9 P.M. The beautiful young man standing near me in the lobby of L.A.’s Sunset Marquis goes well with the hotel’s minimalist interior. His razor-sharp cheekbone and penetrating blue eyes, his understated Hugo Boss shirt, are just right with the clean lines of the hotel. But don’t call him hunky; after all, he’s not just some piece of beefcake. “I cringe at the whole pretty boy thing,” says Simon Rex, owner of the look – and a star of the WB’s Jack and Jill, a new romantic comedy in which he plays a hapless bartender. “I don’t want to get typecast,” he tells me, brushing aside talk of his comeliness, “I want to be known for my skill and personality or humor.
“Excuse me,” murmurs a slinky redhead as she sidles over to Rex’s side and explains that she’s just flown in from France. “Would you like to join me in zee Whiskey Bar for a drink?”
Rex looks at me. “You set this up, right?” he says, I assert my complete innocence. “Uh, no thanks,” he tells the redhead. “But merci.”
9:15 P.M. Rex is steering his silver Lexus GS 300 down La Cienega Boulevard and insisting – you guessed it – that he’s just a regular guy not some Hollywood babe magnet. “I never get hit on like that,” he says. “I swear to God. OK, if I do, it’s usually more like teenage girls. And they don’t hit on you, they just… squawk.”
Now a fixture in such teen magazines as Tiger Beat, 25 –year-old Rex first got noticed by the teeny-bopper set in 1995 as a VJ on MTV, where he often appeared shirtless, showing off his delectable abs. “I’d been doing modeling for a while for people like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger,” he says. “The MTV job just fell into my lap. I went to fill in for (model) Marcus Schenkenberg on the VJ Kennedy’s show, and we vibed, and the producers were, like, let’s give this guy a VJ job.”
But Rex’s career suffered a setback in 1996, when news surfaced that he had starred in three porn films aimed at a gay audience (Young, Hard, and Solo II and III and Hot Sessions III) – made when he was 19, featuring him along in the buff, doing what comes naturally. Rex says the whole thing was the idea of his then girlfriend, and “older woman” at age 23. “I met (her) when I was 18 and fell head over heels for her, so I moved out of my mom’s house in San Francisco and down to L.A. This girl was a model who did dirty pictures and stuff to make money, and that was intriguing to me as a young guy. I was in over my head, but I needed to pay the rent.”
The videos eventually cost Rex a part on the WB’s sitcom Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane in 1998. Disney, which was co-producing the pilot, presumably felt Rex’s racy past interfered with its Mickey Mouse image. But the WB stuck by him and even signed him to a development deal. Last season, he played the achingly sensitive art student to whom Felicity lost her virginity, “I got to make out with Keri Russell. That was cool, except her boyfriend was waiting in her trailer,” Rex says as we come to a stop at a red light.
“It shoulda been Noel!” yell the kids in the car next to us, pilling out when the light turns green. (Noel played by Scott Foley, was the Felicity suitor some viewers were rooting for.)
“See? See?” says Rex. “Not everybody wants to see me score.”
9:30 P.M. We arrive at Woo Lae Oak, Rex’s favorite Korean restaurant, a big, noisy place with high, beamed ceilings and a youthful clientele. “Simon!” cries a group of hipsters at a nearby table.
“That’s some of my posse,” Rex explains, waving, “I like to bring girls here,’ cause I have something to do with my hands – I mean, cook the barbecue. So I don’t get nervous.” As we walk through the restaurant, nearly every woman takes a second look. We sit down, and seconds later management sends over a personalized set of chopsticks in a mother-of-pearl box. “So what’s it like being so hideous?” I ask. Rex grimaces and leans back in his chair. “There’s really no way to talk about this stuff without sounding like a complete jerk – at least to other guys,” he says. “As a guy, you want me to earn other guys’ respect. Like, when a guy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Simon Rex, I liked you on such-and-such show,’ I take that more to heart than when a girl comes up to me,’ cause as a guy he has to put his ego aside, whereas a girl...."
Even when the fan gush and fawn, though, Rex can’t seem to get it through his head that the world finds him rather appealing. “Now my parents – there’s some attractive people,” says Rex, an only child. “My mom was a hippie hottie when she was young. She hung out with all the rockers, Jimi Hendrix tried to take her home once, but she didn’t go because she was married at the time” –to his dad, Paul –“ or so she says. And my dad was a cool, hippie photographer-artist.” Now his parents are divorced. His dad is a relationship therapist in San Diego, and his mom, Zoe, is an environmental planner in San Francisco.
“Hi, Simon.” A lithe brunette named Soleil – just Soleil – has spotted Rex and eased over to chat. “What are you doing later?” she purrs. “I don’t know, but I’ll call ya,” the actor says amiably.
I ask, “Is this think with women just constant?” “What?” Rex looks confused. “Soleil is a member of my posse.”
11. P.M. Under the awning of Woo Lae Oak, as we wait for the valet to get Rex’s car, a guy with 90210 hair taps Rex on the shoulder. “Are you following me?” Rex jokes. The guys is, as it turns out, a fan, and though he is with a girl – a Heather Graham –ish blonde – he can’t seem to take his eyes off Rex. “I’ve always found him attractive,” the guy explains grinning. “He has sexy-ass eyes. He’s the love of my life.” “Uh, thanks, bro,” says Rex, unconvinced.
11:10 P.M. We’re driving through bumper-to-bumper, Saturday-night traffic on Sunset Boulevard and Rex is musing about all the attention he has been getting. “It still doesn’t sink in that this has anything to do with the way I look,” he says. “I watch myself on a TV show, and I say, ‘I hate nose. Look at my hair!’ I never think with girls, like I’m gonna get them because I’m supposed to be handsome. I think the way to a girl’s heart is with a sense of humor – at least the kind of women I’d want to be with.”
He doesn’t have a girlfriend now; he broke up a three-year relationship more than a year ago and says he isn’t ready for another one. “I work, so I don’t go out a lot,” he says. “At work, it’s social, hanging out with other young actors. At home (in West Hollywood) I just hang out with my guy friends, watch sports, play basketball, I’m a normal dude, nothing too extracurricular or exciting.”
12 A.M. We park the car, and we’re walking down crowded Sunset, on our way to SkyBar in the Mondrian Hotel. Rex wants a smoke.
“Oh, let me do that for you,” says a guy passing by, noticing Rex fumbling in his pocks and handing him a cigarette.
“Let him have the box,” urges his girlfriend, a doe-eyed waif.
“The box is wet,” says the guy.
“Oh. We have a wet…box,” says the girl, licking her lips.
The line outside SkyBar is long and chaotic, full of people imploring the bouncer to let them in. “Hey Simon,” says the bouncer, pulling the rope open for Rex. Before Rex can step in, though, a dyed blond in Dolce & Gabbana approaches. “Will ya sign my shirt?” she asks. “Across the tits!” she orders, flipping back her stiff hair and pushing out her impressive, if synthetic, chest.
“Hey, wait a minute,” says her muscle-bound boyfriend, huffy, hands on hips. “Should I ask him to sign my balls?”
“Let’s get out of here,” Rex whispers.
We run the other way, ditching SkyBar and laughing like kids. But it’s getting late, and Rex wants to head home. He is tired. Maybe it’s the demands of shooting Jack and Jill every day, or maybe it’s just the pressure of having every other woman – and man – in L.A. come on to him. “I’m telling you,” Rex says, slowing down as we continue heading up the street, “this never happens to me – this is not a typical night.”
“Aren’t you Simon Rex?” ask girls bouncing out of the Comedy Store.
“Yes.” Rex sighs
“Ooh,” one says. “You got pretty eyes.”