The former Diet Coke hunk finds role on ''Pacific Palisades'' to his taste

By Kristen Baldwin
Updated April 18, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

If the actor who plays Matt Dunning, the deceptively charming contractor on Fox’s Pacific Palisades (Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m.), looks familiar but you just can’t place him, try picturing him with his shirt off and a can of Diet Coke in his hand. Yes, that’s Lucky Vanous, the chiseled hunk who sent a flock of women into a hormonal frenzy with his turn as a shirtless construction worker in a 1994 commercial. ”I didn’t have the best body in the room,” insists Vanous, 35, of his audition for the spot. ”I had a more average-guy look as opposed to these guys who were obviously hard-core buff. I think they didn’t want someone who was too intimidating.”

Vanous’ stud-next-door appeal soon parlayed itself into a flood of himbo commercial offers. ”I could have made a fortune selling anything from cheese to cars,” says Vanous. So why didn’t he? Because like so many other models/pitchmen, what Vanous really wanted to do was act. ”I made the decision I would take a year off for coaching and classes,” says the L.A.-based actor. ”I figured it would be very difficult to bridge the gap to legitimacy coming from product land.”

Which explains why Vanous went from mega-hyped to missing in action. While he had post-Diet Coke guest spots on Wings in 1994 and All My Children in ’95, Palisades is his first major TV acting role, which he landed by beating out 40 other hopefuls. ”Lucky had one thing I always look for,” says Palisades executive producer Aaron Spelling. ”It’s called stardust.”

Vanous, meanwhile, is ”very, very happy” with his transformation from beefcake to bad guy. ”[Matt] is not overtly dark,” he says of his character. ”He’s a nice guy who would talk to you, then hang up and sell you down the river with a smile.” More important, he mostly does it with his shirt on.