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WITH AN EYE ON ... : The dinosaurs <i> really </i> liked Wayne Knight--and so do TV producers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wayne Knight is here. Wayne Knight is there. Wayne Knight is appearing everywhere.

Turn on the TV this season and you can catch the 38-year-old actor in three NBC series. He’s a regular on the John Mendoza sitcom “The Second Half” and pops up on a recurring basis on “Seinfeld” as Kramer’s slovenly friend Newman. He’s also on the Friday night drama “Against the Grain.”

Knight also has appeared in such popular films as “Dead Again,” “JFK” and “Basic Instinct.” His beefy profile got monstrous exposure this summer, of course, playing the slimy computer hack who becomes dinosaur dinner in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Jurassic Park.”

“I’ve been very lucky over the past few years,” Knight admits. “I was doing ‘The Edge’ (the short-lived Fox series) while I was doing ‘Jurassic Park.’ I was doing ‘Basic Instinct’ while doing ‘JFK.’ It seems to be the nature of my existence either to be unemployed or have too many jobs.”

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Knight says he and his dinosaur co-star became very close during the making of “Jurassic,” which recently surpassed “E.T.” as the highest grossing film of all time.

“We became intimate as a matter of fact,” he quips. “We swapped spit.”

But making “Jurassic” wasn’t, pardon the pun, a walk in the park.

“The idea of being soaking wet and covered in goo,” Knight says. “There were three different kinds of goo they used. There was this guy standing three feet away from me with an air rifle with a fist-size wad of that stuff. They just shot it in my eyes. Meanwhile, it’s torrentially raining on me and everyone else is in rain gear.”

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“Jurassic Park” has brought Knight great visibility, but in big cities he’s usually recognized as Newman on “Seinfeld.” “I got recognized in Yankee Stadium by a moving band of drunks who were chanting, ‘New-man, New-man,’ " he recalls, laughing.

Knight was shocked recently when a fan actually knew his name. “I remember being in a grocery store one day and someone came up to me and said, ‘Wayne Knight.’ They had actually known my name as a actor. You go through a period when people think you are their brother-in-law.”

Born in New York City, Knight grew up in rural Cartersville, Ga. Knight attended the University of Georgia and performed in regional theater until he left school to work at the Barter Theater in Virginia. After obtaining his Actor’s Equity card, Knight drove to New York and landed a role in the long-running Broadway comedy “Gemini.”

He got the gig in a most unusual fashion. “I wrote (the producers) saying, ‘I’ve seen your play and if you ever replace this role, if I don’t get an audition for it, you are making a big mistake,”’ Knight says. “They called me in. I auditioned for it and got the part.”

In between acting jobs, Knight made ends meet as a private investigator. “I’d been waiting tables and a friend of mine had gotten this job at a detective agency. They said they didn’t mind hiring actors because basically actors are better educated than guys off the street. And they have a facility for lying.”

His detective experience came in handy when he went on acting auditions. “When you went into a casting office and you hadn’t done anything recently, you could just mention you were a private investigator,” Knight says, “and you had 10 minutes of stuff to talk about.”

“The Second Half” airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.; “Seinfeld” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.; “Against the Grain” airs Fridays at 8 p.m.; all on NBC.


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