Ah, the trials of imminent stardom: It's after noon on a recent Thursday and Robert Gant is only now having his first cup of coffee. It's not his fault really. Last night he was up until the wee hours working--sort of. Gant spent the evening pressing flesh and mingling with the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Oscar winner Hillary Swank at a New York magazine party for actor Randy Harrison, Gant's co-star on Queer As Folk, the controversial, love it or hate-it, Showtime series he has just joined.
"New York seems to run on a different schedule," says a groggy-voiced Gant from his hotel in Manhattan. "This Tampa boy isn't entirely accustomed to all this."
"All this" is the hectic meet-and-greet schedule of a guy who happens to star in a hit show, a lifestyle Gant may soon have to adapt to. By all accounts, the actor should get a date book--and quick. Since joining the series at the beginning of this season, Gant has garnered serious buzz for his portrayal of Ben Bruckner, an HIV-positive professor with heavy baggage who's bringing some serious edge to the drama. And he's also been getting plenty of attention for his steamy, NC-17-type scenes on the series, a rite of passage of sorts for all cast members. In case you've been under a rock, Queer As Folk follows the tumultuous lives of a group of gay friends in Pittsburgh.
"The hardest part for me about those scenes is having been a fat kid," says the Adonis-shaped (now fat-free) Gant. "When you know all those people are going to be watching you with your shirt off, it can make you a little self-conscious."
Not that Gant isn't used to people gawking at him--albeit fully clothed. He's no stranger to showbiz. He got his first big break at age 13 when he performed a soft-shoe routine with comedian Bob Hope on a local USO show. And odds are you've seen him pitching everything from ice cream to luxury cars on TV commercials. He was the NicoDerm CQ guy, the Miller Lite guy, the guy who drives supermodel Claudia Schiffer around in a Citroen and, the piece de resistance of his commercials career, the singing-rapping-dancing Good Humor ice cream guy, a gig for which Gant was chosen from more than 500 hopefuls back in 1996.
Then there were his guest stints as Love Interest in a variety of sitcoms and dramas--the hunky kindergarten teacher on Friends, the hunky boyfriend on Caroline in the City and the hunky park ranger on Melrose Place, to name a few. Needless to say, Gant is ecsatic about his regular gig--late nights, nude scenes and all.
"It's great to play a character with depth--someone that really has something to say," he avers. "And it's great to not have to worry about where your next job is coming from."
As great an opportunity for success as QAF turned out to be, it was one that almost didn't come Gant's way. A Georgetown law school graduate, he initially set out to La-La Land to work as a corporate attorney. But when the firm that hired him closed its doors, he decided to go the starving artist's route and follow the impossible dream--with the help from a generous severance package.
It's a twist of fate that can only get sweeter. Already Gant has his eye on the Hollywood jackpot, feature films. Look for him in Fits and Starts, an independent feature scheduled for release later this year. For now he plans to enjoy his first summer off in a while with a visit to his hometown of Temple Terrace, where Mom (a real estate agent) and Dad (a retired brewery worker) still live.
What's his take on the crazy fame monster that seems to be lurking around the corner? So far, so good.
"It's neat and odd and exciting at the same time," says Gant without a trace of Hollywood spin. "I was looking at furniture yesterday and these guys came up asking for my autograph. It's a little bizarre. I was just this kid from Tampa who wanted to spread his wings and see the world. [But right now,] I can't wait to get back home."