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Silverman relishes shades of gray in Showtime movie

| Saturday, June 8, 2002

LOS ANGELES — When Jonathan Silverman was in Ireland filming the new Showtime movie "Bobbie's Girl," he was surprised to be recognized for a small role he played years ago: the doctor who delivered Ross' first baby on an early episode of "Friends."

"They were even quoting the two lines that I had," he says now, unsure himself exactly what those lines of Dr. Franzblau's were.

In any case, Silverman — who also played the title role in a short-lived NBC sitcom, "The Single Guy" — felt welcome during filming in Ireland last summer.

"You are given a pint and a smile wherever you go," he says of Dublin and the seaside town of Bray, where "Bobbie's Girl" was shot.

The freewheeling atmosphere of Ireland's pub life is at the heart of "Bobbie's Girl," a portrait of alternative lifestyles airing Sunday.

Silverman plays David, whose sister Bailey is the lesbian lover of the title character, Bobbie. Bailey, a former Broadway actress, is played by Bernadette Peters; Rachel Ward portrays Bobbie.

The women run a pub called "The Two Sisters" and David helps out behind the bar, showing off his own theatrical tendencies during karaoke and musical evenings. David's gay — at least, that's how Silverman chose to play him.

"My character is sort of ... in the gray area," the actor says, adding that there is "not too much black and white" in the script billed by the cable channel as "for all ages."

"It's really a gem. Nothing hits you over the head, nothing is terribly obvious," says Silverman. "I suppose if there is a message in the film, it's that families take on different shapes and colors and sizes — they don't have to be conventional."

David, Bailey and Bobbie welcome 10-year-old Alan, Bobbie's orphaned nephew (played by Thomas Sangster), into their family. Further complications ensue when Bobbie is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Silverman was recruited for the project a couple of years ago while flying to the Vancouver shooting location of the Showtime movie "Inspectors 2: A Shred of Evidence," which he co-produced and starred in. The channel's programming president, Jerry Offsay, told him about a "beautiful three-hankie" project and asked him to play David.

Silverman frosted his dark hair for the role and dressed eccentrically in "muumuus and bathrobes and what looked like a few sweaters Bea Arthur wore on 'The Golden Girls."'

During a recent lunch interview in a Los Angeles cafe, he is conventionally coifed and dressed. A sports fan, he's playing golf that afternoon — a game he learned while making "Caddyshack II" in 1988 — and he has tickets for the Lakers' playoff game that evening.

He's the shortstop on a couple of celebrity baseball teams. And his wallet contains his baseball card, earned at the Dodgers' fantasy camp in 1999 when he batted .462 and was voted MVP.

Silverman, 35, grew up in Los Angeles and attended Beverly Hills High School with friend David Schwimmer, now famous as Ross on "Friends."

After two years of small roles in school plays, Silverman eventually scored as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and caught the attention of an agent. His big break came when he took over for Matthew Broderick as the lead in Neil Simon's autobiographical play "Brighton Beach Memoirs," playing the part on Broadway, on tour and in the movie version.

His association with Simon continued in the stage production of "Biloxi Blues" and the stage and TV versions of "Broadway Bound." He also starred in "London Suite" and played Brucey, son to Walter Matthau's Oscar Madison in the "The Odd Couple II."

In "The Single Guy," which ran from 1995-97, Silverman played perpetual love-seeker Johnny Eliot. Schwimmer, reciprocating for Silverman's appearance on "Friends," guest-starred in a first-season episode.

Silverman, still single himself, currently stars in "The Medicine Show," a comedy on the film-festival circuit that's based on writer and director Wendell Morris' real-life experience with colon cancer. Silverman plays a cancer sufferer; Natasha Gregson Wagner is the leukemia victim he falls in love with.

"We have one of the strangest ... love scenes ever filmed," he says, describing "a morphine drippy" tryst in which both patients are attached to IVs.

The actor admits to a trick when playing difficult parts like that: He removes his contact lenses.

"It's very comforting not to be able to see much of the cameras and the crew. You can solely focus on what you are trying to achieve," he says.

"Bobbie's Girl" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, Showtime

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