The producer had just sent the e-mail to Rob Lowe and was a little nervous. "Look, we wrote this crazy thing, I totally understand if you don't want to do it," he wrote the actor.
Michael Schur and the writers of "Parks and Recreation" had come up with a promotional bit for the NBC comedy, on which Lowe is now a series regular. The script called for the 46-year-old actor to be a full-on diva; he'd arrive on set and, after being told that "Parks" had actually been on hiatus, would then launch into an expletive-filled rant about how his handsome face needed to be on television.
"No one's been on the show before me," he would also snarl to his less-famous cast mates. "There was no … show before me." He'd throw coffee in someone's face. And punch someone else.
Ten minutes after he'd sent the e-mail, Schur's phone rang. It was Lowe. "Are you kidding me?" the actor said. "We're totally doing this. It's hilarious."
"That's how you know he's the legitimate comic performer," Schur says. "It's calling for a guy to look terrible, and he's playing himself — Rob Lowe — but he understands that that kind of thing is funny and he isn't worried about his image. A lot of actors wouldn't have wanted to do that."
And so it's come to be that the man who was always considered pretty is also turning out to be pretty funny. His up-and-down career, which has now spanned 30 years and is one in which he used to be known more for dramatic works such as "The Outsiders" — his first film — or TV's "The West Wing," seems to have gotten progressively funnier. In addition to "Parks" and the several comedies ("Wayne's World," "Tommy Boy") he's peppered into his filmography since the 1990s, he will also reprise a guest-starring role on Showtime's "Californication."
In Hollywood, he notes, "anybody can have feast and anybody can have famine, but very few people get to have both and very few people get to have both a number of times. But I do feel right now that I'm at one of those really nice … feasts."
He laughs. "Yes, I'm at the table, there's lots of food in front of me, and I'm enjoying it."
In the upcoming "Californication" episode, his bearded, whacked-out character, an actor named Eddie Nero, describes going Method to play a "gay hit man" in a past film and then, for no big reason, shares a sensual kiss with another man.
"I believe it's the most romantic kiss I've ever done," Lowe says with a smile, and he may not be kidding. "In the name of comedy, you have to be willing to do anything. You have to be willing to look like an idiot."
That fearlessness is what made David Duchovny want to phone Lowe in the first place. "This is going to sound very Hollywood," the "Californication" star said, "but the guy who does my hair, he's really good friends with Rob and works with him too. So I was telling him about this part that we'd written and he mentioned Rob and I said, 'Oh, that's a fantastic idea, let's call him.'"
Lowe says he's reached one of the most fulfilling points of his career. A self-described workaholic who during one four-month stretch last year put 25,000 miles on his Audi coming to L.A. from his home in Santa Barbara (he lives there with wife Sheryl and their two teenage sons), he points to a particular week last March that he called "an actor's dream": It involved a dramatic death scene that ended his four-year stint on the ABC drama "Brothers & Sisters," then a 15-minute drive over to the "Parks and Recreation" set, where he shot that same day, and then two days later he was sitting across from Duchovny on his first day of "Californication" production.
Despite the lengthy commute, which produced enough speeding tickets to prompt the actor to hire a driver, Lowe was adamant about not getting a house in town.
"During 'The West Wing' I rented a house near the studio," he says, "but I found that I really just like being in my own bed and, you know, when my kids were younger I think it was just really important, even if I got home late, just to give them a kiss, that they knew I was there. I just think it becomes a slippery slope when you keep a place in L.A. It just becomes easier and easier to not make the drive."
Meanwhile, Lowe has been just as busy off-screen. He recently joined an investment team that bought into Miramax Films. And he wrote a memoir, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends," that's due out in May. Because Oprah has already booked him to give an exclusive interview, Lowe is purposefully vague on story specifics. Still, he knows the book comes with "certain expectations."
Asked what those expectations are, Lowe demurs with a smile and more vagueness. Pressed a little more, though — asked whether the book delves into the biggest scandal of his youth, a leaked sex tape featuring an underage female that for a time badly damaged his reputation — he finally yields the following: "Everything's in the book," he says. "Everything."
"But what I like about it," he adds, "is it's in the book in its proper perspective for what it means to me in the totality of my life."