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Taylor spends his offseason working on a second career in Hollywood

Submitted by: Courtesy of Sun-Sentinel.com

Sure, M.J. takes his calls, and Pip visits his practices, and A-Rod bugs him about coming to Texas. Still, he often feels just like you, like a fan, star-struck in the company of mega-celebrities, wondering if he rates at all. After meeting someone he has long admired, he sometimes feels like shouting: "Damn, that's Rob DeNiro!"

But that's natural. Jason Taylor is new to this role as more than a mere football player, more than a defensive end coming off a team-record 18.5-sack season and entering training camp today. He's new to this part, this chance to transcend his sport that, among Dolphins, maybe only Dan Marino has had before him.

It is a part he badly wants.

"I mean, I enjoy playing football; I love it with all my heart," says Taylor, 29. "Football is going to end someday. You've got to do something afterwards. You don't have to, if you make the right decisions with your money. But I enjoy the whole fanfare of Sundays and entertaining people. And if someone sits here and says, `You can be an actor,' I'm going to give it a shot. It's a dream of mine. You chase it to see if you can get it."

The chase has taken him across and outside the nation this offseason, as he builds on last summer's appearances on MTV Cribs and BET. It has taken him to New Orleans to shoot scenes for a feature film tentatively titled The Playmaker, to Los Angeles for meetings with producers and directors, to New York to shoot a national commercial for Neutrogena, to Germany as an NFL representative on a USO tour. It has taken him to Kuwait and Iraq where, while uplifting the troops, he hung with Kid Rock, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Lee Ann Womack and Alyssa Milano, and for a few precious minutes, DeNiro. It has taken him multiple times to the set of The Best Damn Sports Show Period and to the viewers of Entertainment Tonight as one of the "Hunks of the Fall." It took him last Sunday to the Office Depot Center to participate in the `N Sync "Challenge for the Children," with Justin Timberlake, Gabrielle Union and Shannon Elizabeth. Soon, it will take him into leading men's magazines.

It has taken up spring and much of summer.

"You can rest when you're dead," Taylor says. "I'm the kind of person that when I'm here, I won't be in the house. Always hustling. Hustling not because you have to, but because you want to."

According to plan

Understand, there's been a game plan all along, a working script for Taylor's star turn. Gary Wichard, the California-based agent who long ago saw something in the skinny kid from the University of Akron gets a writing credit. He saw football as a launch pad, not a landing strip. He saw looks, composure, charisma. "When women want to be with you and men want to be like you, you're in good shape," says Wichard, who runs Pro Tect Management.

He saw a need for Taylor to first establish himself as a premier player. Done. He saw a need for Taylor to secure his future financially. Done, with a six-year, $42 million contract in 2001. Now he sees a need for the nonsports world to start seeing what he sees, before Taylor's football career ends.

"He just has it," Wichard says.

Soon as Taylor's season ended at the Pro Bowl, Wichard began exploiting Hollywood contacts, setting up meetings with Paramount Films, Universal, Joel Silver's production company and Norm Golightly of Nicholas Cage's production company. Ultimately, this led to a role in Peter Bunche's The Playmaker, a football movie starring lookalike Boris Kodjoe (of Soul Food), Zoe Saldana (Drumline) and Alec Baldwin.

Already, Wichard had set Taylor up with private acting lessons, finding a coach who bounced between Los Angeles and Miami and could help Taylor learn to get in character so the lines just flowed out. And though The Playmaker is a football movie with a plot recalling The Natural, Taylor has to embrace a new and quite different character.

A bad boy named Darrell Redman.

"What I liked about it was that it wasn't me," says Taylor, whose character disrespects a girl, starts a fight in a club and serves as a rival to Kodjoe's lead. "It wasn't Jason Taylor, just a cameo in a movie. I can be Jason Taylor during the season."

Being Jason Taylor on the set is not as familiar, or comfortable, as being him on the field, especially with movie types using abbreviations and other jargon.

"You can either sit there and act like you know what they're talking about or you can simply ask them," Taylor says. "I just simply ask them. You can't be afraid to learn."

Now Taylor is learning more about the movie business -- the project has been on hold for financial reasons and may resume in about one month. Taylor has shot five days, and still has at least one to shoot.

"It gave Jason a week's worth of work, to taste it, see what it's like and move forward," Wichard says. "Not much different from a scrimmage."

Just one of the stars

For his forays into fantasy, Taylor also spent his offseason immersed in real life. His trips overseas featured each to the extreme. He boarded the plane for Kuwait with trepidation, with some names he knew and others he didn't, believing no one would know or care much about him.

"I was looking at them like, `These are the real stars, we're half-pint celebrities,'" Taylor says. "But they didn't make it seem that way at all."

Womack approached him, then Milano, and soon he realized "how great these people are. They were sweethearts." Kid Rock immediately reminded Taylor of teammate and brother-in-law Zach Thomas, "the coolest guy out there." And actually a little of himself.

"He was real down to earth, just hanging out, chilling, and all of a sudden, it's his turn to go on stage, he puts his hat on, his black [tank top undershirt], his sunglasses, he's the new man," Taylor says. "When it's over, right back. It's the same thing as putting on a helmet and a jersey and going through that tunnel. In the locker room, I'll joke around. As soon as you get into that tunnel and people are there, you put that helmet on, it's Showtime."

