Rosie's People: TV Spotlight
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
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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