October 17, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

Soul Food (Music - Soundtrack)

Current Status
In Season
114 minutes
Vivica A. Fox, Brandon Hammond, Irma P. Hall, Nia Long, Mekhi Phifer, Vanessa Williams, Michael Beach, Jeffrey D. Sams
George Tillman, Jr.
20th Century Fox Film Corporation
George Tillman, Jr.

How many men can say they’ve cheated on Gloria Reuben, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa L. Williams? Michael Beach, for one. With his caddish characterizations in ER, Waiting to Exhale, and Soul Food, Beach has become Hollywood’s latest image of infidelity. ”People are always saying ‘Man, how could you do that to Angela or Vanessa?’ ” says the thirtysomething Beach. ”And my response is, ‘I’m just lucky, I guess’ — to get these gorgeous women to work opposite me.”

Actually, both luck and fate have had a hand in his career. Raised in Roxbury, Mass., Beach had been an athlete, even winning a football scholarship to an exclusive prep school. But after an ankle injury spiked Beach’s sports aspirations, a friend persuaded him to act in a school play, The Diary of Anne Frank. He fell in love with acting ”that first week,” Beach recalls, though one teacher ”was extremely upset that they cast me as a Dutch Jew.”

Even in the face of such complications, Beach’s talent took him to Juilliard, where he befriended fellow young, gifted, and black actors Eriq LaSalle (his ER costar and best friend of 15 years), Ving Rhames, and Andre Braugher. His appetite for work has kept him busy: He’s made more than 25 films, ranging from the big-budget (The Abyss) to the modest (One False Move) to the ill-advised (Knight Rider 2010).

But sometimes a dash of dereliction is what it takes to get noticed. Says Beach (whose offscreen family life is rosy — he and wife Tracey have four kids), ”The next few choices I make, I might want to stay away from the problem husband, but … if something great comes up, I’ll probably do it.”

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