May 22, 2000 12:00 PM

As an up-and-coming actor, James Hanlon knows about tough crowds. The toughest might be the guys at the Manhattan firehouse where Hanlon, 34, is a full-time firefighter. “Just once,” says Richie Cappi, one of Hanlon’s colleagues in Engine Company 7, “I’d like to see a show where he doesn’t die.”

He’s not making a killing at either gig, but Hanlon isn’t complaining. Cast to type, he donned the yellow hat and slicker in last year’s film Bringing Out the Dead. Changing uniforms, he played a cop in the just-released movie Joe Gould’s Secret and on the ABC show NYPD Blue—a role for which he auditioned just hours after helping rescue a man who had lost his legs in a subway accident. “He brought authenticity to the role,” says Blue’s Dennis Franz.

After an adolescence he calls just plain “dumb,” during which he ran with a rough crowd, the Bronx-raised Hanlon turned to acting at 20 when he met a friend’s theater coach. He took to firefighting in 1994 after winning a $500 bet from a pal who said he couldn’t pass the FDNY’s tough physical exam. “It’s always been a thing with my family to give back to the community,” says Hanlon, who lives with his actress wife, Sophie Comet, 30, in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. He plans to stick with both jobs, though neither one thrills his parents—John, 63 (a retired financial manager), and Marie, 63 (a retired secretary)—or his three sisters and two brothers. Explains Hanlon: “My mother told me, ‘We wanted you to take a normal job. Now I have to stay up worrying.’ ”

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