Ioan Gruffudd
Credit: JoJo Whilden/The CW

Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t the only geek icon returning to television this fall in Ringer. Ioan Gruffudd — maybe best known to the masses for playing super-elastic egghead Reed Richards in two Fantastic Four movies — boasts a large following himself for playing author C.S. Forester’s fictional 18th/19th century British naval hero Horatio Hornblower in a series of eight impressively-produced Emmy-winning TV movies that aired on A&E from 1998 to 2003. Gruffudd, 37, loves being identified with the role — and would love to be playing it for years to come. The Welsh actor — whose other film credits include Titanic, Black Hawk Down, and King Arthur — tells EW that if Ringer is a smash, he’d like to leverage his career heat to rally interest and funding for more Hornblower films, which he says are quite expensive to make.

“We have only scratched the surface of what we could do,” says Gruffudd, noting that the eight movies only cover three of Forester’s 11 Hornblower books, which chronicle the sailor’s rise from midshipman to admiral. “I began doing those films when I was 23, and I think it would be amazing for one actor to visit the same part over the course of his career, playing the character’s whole span of life. If Ringer is a success, and my star continues to rise, I might be in a position to put this together. I would really love to do it.”

Whether Ringer — which airs its second episode tonight — will become the hit Gruffudd wants it to be remains to be seen. Last week’s premiere did respectable business for The CW — an estimated 2.84 million viewers. Gruffudd plays Andrew Martin, a wealthy, maybe shady Manhattan businessman unhappily married to Siobhan, one of Gellar’s twin characters. Andrew has no clue that Siobhan has faked her death or that her sister Bridget has assumed her identity.

“Of course, being a leading man, I wanted to play Sarah’s parts! They’re fantastic!” Gruffudd says with a laugh. “On the page in the pilot, there wasn’t much to Andrew. He’s kind of an ambiguous character. So I spoke to the creators and they pitched an amazing arc for the series and my character. I was blown away, and I was overwhelmed by their interest in me to play this part.” What caused the Andrew/Siobhan marriage to sour? And how legit is Andrew’s wealth? Gruffudd declined to tease — but he does hope that his husband is hiding a mistress somewhere. Referring to Siobhan’s affair with her best friend’s husband (Kristoffer Polaha), Gruffudd quips: “Seeing that my wife is sleeping with someone else, I feel I should get some action somewhere else, as well.”

Gruffudd has nothing but praise for the actress who not only plays his cheating wife, but also serves as his boss, as Gellar is also one of Ringer’s exec producers: “I was kind of tongue tied when I first met her, the way you can be when you sit down with a superstar. Oh my god. It’s Buffy! Now we’re best buds. It’s a lovely, lovely feeling.” He says they have a lot in common. Both are married (Gellar, since 2002 to actor Freddie Prinze Jr.; Gruffudd, since 2007 to actress Alice Evans), both became parents in 2009. “It’s wonderful. We’re real work partners, who are in love with our family life,” he says. “We’re in this for the long haul. It’s all about the work; there’s not time to be wasted playing or mucking about.”

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