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Rosie's People: TV Spotlight

Rosie Magazine
March 2002

Lee Tergesen startles people wherever he goes. If you've seen Oz, HBO's series about prison life, you know why.

Lee plays Tobias Beecher, a mild-mannered lawyer locked up for drunk-driving manslaughter who turns brutal after being behind bars. Before Oz, the 36-year-old with the infectious laugh had played bad guys and a dopey cameraman in Wayne's World. Now, when fans see the Connecticut native on the street, they gasp, "My God, it's Beecher!"

In real life, Lee says, he's not tough—despite roaring around on his motorcycle at top speed. Some of his rough spots have smoothed out under the influence of his new bride, painter Leslie Howitt. "Before Leslie, I was always making deals and in a battle for control," he explains. "I've stopped projecting doom. I sent her flowers today. Even a blind pig can find an acorn!"

Q: What was your acting career like before Oz?

Lee: In 1990, I did Point Break. I was a member of Patrick Swayze's gang and a motorcycle guy with long hair. It was a small role. Then I did Wayne's World. Before 1990 I did little plays in New York. I met Tom Fontana [Emmy award-winning writer-producer of St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz ], who lived around the corner from the Empire Diner [where at the time Lee waited on tables]. My first wife also worked there. My second marriage and a career came out of there. The place is like a vortex for me. I started there when I was 24. Now I'm 35. I was a little rowdy the last night I was there. I whooped it up a little. They told me never to come back. I wasn't a great waiter. I was funny, but I gave a lot of attitude.

Q: How did you get the role in Oz?

Lee: Tom wrote Tobias Beecher for me. He talked over the idea of Beecher with me. He knew I'd played broad comedy, but he knew there was more I could do. Beecher is a lawyer who's out of place. He turns and fights and then seeks redemption and forgiveness. Tom stuck his neck out for me.

Q: What's the real Lee like? Are you violent?

Lee: I would have called myself aggressive and self-confident. What people display on the outside covers over what they're afraid they are. I'm edgy and somebody who tests people. They'll say to me, "The last time when I met you, you were such an asshole, but you're really a nice guy." I'd push their buttons because I was afraid they were judging me. But I'm not violent, no.

Q: What's up next for you?

Lee: I always worried about getting the next job. I got panicked. Now if it were all gone and it's just Leslie and me out on the street with a suitcase, that would be exciting.


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