Paul McCrane Finds ''Fame'' on ''ER'' -- How the actor found himself stalking the halls of County General.

By Tom Russo
Updated March 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Since joining ER as hotshot surgeon Robert ”Rocket” Romano, Paul McCrane has quickly become TV’s reigning king of pain. Inflicting pain, that is — the kind subordinates like Drs. Benton (Eriq La Salle) and Corday (Alex Kingston) feel squarely in the butt. Indeed, on a show rife with more conflict and tension than you can shake a tongue depressor at, he’s the surgeon general of provocation.

And the arrogant little creep’s recent promotion to acting chief in the ER will no doubt provide oodles more opportunities for bad behavior. Not to mention many more moments for real hospital personnel to relate to: ”It’s fascinating,” says McCrane, 38, ”how many medical professionals come up to me and say, ‘You don’t know how many surgeons I know who are just like that.”’

McCrane’s own pursuit of career goals has been considerably more benign, if no less passionate. He landed the plum role of Montgomery MacNeil in the 1980 film Fame while still a teenager. As MacNeil, McCrane wrestled with homosexuality — and the most prodigious red ‘fro of the era: ”Considering my follicle status now,” says the Philadelphia native, ”I’m baffled by how often I’m still recognized from that.”

More recently, McCrane appeared on The X-Files (as a cancer parasite) and The Practice, before coming to the attention of ER‘s producers. ”We always saw Romano as a complete jerk,” says executive producer Lydia Woodward, ”but when Paul came in and auditioned, we knew we’d have fun writing the guy.”

As for future fun, the recently married McCrane goes out on a limb: ”I’d say you’ll probably continue to see Romano make wildly inappropriate remarks.” An excellent prognosis.