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Here's the Beef, 01.03.02 ...

One of the first things I asked the adorable Chad Michael Murray upon meeting him in an airport Hyatt was whether he knew the Calvin Klein undies model, Travis.

He gave me a puzzled look, but did say that the episode on "Dawson's Creek" in which he wore nothing but that shell choker and some pretty brief briefs elicited "a lot of phone calls."

For those who may not know, 20-year-old Murray -- aw, heck, let's call him Chad -- is the WB's new wunderhunk. The dirty-blond, blue-eyed babe appeared as Rory's bad-boy pursuer Tristan on "Gilmore Girls" (a show he loves, but admits that sometimes he'd like to "take a moment"), and as Jenn's two-timing yet irresistible love interest Charlie on "The Creek."

He quickly tells me that Charlie's coming back to the Creek next season: "They reoccurred him."

He adds, "Charlie is a guy who just loves women. He knows what to say, what he wants from a girl. I wouldn't say he's a player."

In all seriousness, he adds, "I'm not like that in any way."

Even though his entree into show biz came in the form of a modeling convention in Orlando, Fla., which led to gigs hawking Tommy Hilfilger, Skechers and Gucci, he maintains, "I'm not gonna worry about the way I look."

Surely he must realize that his acting prowess alone isn't what's steering him toward teen idol-dom?

He grimaces at the phrase "teen idol."

But, hey, I'm not joking. Nor am I proud. As a "mature" fan of all the cute boys on the WB, and unlike the rest of the local media corps, I jumped at the chance to interview Chad a couple of months ago when his publicist called and said he was going to be "available for interviews" in the Bay Area.

It turns out that Chad really was in town to see his home team, the Buffalo Bills, go up against the Niners. One of his handlers even asked me if I could help him get tickets to the game. (Sorry, Chad! My editorial status accounts for zip when it comes to precious Niners seats.)

Still, I was really excited to meet him. So much, in fact, that I screwed up on the meeting place (went to the Marriott instead of the Hyatt!) and showed up a half-hour late to the interview. I must've called his manager's cellphone three times!

After we've talked for a little bit, I get Chad to acknowledge his looks.

"People do want to watch an attractive face," he admits.

Face?! How about that body? The whole darned package looked pretty good to me. Chad was casually chic in cargo pants, a leather jacket and a T-shirt that said "Niagara Falls." He was decidedly more covered up than in the promotional photos that his publicist so kindly provided me.

"I didn't get to look at these pictures," he cringes, taking in their high beefcake quotient.

One of the open-shirted poses accompanies a teen magazine layout with the headline "Role Model." With his handy autograph pen, he scratches in the word "ex-" before "model."

So you mean modeling was just a means to the end -- an acting career -- I ask.

He likes that phrase, and reiterates, probably for the fourth time, "In the end, it's all about the work. I'm really looking forward to growing as an artist, to increasing my range."

When he mentions Robert DeNiro, James Dean and Edward Norton as the actors whose work he studies, he actually doesn't sound trite like some other teen megastars whose careers started in Orlando.

Some day, he hopes to be involved in movies like "Sling Blade."

"I like real things," he says.

That earnestness might be the result of his upbringing in Buffalo, where he's one of five kids from a family that "didn't have a lot of money."

Today he lives in North Hollywood in what he describes as a modest apartment.

"I'm not a partier. I like to stay home and watch movies," he says. Or he and his pal J.D. Pardo (another up-and-coming TV kid who has the same manager as Chad) will hang out at Starbuck's.

"It gets a little weird sometimes when people are staring at me," noting that sometimes both girls and guys in the 14-26 age range come up to him. But he says he doesn't mind signing autographs.

Hah! That makes it fairly easy to relinquish any semblance of middle-aged pride I have. Even though I fall well above the "Dawson's" demographic, I ask Chad for an autograph.

Like a pro, he pulls out his pen, grabs one of the photos from the press kit -- one where he's actually wearing a shirt -- and signs, "Leslie, thanks for the interview. You are a very sweet woman. Love, Chad."

Yep, I think this guy's got a future.
Credit: San Francisco Examiner

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