knows first-hand how 'Weird' the path is to acting
April 30, 1995
Tergesen knows a little something about playing extremes.
As Terry in both "Wayne's World" movies, he was the slow-talking,
long-haired, party animal/camera operator and flunkie to infamous
cable-show hosts Wayne and Garth.
On USA's "Weird Science," which began its new season this month, the
actor is Chet-quick-talking, buzz-clipped, mercenary and merciless.
More than anything else, Chet torments younger brother Wyatt
(Michael Manasseri) and his pal Gary (John Mallory Asher), the duo
who have concocted computer-babe Lisa (Vanessa Angel).
A kind of '90s "I Dream of Jeannie," "Weird Science" is based on the
1985 hit movie with a theme song so catchy it's hard to just say the
name and not break out into the Oingo Boingo chart topper.
"Chet was the very opposite of what I'd been doing," Tergesen, 29,
recalls from the West Los Angeles home he shares with wife Tanya, an
aspiring actress who works in child care. Tergesen calls his "Weird
Science" character "a gun-totin' misogynist with a hankerin' for
"It was an opportunity to do something very broad, very crazed. I
put my own take on it, since I hadn't seen the movie or (actor) Bill
Paxton's original Chet in a long time." Tergesen has turned Chet "a
lot more out, on the crazy side. He was more subdued in the movie."
Chet reminds Tergesen "of people I knew in high school and sort of
like the people who try to inflict themselves on you all the time."
But the militaristic survivalist "comes a lot from the writing.
There's a certain amount you just put in. Like, how would you say,
`You puke lip'?"
"Weird Science," he says, "is just fantasy."
The Ivoryton, Conn., native began his career in musical theater,
which led to drama school in New York, where "the acting part of it"
became more appealing than singing and dancing. But, he says, "I
spent my entire time in New York as a waiter. It was a drag. I was
doing plays all the time, but there's no money in it."
The experience left Tergesen frustrated and he found himself "on the
fence by that point. After graduation, I thought I'd be making a
living at it." A conversation with his older brother, a recording
engineer, kept the actor on track: "He told me, `If you love it, you
have to stick with it. This is the kind of business where you can be
40 and just make it.' It just put things into perspective for me and
instead of being anxious for the payoff, I just let it go and
decided to do what I want to and take each step one at a time."
In 1990, he came to Los Angeles to help friend Tom Fontana (now
executive producer of "Homicide: Life on the Street") move. While
the duo dined at a restaurant, a casting director approached
Tergesen and asked if he was an actor. "He told me there was a part
in this movie and at that time, I couldn't imagine what it could
The movie ended up being 1991's high-profile "Point Break," starring
Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. With his already-long hair dyed
black, Tergesen played one of Swayze's bank-robbing gang. "It was
just amazing," he says. "The sky opens up and you can't see the
connection between anything I'd done before that. It just happened
all on its own."
He moved to L.A., where his hair and wild look landed him roles in
both film and television, including a role as a "fringe detective"
in the TV movie "The Killing Mind," a recurring role on NBC's
"Homicide" and the "Wayne's World" part for which he's still
recognized, despite his considerably cropped 'do.
"I'm in the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' scene. I wasn't originally supposed
to be there, but I kept telling the director, that's me. I should be
there. Now it's a classic moment."
Now that "Weird Science" is in its third season, he and Tanya are
looking to travel to Europe when shooting ends in August.
"Right now," he says, "I could see myself acting for the rest of my
life. But every time as an actor when you finish a job you ask,
`Will I ever get hired again?' "