I’m kind of a big kid,” says 30-year-old Seth Peterson. As if to prove the point, the 5’10”, 160-lb. actor kicks off his clunky wing-tip shoes and takes a slide across the bare wooden floor, past a 3-ft.-tall robot and a tot-size red pedal car. “Want to see my James Bond movies?” he asks. “And The Avengers? I’ve got those too.”
Thanks to his role as hunky rebel Robbie Hansen on the hit NBC drama Providence, however, Peterson’s life these days is not all child’s play. Like his TV alter ego, who is struggling to leave behind a troubled youth—including a gambling addiction and police record—in favor of adulthood, Peterson says, “I suppose I’m growing up a little bit too.”
With his mischievous charm the actor provides much needed spice to the sentimental Providence, which is centered around his older TV sib, earnest doc Syd Hansen (played by Melina Kanakaredes); his shopkeeper younger sister Joanie (Paula Cale); and their veterinarian father, Jim (Mike Farrell). “Seth is very focused and professional,” says casting director April Webster, who saw 100 actors before hiring Peterson. “Yet he’s able to give life to the character.” Farrell agrees: “Seth just walks into a scene and reality happens.”
Acting wasn’t always a natural fit. Peterson was born to George Kanouse, at the time a clerk at a Manhattan YMCA, and aspiring actress Cheryl Peterson, then separated from a man she declines to identify (they later divorced). Seth was 2 when his mother and Kanouse also split. “We just decided we’d had enough,” says Kanouse, a former high school math teacher, now 50, remarried and living in Portland, Ore. Seth, who saw his father on holidays, moved with his mother to L.A., where she acted at and cofounded the repertory Colony Theatre, with Bibbi Hansen (coincidentally the same last name as Peterson’s TV character), the mother of musician Beck. “We really lived hand-to-mouth,” recalls Seth’s mother, now 51 and a computer teacher at an L.A. law firm. “After shows Seth had the job of lifting all the seats. His reward was to keep any coins he found.”
Cheryl got her son an agent when he was only 4. But he preferred palling around with Beck to acting. “We were blood brothers,” recalls Peterson. “We’d dress up like James Bond and pretend to be secret agents.” They still see each other occasionally.
In 1983, when Peterson was 13, his mother married Mark Hansen-no relation to Bibbi—a high school teacher and coach, who died two years ago (their daughter Lara, 18, is an aspiring actress). Five years later, as high school graduation neared, Peterson suddenly found acting more appealing. “I didn’t like school,” he says, “so I had to get a job.” Over the next eight years he juggled acting classes with work as a bank clerk, landing small parts on such TV shows as Profiler and Beverly Hills, 90210 and in the movie Godzilla before Providence intervened.
Although Peterson denies he has reached heartthrob status, the 10 to 20 fan letters he gets each week, he says, “make me kinda giddy, actually.” But unlike Robbie Hansen, he’s a stay-at-home guy, who prefers watching movies and listening to the Beatles with girlfriend Kylee Cochran, 25, an actress he met when she appeared on an episode of Providence last year. They share their two-bedroom, ca. 1940, L.A. duplex with a hairless cat (think Austin Powers’s Mr. Bigglesworth) named Henry Winklesworth. “This is the first home that is mine,” Peterson says. “Until now, I always rented rooms in other people’s houses, with their furniture and their pets.”
And while marriage isn’t imminent, Peterson would like to buy a house of his own. He also looks forward to rounding out his portrayal of Robbie in Providence’s third season. “I enjoy having him be able to step up and do something right for a change,” he says. “It’s good not to be the guy who screws up everything.”
Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles