Great ride onBy Tim Ryan
Jason Brooks is standing half-naked in the middle of the Maunaloa Bay parking lot, talking on a cell phone and pacing back and forth while high- and low-fiving co-workers from "Baywatch Hawaii."
Even a hundred yards away it's apparent how fit Brooks is. Wearing red shorts and shirt and no shoes, Brooks seems as real a lifeguard as you'd find anywhere -- tan, slender at the waist, stomach muscles defined -- except that the Southern California-raised UCLA grad is no waterman.
"I'm strictly a land athlete; if it's got a ball in it, I can do it," said Brooks, 33, the breakout star in "Baywatch Hawaii."
"There were lots of times back home I'd go in the ocean and the water would go up my nose or my eyes and I thought this isn't fun, so I stayed away from it."
Now that Brooks' character -- Sean Monroe -- is the leader of the fictional "Baywatch Hawaii" rescue crew, the actor finds himself pretty much living in the ocean.
After being hired in L.A. this summer to take over in "Baywatch" star David Hasselhoff's absence, Brooks put himself on a rigid training schedule, swimming nearly two hours a day, five days a week. He arrived in Hawaii only to learn how different ocean conditions are here.
"(There are) so many other elements in Hawaii that you don't have to contend with in California: currents, wind, swells, reef," he said, during a break in filming at the Hawaii Film Studio at Diamond Head. "I spend a lot of time with Brian Keaulana, including most weekends, doing canoe surfing."
When a water stunt for Brooks is required, the former furniture salesman looks to Keaulana for the go ahead. "I trust his judgment completely," he said.
Brooks quickly corrects any misconception that he's replacing Hasselhoff, who for nine seasons played "Baywatch" lifeguard head Mitch Buchanan.
"I am not stepping into David's shoes; Sean Monroe is not a replacement for Mitch. David is still very involved as executive producer and will direct a few episodes next season."
Hasselhoff appeared in 14 of 22 shows this season; filming was completed earlier this month.
Acting wasn't Brooks' first foray into the working world, but it will be his last.
"We're all conditioned to think of things we want to do as impossible dreams," he said. "What I learned from the business world is that anything you really work for, you can make happen."
With some of the profits from selling his business, Brooks -- then 24 -- began studying acting to the dismay of his mom, a retired deputy Los Angeles County prosecutor, and his dad, a doctor doing diabetes research. Brooks' brother is a physicist with a degree from Yale University; and his sister has a master's degree from the University of Southern California and also "is an entrepreneur. I'm the black sheep of the family," Brooks joked.
His first acting job came in four months, a commercial in which he said something like, "I'm your pizza man."
"The advice David gave me before he left was 'keep smiling and have fun.' " Easy for the natural-born joker. Brooks tells anyone who will listen that actor Jason Momoa is "my kid brother."
So what about the show's "official bio?"
"They left off the jail time," Brooks says. "I had no idea that underage thing was a crime in Hawaii."
As for starring in the world's No. 1 syndicated program, Brooks says he's been a little disappointed.
"No one has shown up at my hotel room naked and wrapped in Saran Wrap." Then he turns serious.
"We work 14 hours a day, five days a week plus personal appearances most weekends; I can go weeks without a day off," he said. "If I got home after 8 p.m. my (9-month-old) son would be asleep. That was very, very hard."
But what about those built-in "Baywatch" perks?
"Oh, you mean like walking around in a candy store? I would be lying if I said I didn't notice all the attractive women, but I know my priorities."
His priorities are his son and wife Corinne, who he met a dozen years ago. The couple eloped in Las Vegas after a six-year courtship, and now live in Beverly Hills.
"We grew up together in our 20s," he said. "I learned so many things about myself and was able to share all that with her. We became so bonded."
Brooks auditioned for a guest spot on "Baywatch" in 1993, but shortly before filming started he won the role of Peter Blake on "Days of Our Lives." He was hailed as "one of the sexiest men on television" by Soap Opera Digest, and in 1995 was named "Outstanding Villain" at the 11th Annual Soap Opera Awards.
"It was supposed to be a one-day role, then my status changed to recurring, then to contract," he said. "I have a strong work ethic so I always try to make more of what's given me, and it worked.
"Or maybe it was the way I washed the producers' cars and baked the cookies."
When he got called for "Baywatch Hawaii," Brooks said he wasn't all that interested.
"The show's reputation precedes itself and it's not why I trained for so many years as an actor," he said.
But the show's producer and head writer promised that "Baywatch Hawaii" would emphasize dramatic elements.
"They've kept their word," Brooks said. "My character is unfolding in every episode."
When Brooks is filming one of several water scenes in each episode, he treads water between takes or swims laps; he also avoids the hotel elevator, preferring to take the stairs to his 16th-floor room.
"I have cookies and the candy tempting me on one side and beautiful babes on the other," Brooks said. "God, I'm a bomb waiting to go off."
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