was thought to be inaccessible private land--but a pickup truck full of middle-aged blond women trundled in just the same.)

Swayze is widely perceived by his co-workers as being generous about giving time to his fans. Several members of the production team remember a night when he was still out signing autographs as the crew was leaving.

"He hasn't realized yet that he's not going to be able to sign an autograph for everyone who wants one," says his manager, Lois Zetter, who said she receives an average of 50 pieces of fan mail addressed to Swayze each day. "He has very strong feelings about what he owes the fans."

A few days later, in the quiet of his motor home dressing room, Swayze talks wistfully about getting away from it all. His wife recently spent six days alone in an isolated mountain cabin in order to get back in touch with herself. He would like to do the same.

"When I think about it, it brings up a lot of emotions, because I need that. I need it bad," he says. "I'm feeling like I'm walking on the edge of a cliff that drops off either side. If I don't keep my focus straight and clean, I'll fall.

"I thought I had prepared myself for this success," says Swayze, whose earlier movies include "The Outsiders" and "Red Dawn." "I've dealt with a certain amount of notoriety

for six years now, so I felt I knew the ropes. But I knew nothing."

Swayze's decision to "disappear and bury my butt in acting classes" after his almost hysterically lauded 1980 film debut in "Skatetown U.S.A." has become a shopworn article of his celebrity lore. Determined to avoid categorization as a beefcake teen idol, he rejected several of what he deemed "crotch first" roles. He guessed early fame "would mess up my head."

Swayze is already preparing for his next role--a Kentuckian who comes to Chicago to avenge thedeath of his brother, a cop--in Lorimar's "Next of Kin." The picture's set to roll in mid-August.

Meanwhile, he's had the bed taken out of his dressing room and replaced with portable recording equipment. Between "Road House" takes, he is hustling to finish writing songs for the sound track of his upcoming movie, "Tiger Warsaw," a low-budget drama he completed before "Dirty Dancing."

Based on Swayze's new celebrity, Sony's fledgling film distribution arm now plans to give "Tiger Warsaw" a nationwide release in September (the company's first film release). Swayze, who plays the estranged son of Piper Laurie, returns home 15 years after a violent scene during which he shot his father.

In contrast to his $1 million "Road House" fee, Swayze has said that he and the rest of the "Tiger Warsaw" cast took "almost nothing" in payment.

(Swayze and Niemi completed "Steel Dawn" seven months before "Dirty Dancing" opened. The futuristic Western opened and died in two weeks last November, taking in a paltry $526,000. This year, hyped by on-sight billboards touting Swayze's name, it was resurrected in video stores. Vestron Pictures reports sales of 400,000 units to rental outlets.)

As for other film plans, he's high on a Columbia project that would team him with Robert Duvall--"but I really shouldn't say too much about it"--and he's "mixed" about the much-discussed "Dirty Dancing II."

"So many times a sequel is a rip-off. People think they can get away with less because they've got a built-in audience. I don't want to be involved unless it looks as if it has a chance to be better than the first one.

Now, with "Dirty Dancing" passing the $125 million mark in domestic and foreign box-office revenues, Swayze and Niemi have "about 10" projects in the works under their own production company banner, Troph Productions Inc.

On a Friday afternoon inside the Valencia warehouse that's serving as a sound stage for the "Road House" team, crew members cluster around Swayze as he shows off snapshots of the foal his Arabian mare delivered the night before. The event kept him and his wife busy most of the night at their five-acre ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Even so, he looks only slightly wilted.

Swayze says he's had a total of six hours' sleep in three days.

"It's been an insane schedule, and also, the racehorses are going inside my head," admits the former Houstonite in his normal off-camera drawl. "But I have a well of energy that's never run dry. People say, 'You'll burn out.' I say, 'Really? Watch me.' "

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