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Work in regional theaters leads Wilkinsburg grad to role in Fox's 'Embassy'

Saturday, March 09, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Pittsburgh native Jonathan Adams thought he'd be a theater actor for the rest of his life.

Adams, who grew up mostly in Wilkinsburg and graduated from Wilkinsburg High School in 1985, appeared in shows at City Theatre and the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival after leaving Carnegie Mellon University in 1987 due to lack of money.

After that he performed on stage in Milwaukee, Houston and other cities before settling in southern Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Pittsburgh native Monica Farrell (now Adams), and 3-year-old daughter.

Then the almost too-good-to-be-true Hollywood story began.

After a Paramount Pictures casting director saw him perform and declared he had what it takes to be a star, Adams, 34, traveled to Los Angeles, crashed at the home of his friend and fellow actor Anthony Heald (Scott Guber on "Boston Public") and started auditioning. He quickly landed guest starring roles on "City of Angels," "Felicity," "Frasier" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."

Now he's a regular on the new Fox series "The American Embassy" (9 p.m. Monday), playing Elque Polk, general consul of the American embassy in London. Though the hourlong drama primarily focuses on 29-year-old vice consul Emmy Brody (Arija Bareikis), Polk is the boss who keeps his workers on their toes by constantly tossing a football in his hands and at them.

"Is it annoying?" Adams asked when the subject came up in a phone interview last week. "He doesn't put it down. He keeps playing with it. In certain episodes it's more featured than others. I always thought it was the perfect managerial tool. It keeps everybody's eyes on me. They have to pay attention and never know when that ball's coming."

Adams filmed Monday's pilot episode a year ago, and production on five additional episodes started in late September. The title of the show changed from "Emmy Brody" to "The American Embassy" and the events of Sept. 11 necessitated other tweaks to the flavor of the series.

"Because it's about Americans abroad and what the people in Foreign Service are doing for us and the country, [that work] really became a little bit more prominent a feature of the show," Adams said. "It's more about the embassy and what people do there and how it works."

The series is produced by Danny DeVito's company and the show runner is James D. Parriott, whose previous work includes "Dark Skies," "Elvis: The Early Years" and "Voyagers!"

Adams said he was attracted to the "American Embassy" pilot script because it gave him the opportunity to play an intelligent African-American authority figure, but he never thought he'd get the role. After auditioning several times, things got serious when salary was discussed.

"Before the last audition, you have to sign a contract with the studio for how much you'll get paid if you get [the job]. My manager said, 'They want to give you this and I think you should get this.' "

They settled somewhere in the middle.

"All three numbers seemed ridiculous to me," Adams said. "Television money is very different from theater money!"

Though he's hoping "The American Embassy" gets renewed so he and his family can return to London, where the series shoots, Adams said he doesn't expect to remain a television actor forever.

"Theater is the love of my life. It's like a drug. I don't think I'll be able to give it up," he said. "Theater involves a great deal of detail work, going back and looking at things over and over again. Television involves getting it right the first time."

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