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Antonio Sabato is sitting pretty

We talk with Calvin Klein’s latest underwear model

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I could get fat and ugly, and maybe people will appreciate my work,” says actor Antonio Sabato Jr. ”But I like to take care of myself. I like to be in shape.”

Somewhere, Calvin Klein is breathing a sigh of relief. For on April 30, Sabato was unveiled as the new, uh, face of Calvin Klein Underwear — and the designer’s first celebrity model since 1992, when Marky Mark dropped trou on billboards across America. ”He’s extremely endearing and sexual,” says photographer Wayne Maser, who shot the print and TV ads. ”He’s someone who could sit down at dinner and everyone would fall in love with him.”

For the uninitiated — those few who missed him playing good-hearted hunk Jagger on General Hospital or thug Jack Perezi on Melrose Place — the 24-year-old Sabato has a steamy, dimpled beauty that makes women melt and some men swoon. They are the kind of good looks that are hard to get past, though Sabato would like you to try.

”In this business, when you look the way you look, for some reason people think you’re stupid,” says the native of Rome, Italy. ”You’ve got to prove yourself a little bit more.”

Won’t donning briefs with bared chest — not to mention having your bod immortalized on a 90-foot billboard in New York City’s Times Square — perpetuate the dreaded himbo image just a bit? ”I’m sure that’s going to happen,” says Sabato. ”Everything you do is always going to have a downside and a good side, but it’s too early in my career to know that.”

The brevity of his career hasn’t hampered his profile, however: Sabato’s name has already found its way into gossip columns numerous times. After his six-episode stint on Melrose as the abusive ex-husband of Amanda (Heather Locklear), rumors flew about Sabato and Locklear’s supposedly stormy relationship. ”Heather and I kind of laughed about it,” Sabato says. ”I know we had a good time, and that’s all I need to know.” Locklear concurs: ”Antonio was great to work with. There is no truth to that rumor.”

Much more troubling to Sabato were the accusations leveled last year by his ex-girlfriend, actress Virginia Madsen, who claimed Sabato was negligent in supporting their 18-month-old son, Jack. The actor has vehemently denied the charges. ”My son is the most important thing in my life. I’m taking care of him as much as I can,” says Sabato, who says he sees Jack every week. ”Virginia is a wonderful mother; she’s taking care of my son. We’re just not together.”

Sabato’s own father is actor Antonio Sabato Sr., who, in addition to appearing in spaghetti Westerns, had a part in 1966’s Grand Prix; the two hope to make a movie together one day, although the younger Sabato has yet to make his mark in feature films. Until he does, he’s cutting his teeth on movies of the week. In NBC’s upcoming Thrill, for example, Sabato takes a stab at playing the action hero, as an engineer who must overcome his fear of heights when his daughter is trapped on a roller coaster that has been rigged with a bomb. To film this Speed-at-an-amusement-park, he spent a large portion of the 20-day shoot strapped to a roller coaster in Santa Cruz, Calif. ”You have to ride the whole thing each time you shoot [a scene],” says Sabato, noting that he ”didn’t mind going on that ride about 30 times a day.” Couldn’t be any scarier than standing in your underwear in Times Square.

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