Scott Speedman Makes 'em Swoon on Felicity (Jessica Wallenfels, TV Quest)


Scott Speedman plays The One That Got Away. He's that maddening, elusive figure - hapless victim of a crush-gone-wild - who remains unresponsive to any amount of charm and good looks. Except on "Felicity," (9 ET on Tuesdays on the WB) Speedman's Ben Covington couldn't quite get away. Felicity follows her infatuation cross-country to New York, where Ben has enrolled in college.

In it's first season, "Felicity" has garnered plenty of critical acclaim as well as a minor league scandal: one of the show's writers, stage name Riley Weston, was discovered to be a 31 year-old woman instead of the 19 year-old-wunderkind she claimed to be. "I don't really care. Who cares?" shrugs Speedman of the brouhaha. "Yeah, she got caught, she lied...whatever. Doesn't affect the show," he concludes firmly.

Finding Speedman at the West Hollywood Starbucks was not a difficult job. He was the one with the Greek-Godlet meets All-American boy coloring, sitting alone in a shaft of L.A.'s afternoon sunlight, much like a sun-drenched setup for a scene on "Felicity." Against the spare black T-shirt and khakis he wears, his green eyes jump out at you.

The debates generated over "Felicity"'s errant writer isn't the only thing Speedman is nonchalant about. There's also the matter of his face being plastered all over town on billboards ("You just laugh at it") and some of his early work in Canada ("Is that my resume?" he asks, and mumbles, "So embarrassing").

One of the things he's not dismissive toward is "Felicity" itself. "I don't love television," he states, but Speedman says he made an exception when he read the pilot for "Felicity." Another subject that perks Speedman up is his castmates. Co-stars Keri Russell, Amy Jo Johnson, Scott Foley and Devon Gummersall "blow me away sometimes," he says.

Speedman's all-American boy features belie a more exotic upbringing. He was born in London and raised in Toronto, Canada, where he trained intensively both in swimming and running from the age of seven. At 14, "swimming took over" when he began bonding closely with his teammates. He'd train from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.- with a minor break in the day to attend a special school for athletes. Olympic trials were in sight. Then, at 16, Speedman suffered a neck injury from overtraining.

"It was hard, because [swimming] was my whole life," he explains of the life change. When a girlfriend dared him to go on the Canadian open-forum talk show "Speaker's Corner," he took her up on it. "A lot of other guys had been doing it I guess," he explains, letting his competitive side show. Speedman dropped his phone number on camera and got a call from the casting director of "Batman Forever," who was in Toronto on a world search for the new Boy Wonder. Though he didn't get the role, he was introduced to a prestigious talent agency. With the potential for an acting career staring him in the face, Speedman still had an eye on swimming. "I couldn't fathom leaving that idea created in my mind about what I wanted from swimming...that family," he emphasizes.

He enrolled at the University of Toronto with a mind to get back into the pool, but landed his first acting job the first week of school with a part on "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues." After a year of college, going back to swimming "didn't work out," so Speedman dropped out. Roles on syndicated as well as Canadian TV series and telefilms followed: "Nancy Drew," "Goosebumps," "Net Worth," and "Giant Mine." But it was a juicy part playing an off-the-wall punk in the 1996 short film "Can I Get A Witness?" that earned Speedman serious acting kudos. The film, developed at the Norman Jewison Film Center, went on to screen at that year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Playing an anti-hero in the independent feature "Kitchen Party" was another breakthrough for the rookie actor. Though afforded some respect for his work in the indie scene, Toronto's small market forced Speedman to accept jobs he didn't want. "What was frustrating about it was that I'd do good stuff, and then I'd still be auditioning for crap," Speedman says. He was cast in the feature film "Ursa Major," as well as the TV projects "Dead Silence," "What Happened to Bobby Earl?" and "Every 9 Seconds." "What's 'Every 9 Seconds?'" Speedman asks sarcastically.

In 1997, the 22-year-old Speedman dropped his Toronto agent and headed for New York's greener acting pastures. He spent six months attending the Neighborhood Playhouse, then dropped out. It was a good school, Speedman says, but resumes the nonchalance when he explains that "I dropped out of a lot of things." Three weeks later, Speedman got a call in Toronto from "Felicity"'s casting director. He was asked to put a couple of scenes on tape; though he read opposite "the camera guy," "The words just seemed to fly out of my mouth." Speedman went to work the following Monday. With a grin at the coming understatement, Speedman relates, "It was really weird."

Coincidentally, Ben had originally been written as a competitive swimmer, and show execs were pleased that Speedman actually was one. However, Speedman's relationship to the sport prompted him to ask if Ben could be a runner instead. "I used to be able to fly through the water," he describes of his swimming ability. "Now it's like, hard to finish a couple laps." On a good day, Speedman gets the same kind of charge from acting that he used to find in sports. Racing, he says, "has "the same type of flow, and feel, and ease, that I'm trying to find with acting."

In one episode, Speedman's Ben came in dead last at NYU's track team tryout. Did the competitive juices come back? Yes, along with a little humility. "Well, you know, I had to lose," he protests, then flashes that irresistible grin. "They would have killed me," he admits sheepishly.

That enigmatic smile could be pinned with the fate of the a show that snags mediocre ratings but much media attention. Those who do watch the show enjoy the will-they-or-won't-they dilemma, which hangs in the balance of Speedman's unreadable expression every time he's faced with Felicity's naked admiration. Ben explains his character's ambivalence: "This girl is just incredibly attractive, but she's kind of...insane."

It's a tightrope that Speedman walks with precision, even if he doesn't know how he does it. On one hand, he strives toward a conscious "swinging"; on the other, he's asking, "Enigmatic. What does that exactly mean? Mysterious smile. Sure." An tense gulp escapes him.

Some of Speedman's most compelling work came out of an episode in which Ben reluctantly takes an acting class. Ben first blows the assignment, then bares his soul in a monologue. Playing a student despised by classmate and teacher hit home for study-challenged Speedman, who admits he's never been much into academics.

On his hiatus, Speedman plans to perform in playwright David Mamet's "American Buffalo" in Toronto. He also likes to walk in his spare time, practically unheard of in Los Angeles. As for his marital status - he's single! Told that his bachelor status will surely make girls happy, he wants to know more. "Why do they love that?" he asks earnestly. "It gives them permission to dream," I tell him. "Really!" he gasps. "Never understood that."

Speedman relies on his childhood swimming buddies to keep him grounded. "When I see them they don't even mention the show, which is very nice. They don't really care. They just think it's stupid," he laughs with relief. "Swimmers are simple, good people."



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