February 10, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

After years of playing bit parts small (FBI agent Skip Lipari on The Sopranos) and smaller (singing chop-shop owner Snake in Beverly Hills Cop III), character actor Louis Lombardi, 38, can currently be seen stealing some of Jack Bauer’s thunder as computer whiz Edgar Stiles on Fox’s 24. ”What happened?” he asks. ”One minute I was muscling Pussy on Sopranos, and now I’m getting beat down every week by Chloe.” Not to be outdone by his cranky nerd boss, EW forced Lombardi to account for his humble beginnings.

NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994, as Sparky) ”My first studio movie. We filmed at Joliet prison [in Illinois] for three months. I went out each night with Robert Downey Jr. to every restaurant, every bar in Chicago — and this was 1993, when he was really crazy. I was thinking ‘This is Hollywood?’ The best time I’ve ever had in my life.”

ED WOOD (1994, as Rental House Manager) ”I was in a big scene with Johnny Depp! Uh, it got cut out.”

SUICIDE KINGS (1998, as Mickey) ”I had no lines, even though I was friends with the producer. But [costar] Denis Leary wanted to improvise. So we ended up making up about eight scenes. And Christopher Walken’s [casting-director] wife saw me and got me on Sopranos. How weird is that?”

FANTASY ISLAND (1998-99, as Cal) ”This was a TV remake of the old show with Ricardo Montalban. And, man, was I very proud to be the new Tattoo.”

THE HOT CHICK (2002, as Pole Cat Bar Patron) ”No, I didn’t do intensive research for playing a strip-bar regular. I was just driving on the freeway, and [my friend] Rob Schneider calls on my cell and says, ‘Can you show up right now?’ I totally improvised my line: ‘Knew it was gonna be a good night!”’

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