The troops, of course, weren't putting on a show. Taylor left touched by their pride and commitment, by their frustration with the protests back home, by their living conditions.

"You go into the Marine camps, and they had tents with plywood floors, and they thought it was a Ritz-Carlton, because Marines usually get crapped on and live out in holes and bunkers and all that," Taylor says. "And it's 130 degrees, sand's blowing everywhere, you can't see anything, and there they are out there, defending us."

He has since watched the news with greater appreciation, "not saying that people here just watching on TV can't appreciate it, but I'm telling you, if they got on a plane and they flew 16 hours over there, and they saw it first-hand and they could touch and feel it, it would hit that much closer to home."

The troops made him feel proud to be an American. They also made him feel like a celebrity. Not a half-pint one, either.

"Obviously, they were excited to see Kid Rock, and they were more excited to see Rebecca Romijn and some of the girls, because they haven't seen women in forever," he says. "But there was still a lot of love over there. It was great."

Taking it off

The average woman will say Jason Taylor looks great, after she sees him. The problem is Taylor's job forces him to cover up.

"The idea is to get Jason exposure with his helmet off, showing his body, showing his face," says Daniel Siegel of CMG Worldwide, hired by Pro Tect to market Taylor. "The main message is he looks like a model, he looks like a god. People need to see that."

When it received photos and information, Neutrogena saw someone clean and fresh.

It saw the first endorser for its line of male products.

"We did not specifically identify a sports personality vs. an actor," says Jan Hall, Neutrogena's President for North America. "Rather, our selection criteria was finding someone credible and approachable for men."

For the women who buy for men, he's shirtless and in the shower. Neutrogena fit the profile Taylor sought: a credible company, a national spotlight, minimal time commitment. In early June, he left the Signature Grand in Davie after the on-stage roundtable at the Dolphins banquet, whisked by a limo to a private charter bound for the New York shoot.

The 15-second spot began airing this month. You can bet teammates and opponents will lob insults regularly. Taylor knows he'll be known as the "cosmetics kid," but is unapologetic, unashamed of his ambition. He hopes to project a nice-guy, hard-working image, someone who "hates to lose, ultimate competitor, whatever he sets his mind to do, he's going to do his darndest to make it work." But he knows he will be criticized: "And quite frankly, not to sound like a jerk, I don't care if you do. That's part of taking chances. You're not going to hit home runs every time."

It does irritate him, though, when he sees trash talked about his dedication to football on internet chat rooms, especially because he plans to cease all outside activities until season's end.

"There have been ridiculous rumors of me living in L.A. the last five months, he hasn't done any workouts, he doesn't care about football anymore, he had one season," Taylor says. "All that crap. People can say what they want. But number one is that I feed my family. Number two, in five years when I'm out of this league, hopefully it's longer, they're not going to be busting my door down to give me a job either. Be a fan, clap when we do well, boo when we do bad, and other than that, let's go. Let me make something of myself."

a friend, not an idol

As a football player, he has made a name dropping quarterbacks, 58 times in six seasons. Now he can drop nearly as many names.

After a Heat game two years ago, Alex Rodriguez took him to the visiting locker room to meet a friend. Michael Jordan. Taylor's hero. Taylor figured he would need to introduce himself.

M.J. hugged A-Rod.

"Jason Taylor, what's up?" Jordan said.

"Damn, he knew my name," Taylor thought.

They spoke for half an hour. This spring, they had dinner and drinks the night before Jordan played. Taylor's wife, Katina, embarrassed her husband with a revelation about M.J.-worship. Now Jordan and Taylor speak regularly as friends, same as Taylor and Scottie Pippen are friends. Taylor asks for advice about most anything from image to leadership. Now he is in talks to endorse the Jordan clothing line.

"Some of the guys in the locker room, like Zach, are like `How do you meet these people?'" Taylor says. "I'm just a networker. People can put on these blinders and think football is the whole world. Football, as big as it is, is only one part of what goes on. And you can use it as a platform, to get the things Marino has. All football, August to January? Obviously, yeah. But the other time, you can do other things for yourself."

He knows the price. As profiles grow, privacy shrinks.

"It's all part of it, yeah," Taylor says. "You've got to be careful where you tread and what you do. Sometimes, things can get misconstrued. An innocent thing can become something else. People are watching you more."

That's what he wants, though: people watching him more, on the screen, in the spotlight. He doesn't expect to reach M.J.'s stratosphere, where malls shut down so he can shop.

"I can go to Aventura, and you can go a half-hour later, and it will still be open," Taylor promises. "But to be honest with you, I would love to be on Mike's level, not for the fanfare of it. Dude, I want to be the best."

That still applies to football. It now applies to Hollywood.

"I'm not afraid to sometimes bite off more than I can chew," Taylor says. "People say I'm always hanging on the thing Mike says, but he's done commercials about it, he tried time and time again and he failed, and that's why he succeeds. You can't become something if you don't try."

You can't get the role you really want, that of leading man.
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