May 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kermit wasn’t kidding: It’s not easy being green, and particularly Seth Green. The L.A.-based actor — currently giving James Brown a run for his hardest-working-man-in-show-business money — is in New York for two days of nonstop plugging for his new horror film, Idle Hands. Later today, he’ll catch pal Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek) in her Off Broadway debut (replacing Fairuza Balk in Killer Joe), then head west to press more flesh for his other day jobs: The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as laconic lycanthrope Oz), Fox’s animated Family Guy (he voices dim-witted teenager Chris), and the upcoming Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (as Dr. Evil’s love-starved, punk-ass son Scott).

”Between Idle Hands, Austin, Fox, and The WB, I do more frigging publicity than anybody I know,” sighs Green, 25, wearily managing a polite smile at his midtown Manhattan hotel. ”That’s why I start lying [in interviews], because it’s so much more entertaining to me. And people are like, ‘I never knew you interned at the peace corps. That’s so courageous.”’

Consider us warned. But in between the tall tales there are some undeniable truths about Green: After a 19-year showbiz warm-up (starting with commercials at 6), the longtime supporting player is now center stage as young Hollywood’s go-to character craftsman. ”He has incredible reserve and presence,” says Buffy creator Joss Whedon. ”He can own a scene he has no lines in.” Adds Austin Powers frontman Mike Myers: ”Seth’s improvisational skills are as good as anybody I’ve worked with — better than most. He comes to play.”

Growing up in Philadelphia, though, Green was all business — especially after shows like Sesame Street exposed the possibilities of pretend. ”One of their [skits] revealed that the woman cleaning the kitchen [on TV] is not really excited about cleaning — she gets paid for it, she’s a spokesperson,” says Green. ”I was like, lying? Seems like an easy way to make a living.”

Green’s incessant prodding drove his parents — artist Barbara and math teacher Herbert — to hire local talent manager Edie Robb. ”Seth was full of personality,” recalls Robb. ”Also, I think the family did it to keep him occupied. He wasn’t the type that could sit [still] in school all day.”

Sitting still wasn’t in the picture, period. Green soon became what Robb calls ”a booking machine,” amassing commercials (Burger King, Kodak), TV guest spots, films, and the big lead as a neurotic kid: the young Woody Allen in 1987’s Radio Days. Making the move to L.A. at 16, Green stockpiled more credits (including a stint as Jennifer Love Hewitt’s brother in the 1994 ABC series The Byrds of Paradise), yet always remained on the boundaries of fame. ”I was never Gary Coleman,” says Green, ”and that really benefited me later on.”

Specifically, in 1997, his year for small- and big-screen breakthroughs, when the WB drama Buffy came calling. As Oz, the garage-band guitarist with a mega-mellow personality, Green brings low-key to new lows. ”Seth [auditioned] and was doing almost nothing,” says Whedon. ”I knew there could be no one else.” Guest-starring spots soon turned into a regular gig — as an irregular guy. ”The script that wooed me was for the episode where I first turn into a werewolf,” says Green. ”Before I signed, Joss said, ‘Read this. This is what we’re thinking.’ It had all this metaphorical stuff and gave strong shades to the character. I said, ‘Yeah, I want to be a part of this.”’

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