TV Guide
Prinze Charming
December 1997

Prinze Charming - From television to movies, the comedian's son shines bright.

It had been a long night for Freddie Prinze Jr. No, the young actor wasn't out partying at the latest fashionable club. Nor was he red-carpeting it at some movie premiere with Hollywood's flavour of the moment on his arm. No, the 21-year-old actor and his friends spent most of the night at their Toluca Lake rental house, watching cartoons. Lots of cartoons. "I watch probably 26 hours a day," he jokes. "I have a pretty boring life. I go home every night. I read scripts. I break down scenes, or I write. That's what I love to do."

The co-star of this fall's box-office sensation "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (he played sensitive teen Ray Bronson) is hoping to make it as an actor without falling victim to Hollywood's tempting trappings. To be sure, he has been a prominent part of the "Last Summer" publicity blitz and has appeared on what seems to be an endless number of hot young actors lists. And he is dating actress Kimberly McCullough, who plays Robin Scorpio on ABC's General Hospital. Nevertheless, he claims that his life "is still pretty normal. People aren't running up to me on the streets."

Prinze worries about money. His rental house is shared by several aspiring actors, screenwriters, and comics. "It can get like a hotel in there, depending on what time of the week you come through," he says. The son of the late comedian Freddie Prinze, Prinze Jr. grew up outside the world of entertainment. The younger Prinze was only 10 months old when his father, the star of Chico and the Man, died in 1977 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After his father's death, his mother, Kathy Cochran, a real estate agent, eventually moved with her son to Albuquerque. (She has since moved to Las Vegas.)

"That is usually what people want to talk about -- my father and our relationship with him and the things I deal with," Prinze says. "Honestly, there is not a whole lot to talk about. I wish there was. I mean, there are a lot of things other people told me. Everybody said, 'Oh, I loved him so much. He was a great man.' But I don't know anything about it. He loved my mom, I know he loved making people laugh. And you know? That is about it. We never had a chance to sit down over a burger. There's not a whole lot I can say about it." Many friends did not even know of his father's fame, he says, and acting wasn't on his agenda until his late teens. His mother wanted him to be an environmental engineer; Prinze had thoughts of becoming a psychologist. "I got the chance to have a regular life," Prinze says. "She wanted me to have a chance at normalcy."

Normal enough to experience the usual bouts of teen angst. As a student at Albuquerque's La Cueva High School, Prinze says he "didn't fit into the right areas. I don't know what it was. Like when I liked cartoons, they were no longer cool. When I wasn't playing football, football was suddenly trendy. I was just always like two steps ahead or two steps behind." His outlet was the school speech and drama teams. "I didn't have tons of friends, so I always used to pretend," he says. "But it was this great feeling of loneliness because you could pretend, but there was nobody around. In acting you pretend, but there are a bunch of other people pretending with you." Shortly after his graduation, in 1994, he took a local acting class and then made the leap to Los Angeles, driving in a beat-up, gas-guzzling old Jeep and arriving with little money. He lived with family friends in the San Fernando Valley and worked at their Valley Ranch Barbeque Restaurant in Van Nuys. "I was a broke guy," he says.

But soon after, Prinze landeda guest spot on Family Matters as a punk kid who brings a gun to school. "That was my big break, and I thought it was huge," he says. He followed that with the TV-movie Detention: Siege at Johnson High and an ABC Afterschool Special, Too Soon for Jeff, but much of his attention lately has been on a movie career, with roles as Claire Danes's boyfriend in "To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday" and as Tori Spelling's fiancé's brother in this fall's "The House of Yes." "There's an honesty that comes through with him," says "Gillian" director Michael Pressman. "He's an open book. He got the role hands down because he was honest, warm, and sweet." ;He recalls Prinze's sheepishness at having to kiss Danes in one scene. "I could see his blushing face after each kiss," he says. By the time "Last Summer" went before the cameras in North Carolina last spring, Prinze apparently had jettisoned any bashfulness and fit right in with a host of other up-and-coming actors, including Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Ryan Phillippe, and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five). If Prinze was intimidated by the process in earlier films, it didn't show while making "Last Summer." "He was a big goofball," Hewitt says. "He is the farthest you can get from shy. He was one of the most outgoing people on the set. He could take anything anyone was saying and make it into a joke." Yet he doubts that he will follow in his father's footsteps in one arena, anyway: "A couple of people have said, 'Why don't you do stand-up comedy?' And that wasn't even a thought. I am just not that funny. So I didn't do stand-up comedy. It had nothing to do with my father."

Prinze recently completed "Vig," an indie film in which he plays a young, tough Boston bookmaker, with a cast that includes Peter Falk, Lauren Holly, and Timothy Hutton. Next spring he hopes to shoot the independent feature "Pool Hall Prophets," about a group of hustlers. (Prinze calls the film a cross between "The Hustler" and "The Usual Suspects.") A few years down the line, he may head to college if he can afford it. "I've thought about that a lot, but it can't be in the next couple of years," Prinze says. "I need to make enough money to go. College is what? Twelve grand a semester?"

Despite such monetary concerns, it's clear Prinze has splurged at least once. At interview's end, he takes off for home -- in his new Dodge pickup.

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