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Calgary Herald
November 3, 1994, Thursday, Final Edition: Entertainment; Pg. D8.

The Beefcake Kid:
From Daytime Romeo To Earth 2 Hero

By Jeanne Wolf

Some fans of General Hospital felt like going straight to the emergency room when they found out that Jagger Cates would no longer be around to heat up the town of Port Charles on the daytime TV soap opera.

The Romanesque profile and smoldering passion of Antonio Sabato Jr. made Jagger the kind of brooding loverboy who could send female viewers into cardiac arrest.

In his two years on the show, Sabato had become one of the show's most popular actors, receiving hundreds of fan letters each week.

Those viewers were understandably upset when he announced earlier this year that he was leaving GH.

Fortunately, a cure for the withdrawal pains of Sabato's fans is in sight. They'll be able to get a weekly dose of the handsome 22-year-old Italian actor when the sci-fi adventure series Earth 2 debuts on NBC Sunday.

Sabato, who has a starring role on the new show, wants to make it clear, however, that he won't be reprising the daytime character that made him a sensation.

"The audience is not going to see Jagger," he says with a hint of defensiveness during a phone interview from Santa Fe, N.M., where the series is filmed. "He was a character I played.

"Maybe some of myself went into Jagger, but he wasn't me. If they want to call me a sex symbol, let them. All I'm trying to do is a good job in front of the camera.

"I'm an actor. I want to build my career on playing different characters."

For a moment, it seems as if Sabato might be a bit touchy about the fame he got as a soap-opera stud.

After he joined General Hospital, the show jumped from seventh to third in the daytime-series ratings. Sabato's popularity led to a 1994 beefcake calendar that was a sellout. An upcoming 1995 version is expected to be even bigger.

"I wasn't trying to run away from anything," he says, trying to put his departure from daytime television into perspective. "I had a great time on General Hospital. I learned a lot. It was like going to high school. Now I'm graduating and going to college.

"If I'd stuck around too long I would have become pretty one-dimensional."

On Earth 2, produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Sabato plays Alonzo Solace, a rocket pilot who is recruited to help ferry Earthlings to a distant planet.

The series takes place 200 years into the future, when polluted Mother Earth is gasping her last breaths.

An ambitious expedition, led by scientist Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino), departs from Earth with the mission of establishing a colony on a pristine planet 22 light-years away.

A crash landing on the planet destroys the colonists' high-tech equipment, leaving them stranded. The space pioneers then face a struggle to survive as they desperately try to create a new Earth.

"My character is pretty much of a loner," Sabato says. "He's spent long periods in space.

"Most people he knows and loves are dead or twice his age. He's had a very lonely life. Now he's trapped with a group of people and he's learning to develop relationships all over again."

Could any of those relationships be romantic?

The idea doesn't seem to interest Sabato.

"It's too soon to know if Alonzo will have a love interest," he says offhandedly, "but if he does it will be about a lot more than sex."

Off-screen, the briefly married and divorced Sabato has a live-in relationship with 32-year-old actress Virginia Madsen. She recently gave birth to his first child, a boy named Jack.

When asked about the age difference between him and Madsen, Sabato shrugs.

"If people say I'm with an older woman, I'm gonna say, 'So what?' All I can do is laugh about it. Let them talk about me.

"As for not being married," he adds, "I think we just skipped the paper and aring."

Sabato certainly seems happy with his new family.

Madsen and two-month-old Jack are on location with him in Santa Fe, and he spends as much time with them as he can.

Sabato says he's just trying to be a regular guy. He knows about the pitfalls of fame and success and is doing his best to avoid them.

"I look at the lives of famous people, from James Dean to Marilyn Monroe," he says. "They became famous in a very short amount of time and they couldn't handle it. I don't want to be like that. I'm not a huge actor. I've got a lot of time to learn."

One of the performers he is modeling himself on is Tom Cruise.

"There's really no comparison between him and me. He's the greatest," Sabato says. "But when I first moved to this country, I followed his career. He's got his family and he's trying to develop his craft. That's what I'm trying to do."