Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage
March 08, 2007 04:05 PM

A new job on 24 and a new love have helped Chad Lowe put an unhappy chapter in his life – one that included the end of his marriage to Hilary Swank – behind him, he says.

“I was coming out of a very dark period, and it renews your faith,” Lowe told PEOPLE Wednesday at a party he hosted in Culver City, Calif., for Kerry Max Cook’s book Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row For a Crime I Didn’t Commit.

(The actor played Cook, a former Texas death-row inmate whose innocence was proven after 22 years in prison, on stage in the play The Exonerated in 2003.)

Lowe, 39, credits his happiness to both his new relationship with producer Kim Painter, 33, and his regular role as slimy political operative Reed Palmer on the hit FOX drama.

“Winston Churchill, I think, said ‘The only way to get through hell is to keep going,’ and I think there have been some nice rewards at the end of a very dark period for me,” Lowe said. “The new relationship, a new job – that really fulfills me in a way I can’t articulate.”

He’s especially grateful for the opportunity to act again. “This role has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. It came at a time when I needed it, badly. I needed to have work to focus on, and what a great character and a great show to be focusing my attention toward.”

Lowe was also thrilled to be giving back to Cook, whom he has gotten to know closely. With Painter at his side, Lowe welcomed Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Richard Dreyfus and Cary Elwes, who’ve also portrayed the author and befriended him.

“They stayed in contact with me and wanted to know about me and how I was doing and what life was like for me,” Cook told PEOPLE of his friendship with Lowe and the other stars. “Those are the ones that cared about what happened to me and cared about my story, so I became good friends with some of them.”

And while Lowe said he could never compare his own experiences to Cook’s, he understands how someone can emerge stronger after being tested by hard times.

“We all have challenges in life, and it takes a dark night to bring out the stars,” he said. “I try to take as much as I can from life, whatever experience it is.”

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