June 12, 1978 12:00 PM

The water splashing on O.J. Simpson’s battered left knee felt better than Ben-Gay. That gentle Caribbean surf, in fact, was just the thing to turn on the Juice. “Everybody thought I was finished when I had knee surgery last November,” says O.J., “but now I’m ready to perform.” And not just on the football field. On location on the island of Antigua, running-back-cum-thespian Simpson is finessing his way through his seventh movie, Firepower, with James Coburn and Sophia Loren. Between takes of the $8 million action epic, in which he plays a nice-guy thief, O.J. is training for his first season with the San Francisco 49ers (he was traded last March by the Buffalo Bills). “Being on this island has given me solitude,” he says. “I’ve been getting my thoughts together. Now I can think about playing ball.”

Waking at dawn, O.J. lifts weights and exercises with a foot brace to strengthen the knee. Then he runs until it’s time for makeup call. With only two seasons left on his $733,358-a-year football contract, Simpson, who will be 31 in July, looks on films as the wave of his future. “Moviemaking has a certain romanticism about it,” he explains. “I get to travel. I meet people. I learn a lot. In Europe I’m known for my movies.” But the actor’s life is not all starlets and skittles. For Firepower, lifelong landlubber O.J. was forced to put to sea for some shooting. “Can you imagine what it’s like to spend nine hours on a boat when you’re seasick?” he asks. “It is the worst!”

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