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Profile : Dorien Wilson’s ‘Dream’ Role

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Dream On’s” Eddie Charles beds many a babe, but no one would call actor Dorien Wilson, who plays him, a ladies’ man. Eddie’s relationships may barely last an episode, but Wilson’s own relationship, with wife JoAnn, started with their first meeting--in the sixth grade.

“Let’s put it this way, Eddie loves women and I think it’s great since I’m so different from him, being very married with two kids,” points out the CableACE Award-nominated Wilson, who’s been married nine years. “I get to live out this fantasy life on screen, get away with it and get paid.”

The endearingly arrogant and impeccably dressed Eddie has undergone many changes since the popular cable show first bowed five seasons ago. (It begins its sixth season on HBO next week.) “In the pilot, Eddie was white,” Wilson explains during lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant. “Then, during the first season, another black actor played him. He was in maybe five or six shows, then written out for that season.” As for why, Wilson says diplomatically, “They [the actor and “Dream On” star Brian Benben] just didn’t have enough chemistry together.” Wilson came on board the second season.

As book editor Martin’s (Benben) best friend, New York talk-show host Eddie has been both confidante and competitor in the series’ many romantic romps. “I also really like the black-white relationship between Eddie and Martin,” Wilson says. “I’ve had a lot of experience with being the only minority among many whites, so it’s wonderful the way their relationship is in no way based on race.”

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Since “Dream On” is on cable, it can tackle serious issues in a meaty manner and generally gets to cover--or, usually, uncover--a lot more risque territory. “I had my first backside shot,” Wilson says, pointing out he’s joined the ranks of filmdom’s Harvey Keitel and Mel Gibson (along with several members of the cast of ABC’s “NYPD Blue”). “It was alright,” he adds with a smile. The show’s run of edited episodes on Fox--no pantless men and topless women--ends this week.

This fall, Wilson returns to recurring roles on NBC’s hit “Friends” as Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) sweetly dim boss. He’ll also be seen on “Sister, Sister,” moving to Warner Bros. network from ABC, as love interest to Lisa Landry (Jackee Harry).

There’s little question Wilson’s been busy. “I’m just glad to be working!” he says emphatically, adding that “Dream On’s” hiatus fits quite nicely into the shooting schedule of his other shows.

The New Jersey-born Wilson, 33, moved with his Air Force family to Lompoc, where he not only met JoAnn but also developed an interest in acting. After high school he studied at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco as well as at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria.

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Wilson’s acting pursuits took the couple to San Francisco, where he amassed stage credits in “Dream Girls,” “The Tempest” and the title role of “Most Valuable Player: The Jackie Robinson Story.” The latter production took Wilson to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as Europe, Peru and Canada.

When auditions and guest roles--"Amen” and “Murphy Brown,” for example--frequently took him to Los Angeles, JoAnn suggested they move south to sunny L.A. Settling his family--which now includes daughter Sarita, 8, and son Devin, 1--into the San Fernando Valley, Wilson pounded the pavement and landed a role on the sexy HBO series.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” he reflects. “I was just thinking: I got a job!”

And on a show that he respected. “We have a lot more freedom on the show and can show things the way they really are and people are not only amused, they can relate.”

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And what audiences can relate to right now is an emphasis on safe sex: “We try to be politically correct in most of the sex scenes with either Martin or myself. It’s not hit-me-over-the-head-with-a-hammer, but in most of the sex scenes you’ll see in the foreground or somewhere, a condom. It’s kind of subliminal.”

In real life, however, the message is clear: Wilson, along with his sister Savita and her boyfriend LaShaun, are partners in Condoms Galore, a condom shop at the corner of Melrose and Gardner in Hollywood.

The coupling, so to speak, works well. “Here I am on this adult sexy comedy show and I’m promoting safe sex in real life,” Wilson says. The shop not only sells condoms but also hopes to take away the stigma and possible embarassment of buying condoms. “It’s a fun and inviting environment. We sell a lot of novelty items as well. It’s something that’s timely and important.”

Besides giving him exposure on network TV, Wilson is happy to be on “Sister, Sister” for another reason: “My daughter can finally see me on TV! She does not watch ‘Dream On.’ ” “Sister,” which was bounced around the ABC schedule and found some success on the network’s popular--and family-oriented--Friday-night lineup, finally found a home on the fledgling WB network (KTLA in Southern California).

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Wilson maintains his theatrical roots as well. “I do a play as often as I can,” he says.

Wilson hopes that potential movie roles include romantic-suspense thrillers. “There really aren’t roles in that genre for black actors,” he says. “I’d like to do something like ‘Disclosure’ or ‘Fatal Attraction.’ ”

And to land the kind of role he aspires to, Wilson knows he’ll have to expand his horizons. “I want to really focus on my acting right now. But, eventually I know I’ll have to expand into writing, directing and producing.”

And be a ladies’ man, but only on screen.

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“Dream On” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on HBO. “Friends” airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC. “Sister, Sister” returns this fall, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., on KTLA.


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