TONY PECK TILTS SIDEWAYS LIKE A sailor on a storm-tossed ship, re-enacting his first-ever film role. Hired as a “glorified extra” in Roman Polanski’s much-panned 1986 epic, Pirates, Peck spent six months sweating on location in Tunisia, all for “six lines—and three of those were cut. I was always there, on that boat, with a hat and a wig and that heat,” he says. “People collapsed, died. I just knew there was something awesome going on around me. But after I saw a sneak preview of the film back in Long Beach, I drove to a Mexican restaurant and ran up a $60 bar bill within 10 minutes.”
Happily, such hard sailing may now be over for the 34-year-old actor. Last November he married ’70s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, his live-in sweetheart since 1983. This April he popped up in his own prime-time series, Hollywood Detective, on cable’s Arts & Entertainment Network. In the gumshoe spoof, Peck plays Berkeley Nunn, an aspiring writer and full-time private eye working in Hollywood in the ’30s. It is Peck’s closest brush with the big time since his lead opposite Brooke Shields in Brenda Starr. (That effort, filmed in 1986 but never released in the U.S., he jokingly refers to as the “long-awaited, ill-fated film that continues its shelf life.”)
For Peck, the son of Gregory Peck and his second wife, Veronique, unreleased movies aren’t exactly a family tradition. As children, he and his sister, Cecilia, now 32, shuttled between their parents’ homes in Los Angeles and southern France and his father’s movie locations around the world. (Gregory also had three children with his first wife, Greta, from whom he was divorced in 1955.)
After four years in a Swiss boarding school, Tony went to Amherst College in Massachusetts and studied English, then added a second major in theater after being cast in a college production of Godspell. “My father never pushed me in any direction, other than encouraging me to develop as a student,” he says. “I found theater on my own.”
Four more years of training at Juilliard followed, then the obligatory auditions for off-Broadway plays. Those went nowhere, but Peck was cast in Pirates and went overseas to film it. Once there, he found more parts, in films made in Israel, Spain, Morocco and London and not released in the U.S.
While the work kept him afloat as an actor, Cheryl Tiegs provided personal ballast. The two first met in 1983 at his sister Cecilia’s 25th-birthday party. Cecilia knew Tiegs through a mutual friend and seated the model next to her brother. For reasons he now says he can’t fathom, Peck gave up his seat. (“I get back at him by saying I don’t remember him being there,” jokes Tiegs.) The impression was more lasting eight months later at the New York City premiere of Scarf ace, when the two bumped into each other in front of an escalator. This time Peck seized the moment and chatted her up. “We’ve lived together, essentially, since that night,” he says.
Last fall, while visiting the Rancho Mirage estate of Frank and Barbara Sinatra, Peck finally proposed. “I didn’t push it. I waited until he asked me,” says Tiegs, 43. “I wanted to do it spontaneously, quickly. On Tuesday he said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and on Friday we were married.” The 12-minute ceremony, in Sinatra’s cactus garden, “thrilled” his parents, reports Peck, although they missed the quickie nuptials because Peck pére was busy in Connecticut filming Other People ‘s Money.
Now ensconced in the roomy L.A. home that they bought from actress Jane Seymour three years ago, Peck and Tiegs are busy themselves these days. The former model designs her own line of eyewear, stars in an exercise video and does commercials for Light n’ Lively dairy products. Peck, when not on location in Orem, Utah, where Hollywood Detective is filmed (“They have terrific period architecture there,” he says), is often barricaded with Joe Brutsman, his pal since Juilliard days and now his writing partner. So far, they have sold one of their three film scripts and are working on a fourth. “I think Cheryl is very good for him—a self-made woman who has built an empire on who she is,” Brutsman says of Tiegs. “She’s very smart in that sense, very disciplined. Tony has a wilder sense of humor; she has a lot of midwestern in her. She still has her feet on the ground.”
Peck is getting that way; he says he’s found that 17-hour workdays, if you’re doing something you enjoy, can actually be fun. “I go to sleep wishing it were already 5 o’clock in the morning, knowing it’s going to be sweet sailing from then on in,” he says. “It’s the only high that’s worth anything, isn’t it?”
LOIS ARMSTRONG in Los Angeles