THE NIGHT BEFORE SHOOTING A crucial scene in his directorial debut, the Show, a concert featuring rappers Warren G and Snoop Doggy Dogg, Brian Robbins holed up for some head banging. “I was in this hotel room bouncing off the walls,” he says. “We were about to have every major star in rap in one building—all these huge egos—and one day to do it all.” The anxiety was unnecessary. “It all came out cool,” Robbins says. “I blinked, and it was over.”
That’s no surprise to fans who remember Robbins playing leather-jacketed genius Eric in the ABC sitcom Head of the Class. Now 30, Robbins is earning high marks as a producer and director. Tollin-Robbins Productions, the company he formed in 1993 with Michael Tollin, is responsible for All That, the top-rated kids show on Nickelodeon, and the TBS special Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, which won a 1995 Emmy nomination. Robbins is proudest of the Show, whose soundtrack hit the top of Billboard’s R&B chart. Despite the popular image of rappers as outlaws, Robbins says, “what these guys talk about in their songs is not necessarily who they are.” When he filmed former drug dealer the Notorious B.I.G. with his mother, Robbins says, “this big tough guy became a little teddy bear.”
Robbins’ own family is understandably proud. Raised in Brooklyn by Rochelle Levine, 57, a homemaker, and her husband, Floyd, 60, a TV and movie character actor, Robbins (who uses his grandmother’s surname) was, according to his mother, “smart, caring and fiercely competitive” as a child. In 1980 the family—including sister Sheryl, now 39, and brother Marc, 35—moved to Los Angeles, where Brian was suspended for cutting classes at Van Nuys’ Grant High School, even though he was a star on the baseball team. “I hated school,” he says. “The only thing that kept me there was sports.”
Once reinstated, he started acting and, before graduating in 1982, wowed an agent at the school’s drama fair. He dropped out of UCLA to take guest parts on shows including Knight Rider, Taxi and Three’s Company. In 1986 he landed a desk on the Class set. Once there, he had a five-month fling with Class-mate Robin Givens, but he found mixing work and romance too distracting. “I’ll never do that again,” he says.
That’s fine with Laura Cathcart, 31, a publicist who met Robbins in 1992 (after his split with ex-fiancée Holly Robinson of 21 Jump Street) and shares his L.A. home. Robbins, says Cathcart, like his Class character, “is the tough cool guy who’s a lot smarter than he wants anybody to know.”
Head of the Class, says Robbins, “was the greatest thing that ever happened in my life.” But, he insists, he and series costar Dan Schneider won’t be present for a Class reunion. “That would be sad,” he says. “Besides, Dan and I made a suicide pact.”
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles