The actor ponders life after his role as Leo in ''Relativity''


David Conrad is an old-fashioned, unpretentious Pittsburgh guy. A technology-hating, Roberto Clemente T-shirt-wearing, letter-writing, hardback-book-reading fellow who, when faced with several more sophisticated choices in a lunch line, says, ”How can I resist the macaroni and cheese?”

Not the most likely candidate for television stardom. And indeed, with the April 14 season-ending episode of Relativity, the ABC series in which he costars with Kimberly Williams, Conrad, 29, is hoping that phase of his career has come to an end. At the very least, he’s eager for this long break, which — now that he’s moved back to Manhattan — he hopes will include acting in a play.

Not that he’s unhappy with the show itself or anyone in it. In fact, he’s thrilled with Relativity‘s unresolved season finale, which will find the tormented, twentysomething lovers splitting up. ”It’s exactly what they said they were going to do in the beginning, which is to have them say, ‘This is crazy. Why did we do this?”’ he explains of lead characters Leo and Isabel and their leap into a love-at-first-sight relationship. ”They don’t tie it up. I think that’s awesome.”

The fate of Relativity is also dangling. In March, fans outraged by ABC’s lack of support (including the crummy Saturday-at-10 time slot) launched an Internet campaign to save the show. Their efforts may have helped win the drama an opportunity to air its final episodes on three consecutive Monday nights — at 8. Alas, its ultralow ratings haven’t improved. Should ABC renew the series (unlikely, say sources), Conrad would of course return. But it’s clear his heart is now elsewhere.

Heartbroken Leo lovers are already grieving, for Conrad has become something of a poster boy for smart women (not to mention one of PEOPLE’s ”30 Under 30,” the magazine’s 1996 list of young up-and-comers). Predictably, the former Russian/Slavic history major is not impressed by such attention. ”I’m tired of people portraying me as a dark-haired Matthew McConaughey,” sighs Conrad. ”It’s silly. I’m nowhere near his league.”

The third son of an engineer and a librarian, Conrad began acting while at Brown University. After leaving school in 1990 and before entering Juilliard to study theater, he worked as a carpenter, a cappuccino maker, an interviewer of former steelworkers for a Pittsburgh historical society, and a housepainter (coincidentally, Leo’s first job on the show). But that’s just one thing Conrad shared with his character. Though he claims not to believe in love at first sight, it has happened to him: ”My girlfriend [Twyla Tharp dancer Sandy Stanton] was the first person I saw my first day at Juilliard.” And when Conrad says of Leo, ”I think he’s still forming, he’s just sort of stepping out of relativity,” he could easily be talking about himself.