ACROSS TOWN FROM THE BOULEVARD that gives his new show its name, Central Park West star Justin Lazard (sleazy stockbroker Gil Chase) shows off the terrace of his snug, 21st-floor penthouse—his brother’s, actually—on Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side. The patch of concrete blooms with evergreens, geraniums and ivy. “It’s kind of like a family,” he says. The other member of his household is his cat, Lucy, which he adopted from the ASPCA two years ago, when he was living in Los Angeles. “She loves it out here,” he says, although he has had to give her a lesson or two in the realities of high-rise life: “I’ve kind of hung her off the side a few times to let her know it’s a long way down.”
That sounds like the kind of crack one of the CPW characters might make. Created by Darren Star, whose credits include Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, CPW is one of the season’s most heavily promoted new series (although its premiere episode tanked against a special 2-hour 90210). The CBS drama follows the glamorous, if problem-plagued, lives of a half-dozen driven young Manhattanites (including Mariel Hemingway as a magazine editor and John Barrowman as a JFK Jr.-like assistant D.A.). Lazard, 28, describes his character as “greedy, selfish, ambitious and self-centered, and obsessed with women” but promises that Gil will prove to be more vulnerable than audiences may expect.
The show represents a homecoming of sorts for Lazard. He spent his first eight years living very comfortably on the real Central Park West, with his father, Sidney Lazard, a former ABC News foreign correspondent (and descendant of the French banking family of Lazard Frères), and his mother, photographer Julie Thayer. In 1974, the family (including his brother Marc, now 30, an L.A. film producer, and his sister Sasha, 26, an opera singer living in New York City) moved to Paris for 3½ years while their father was on European assignment. With his dad always off reporting, Lazard remembers missing him constantly. “There was a void,” he says. “I don’t have specific memories of doing things like throwing a baseball or other standard father-son activities.”
After the family moved back to New York City, Lazard, a lackluster student at the private Buckley School, found something to be enthused about when he starred in a school production of The Pirates of Penzance. “I was put to the test,” he says, “and I succeeded.” Otherwise, high school was a difficult time for Lazard. When he was in ninth grade, his parents split up after a long period of tension and fighting. His sister gave him the news one morning as he lay in his bed. “I said, ‘Good,’ and went back to sleep,” recalls Lazard, who lived with his mother after the divorce but says he is close to both parents. “I just didn’t want to deal with it. It was a lonely time.” The next year, Lazard went off to boarding school (Middlesex, outside Boston), as did most of his friends.
Later, Lazard spent two years studying liberal arts at Emory University in Atlanta, but he was primarily concerned, he says, with “being a college guy and having fun.” He began doing commercials after an agent spotted him in a bar and offered to help him line up ad work. TV assignments for Mountain Dew, among others, led to his first movie, the little-seen 1988 comedy Spike of Bensonhurst. He transferred to New York University and took acting classes but dropped out to play punk cop Joey Hardin on Miami Vice.
After Vice was iced, he felt stranded: Roles were hard to come by, and he had broken up with his girlfriend. “I was at my wit’s end,” says Lazard. “I needed to get out.” Way out. He decided to travel to India with his mother, who for the past decade has been studying with the guru U.G. Krishnamurti. Once there, they took separate journeys. Lazard’s was largely on foot. “I didn’t call anybody,” he says. “Everyone thought I’d been sold into white slavery, but I was getting my head straight. I just walked to different cities. I came back reinspired.”
He returned to Los Angeles and TV, with roles in three short-lived shows, including this year’s Extreme with James Brolin. He was tempted to give up altogether on Hollywood, “but I had to make one last go with it,” says Lazard, who threw himself into acting classes and exercise. When he tried out for CPW, producers instantly saw Gil Chase. “He had that devil-may-care quality,” says coexecutive producer Allan Arkush. “He charmed us.”
No matter how the show does, Lazard is happy to be home. Living in L.A., he says, “I missed the energy of New York.” He Rollerblades to CPW’s Greenwich Village studio and jogs four miles a day. He has dated off and on, he says, since breaking up last year with model Ines Missan. But for the moment, he is “completely focused” on CPW, a production that he says is professional and ego-free.
As for his future, who knows? “In 10 years,” he says, “I could be living in the Himalayas, making jewelry.”
TOBY KAHN in New York City