Mark Harris
April 03, 1992 AT 05:00 AM EST

In 1971, 26-year-old Bruce Davison was moping around the set of Robert Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid, convinced that he’d just lost his first big break — the role that went to Jeff Bridges in The Last Picture Show. ”Aldrich took me aside,” says Davison, ”and said, ‘Why do you want to be a leading man? Be a victim or a villain — people will always remember you.”’

Davison took his advice and began to be cast against his blond, wounded-prep looks. Twenty years later, the actor has managed to play a few good guys — notably his Oscar-nominated turn in 1990’s Longtime Companion as a middle-aged homosexual who courageously helps his lover through the final stages of AIDS. However, Davison is better known for his remarkable repertoire of rotters: a rat’s best friend in the gross-out classic Willard, an imprisoned child molester in the 1978 film Short Eyes, and now, a media-savvy serial killer whose body count makes Hannibal Lecter look lazy in Fox’s LIVE! From Death Row. And no, Davison does not bring his work home with him — most of the time. ”It was difficult when I filmed Short Eyes,” he admits. ”I couldn’t shake the despair and anguish of that character for a year. But Live! From Death Row was different — this guy has no conscience, no guilt at all. I don’t know if my wife [actress Lisa Pelikan] was too thrilled, but I had a ball.”

Davison still plays his share of sort-of-conventional heroes — he can be seen as George Henderson in the syndicated comedy Harry and the Hendersons — but his heart belongs to baddies: In the planning stages is a remake of Willard with an all-black cast, and Davison in the director’s chair.

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