DR. QUINN’S GUIDING LIGHT
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 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 Lando’s in street clothes--out of the buckskin and makeup that give him a swarthy appearance--Sully all but disappears. 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.”
Daytime drama continues to attract Lando, if only for brief periods. No sooner did he finish filming the first 12 episodes of the upcoming 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.”
Lando was the first actor cast on “Dr. Quinn.” A CBS casting director suggested him to creator-executive producer Beth Sullivan. When she saw Lando, Sullivan recalls, she knew she had her Sully.
“He’s very charming,” Sullivan 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, 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.
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 can relate to. The Chicago-born Lando always wanted to be an actor. He moved to Los Angeles 13 years ago and “banged around for many, many years,” usually working as a chef. He learned how to spin pizzas--Lando was the pizza consultant on the 1990 comedy “‘I Love You to Death"----and is “great” with a knife.
“I saute like a madman,” Lando brags, flashing a smile. Lando then 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” and non-union extra work.
“It was hard,” Lando says. “It also makes you appreciate that I’m sitting here talking to you now and working on this job.”
If he’d become a star at 18, 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’ve been a mess,” he confesses. “This is a rough business. There’s something very 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,” Lando says. (Lando has a steady girlfriend and briefly dated Seymour last year.)
“I have spent all my life working toward this,” 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.”
THE WESTERN ROUNDUP
A herd mentality among TV programmers? Perish the thought. But who would argue that the recent and imminent debuts of a half-dozen Westerns on network and cable are coincidence? The new kids in the corral might want to think “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” for opening up the West-again. After years without a “Gunsmoke” or a “Rawhide,” suddenly we’re bucking a lot of broncos:
Ned Blessing: The Story of His Life and Times, with Brad Johnson and Wes Studi. Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Harts of the West, with Beau Bridges, Harley Jane Kozak and Lloyd Bridges. Saturdays at 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 25.
Walker, Texas Ranger, with Chuck Norris. Saturdays at 10 p.m. Returns Sept. 25.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., with Bruce Campbell, Julius Carrey, Christian Clemenson. Premieres Friday at 8 p.m.
Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, with Andrew Clarke, Wendy Hughes and Joshua Lucas. Saturdays at 6 p.m., Sundays at 9 p.m. Premieres Saturday.