November 05, 2001 12:00 PM

The Halloween sign tacked on his house reads ‘Best Witches’, but there’s nothing spooky about the young actor who answers the door. Five foot nine and 155 lbs., with nearly shoulder-length hair swept back from his face, Jimmy Workman looks nothing at all like the movie role that put him squarely before the public: Pugsley, the corpulent munchkin who demonstrated a winning fondness for guillotines and electric chairs in 1991’s The Addams Family and its ’93 sequel, Addams Family Values. “Kids in school used to make fun of me—’the little fat kid,'” says Workman, 21. “Now I’m pretty much bigger than some of the people who used to tease me, so I can say, ‘Not anymore, buddy.'”

Growing up has also meant the freedom to do what he wants, sometimes to extremes. Three years ago, after laying his hands on his Addams earnings, which had been held in trust until he turned 18, “I went through a stage where I went buck wild,” says Workman, who in a matter of months splurged on 10 new cars, including a Porsche Boxster. “I got all my partying out [of my system].”

Now the single Workman is trying to get his acting career back on track. “Everybody has to grow up,” he says. “When I was on those movie sets, I never really had a childhood. So [the last three years] was me gaining it back.”

Ironically, his childhood might have been pretty normal had he not tagged along one day with his mom, Crystal, 45, a homemaker, and older sister Shanelle, then 10, to an Addams Family audition in New York City. (Dad Glenn, 45, runs a firm that sets up communications systems for businesses.) Shanelle, who had already been cast as young Eponine in Broadway’s Les Miserables (the family had moved from Fairfax, Va., to Queens to be with her), was trying out as Pugsley’s saturnine sister Wednesday. Jimmy, then 8, was spotted in the elevator by director Barry Sonnenfeld and producer Scott Rudin, who asked the boy to read for them. “Jimmy looked the part, and so we took a chance and hired him,” says Sonnenfeld.

They didn’t hire Shanelle (the part went to Christina Ricci instead), but “I was okay with it,” says the actress-singer, now 23. “It boosted Jimmy’s self-esteem. He’d never acted before, and here he was in a major movie.”

And riding in limos, staying at a posh Beverly Hills hotel and meeting his Addams kin: Anjelica Huston (Morticia), Raul Julia (Gomez) and Christopher Lloyd (Uncle Fester). Workman and Ricci, then 9, “had a blast” on the set, he says. In between scenes and mandatory classes with a studio tutor, “we used to chase each other around and drive golf carts all over the lot. We also argued like brother and sister.”

Julia, meanwhile, “was like a second dad,” he says. When the actor died in 1994 of a stroke, “he took the role of Gomez with him,” says Workman. Despite talk of a possible third Addams film, “none of us would do it,” he says. “It would have been wrong in our eyes.”

And by then, Workman would have been all wrong for Pugsley anyway. “Right after Addams Family Values wrapped, in a matter of four months, Jimmy lost 40 lbs. and grew five inches,” says his mother. “People kept offering him other movie roles, but we’d walk in and they’d be like, ‘Oh. He’s not fat.'”

The pickings may have been slim, but Workman managed to keep busy, landing cartoon and commercial voice-overs, as well as bit roles in TV’s Matlock and films like 1997’s As Good As It Gets. In 1998, a year after he graduated high school, Workman embarked on a self-imposed hiatus from acting.

Now he’s studying with acting teacher Richard Brander while living in his parents’ three-bedroom Montrose, Calif., home. (They and Jimmy’s sister Ariel, 3, are soon to move to roomier digs 10 minutes away.) Workman still tools around in his “dream car,” a ’98 528 BMW. “People see a 21-year-old kid driving this,” he says, “and they’re like, ‘Brat! Pugsley thinks he’s cool because he was in that movie.’ I was never like that. It never went to my head. To this day, if people say that, I’ll walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, my name’s Jimmy. What’s up?'”

Michael A. Lipton

Charles Winecoff in Los Angeles

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