Rex and the City
Apr. 1, 2003 SOD
John-Paul Lavoisier turns a neat trick as One Life to Live's smooth operator
By Randee Dawn
"When I moved from Queens to Manhattan, I wanted to move with almost nothing. I wanted a clean slate," he says, poking through his sushi in a Manhattan restaurant on a chilly March afternoon. "A new life, a new apartment, so I wanted to take almost nothing. I got rid of my TV because I wanted a plasma flat screen to hang on the wall." Unfortunately, plasma flat screens, the couch potato's holy grail, cost considerably more than a fledgling actor, just a year into his first soap contract, can afford. So, he's waiting. "I don't want to tget a small TV to just 'settle,'" he adds, "because it won't puch me to get what I really want. I've waited nine months; I can wait a few more."
Thus far in his scant two-plus decades, Lavoisier has not had to do much waiting. The Phoenixville, PA native (who grew up watching All My Children with his mother) managed to secure a New York modeling agent while still attending University of the Arts in Philadelphia; by his junior year there, he left school for the Big Apple. Says Lavoiser, "I had a buch of money saved, so I got an apartment, took classes, did the headshot thing and a year-and-a-half later, Michael Eisner took a shot on me." He grins, knowing that the Chairman and CEO of Disney (which owns ABC) has almost certainly never heard of him and drawls a correction: "[Former Executive Producer] Garry Tomlin. Whatever."
Okay, sure, he's cocky, but Lavoisier's mature sense of himself, coupled with a cutting sense of humor makes it not only palatable, but intriguing. He's clear on the extent that luck played into getting a nearly free pass from waiting tables for years while also waiting for his break (though when hired at OLTL, he was serving food at the now-closed Russian Tea Room). "Let's face it, there are 50,000 other guys who look just like me, trying to do the same thing," he says. "I guess I had something that stood out. I find so many young actors say that they're actors, but aren't doing what they should be doing - studying, reading plays. When I wasn't waiting tables, I wasn't out there being fabulous, dating this person or that person. There are so many ways to get sidetracked in this town. If you want to be an actor, just do it."
A philosophy put into practice by Lavoisier (nee Seponski; the new last name is courtesy of his biology book. The first name is because "my mom didn't want me to be John, Jr.," and yes, John-Paul is his full first name and no, he's not French- "people who don't know me think that I've gotten away from my heritage"). A ham from the moment he was in front of an audience in first grade as Peter Rabbit ("at curain bow, I turned around and wagged my tail"), he later excelled on-stage during his school career as a magician and durmmer (though not simultaneously). And none of it was just kid's stuff: At 16, Lavoisier was reproducting magician Harry Houdini's locked-box escape trick, "Metamorphosis"; a year later he was dangling over tiki torches while strapped in a straitjacket for his senior talent show (he won). "I love being able to do something that most people can't," he says. "I like seeing people amazed."
When it came to drumming, however, he wasn't immediately enamored: Mom coerced him into volunteering for the school band in fourth grade. However, b 16, he was drumming for three weeks in Europe on a special tour. "I've had four loves in my life," he says. "Music, magic, acting and golf. I'm very passionate about them, but I'm not here to waste about anybody's time. I take them all very seriously. If I love it, I do it."
But Lavoisier has more than drumming and magic on his resume - though OLTL isn't his first big role. A year after moving to New York, Lavoisier was tapped to play the lead in One Day in May, a film labeled as "Christian" for its strongly anti-abortion views. He played a college kid whose girlfriend is considering ending her pregnancy; he tries to persuade her to do otherwise. "I think I was the only non-born-again Chrisitian on the project," he says. The film's director later cast him in two similarly "religious" New York plays, the first stage experience that he had in the city. But after that, Lavoisier's agent told him to cut it out. "She said, 'You're not one of those people. Not that there's anything wrong with those people, but you need to be done now.' And she was right. The reality is that you're seen as the kid who has all of these Christian things on his resume, and [casting directors] wonder, 'What is he going to be like to work with? Is he going to cut stuff out of our script, refuse to do certain things?' So, I stopped."
Shortly thereafter, along came the role of Jamie on OLTL. Jamie? "A month before I started, I thought that was his name," says Lavoisier. "I went to have a meeting with Gary and he said, 'Actually, his name is Rex now.' "A good metaphor for the role itself, which got tangled up in the changeover of executive producers and head writers, and whose direction is still being defined. One initial thought, for Rex, confirms Lavoisier, was able to have him in a gay storyline. "They toyed with the idea, and I was asked by the higher powers at the show how I would feel about doing something like that. I said, 'Absoluty, any plot you want to give me, I'll take on strong.' And they said, 'Okay, we just wanted to check.' "Instead, Rex remained a heterosexual "horndog," grins Lavoisier, who with approval from the soap added a glint in his eye he'd lifted from Ryan Phillippe's (ex-Billy) Cruel Intentionsi character of Sebastian. "They said, 'Sure, go with that. Start with that.' And that was pretty much it."
So, it has remained. Rex has dithered on the fringes of OLTL storyline for about a year now, but all indications are that he'll be getting his own story soon. Meanwhile, Lavoisier is counting his blessings. After all, the axe-falling during the recent exec switch-up missed him. Not a bad trick for a sometime magician.
But he's not getting too comfortable. "I haven't survived anything ye," says the actor. "But here's how I see it; Two weeks into taping The Godfather, Al Pacino thought he was going to be fired. So, he used that to his advantage to have fun and really play with the character. I take each script like that: This might be my last script. I could go upstairs tomorrow to get the skis and never come back down."